CFI Improvement is Necessary: 911!

Improving CFI competence and professionalism is the key to increasing our student retention rate, rebuilding aviation and creating safer pilots. Our whole industry will benefit!

I think all honest pilots will confess that every new certificate or rating means we have only the basic “starter kit” or “license to learn.” If you are like me you are shocked in retrospect by how little you originally knew (and they let me do all that stuff!) This is especially true for the flight instructor certificate (but unfortunately very few seem to act that way or seek improvement). Teaching anyone the essential skills of aviation should be approached with the greatest humility and care. So many things can go wrong both in the immediate present but also with the latent habits you create (or not). I believe both our depressing student drop out rate in general aviation and also our continually miserable safety record could both be greatly improved if we could increase the level of professionalism in our Aviation Educator ranks. This is a key mission of SAFE.

As a 141 chief instructor running a flight school for 25 years (which included being a DPE evaluating the “finished product”) I have witnessed great and wonderful moments but also every form of CFI abuse and defect. I confess to some serious incompetence and arrogance myself when I first earned my CFI certificate. “Wow, I’m a CFI…the government said so, it must be true” At the time we had that amazing FAA instructor manual we quietly called “good dog, bad dog” (because of it’s totally behaviorist approach to “training” ..not education!) Fortunately the handbooks have greatly improved and in my case I had two very important influences early in my career that made all the difference and for which I shall be forever grateful.

FTaward2012One positive influence for me was a demanding chief instructor and mentor John “Stick” Stickle. He was alternatively kind and sharing and also imperious and unyielding on technique and safety.  The other essential influence was the guidance and inspiration from Greg Brown’s amazing book “The Savvy Flight Instructor” and the associated Master Instructor Program developed by Sandy and JoAnn Hill (Greg was the their first Master Instructor). It’s unfortunate but you really don’t start out “amazing” (or even “good”) in the CFI world and improvement doesn’t come without effort and feedback. You are granted the “starter kit” in the 8060-4 (temporary) and have to work and learn every day if you want to improve.

StickandChampSavvyCFIIt is very easy to fool yourself into a self-satisfied, god-like incompetence (you can find one at every airfield). Inherently trusting students tend to worship even the most incompetent CFIs. It is essential to keep learning and challenging yourself to raise the bar and get better.  I highly recommend a mentor who is honest and caring to test and improve your skills and technique. If you are not able to work with a locally senior instructor, SAFE is retooling the mentor program (up and running soon). Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.21.21 PMParticipation in the Master Instructor Program is also essential if you want to keep your skills sharp and gain ground in the world of aviation education. We will discuss CFI improvement more thoroughly in future articles. The flight instructor is the essential source  for aviation student retention and superior instruction will result in fewer accidents.

The New ACS Explained (1 of 3)

by Kevin D Murphy

This is the first of three easy-to-understand articles on the new Airman Certification Standards, which are replacing the venerable Practical Test Standards. You’ll find these articles in each month’s SAFE eNews, as well as here in the SAFE Educational Opportunities! blog.

SAFESymposiumIn 2011, SAFE chaired a landmark gathering in Atlanta of major GA stakeholders to discuss lack of growth, decreased student starts, increased student attrition, and flat accident rate trends.

 The new Airman Certification Standards are the result.


Over the next several years, the Airman Certification Standards will replace today’s Practical Test Standards. The new ACS tells an applicants much more clearly what he or she must know, do and consider to pass both the knowledge and practical tests.

The new ACS adds task-specific knowledge and risk management elements to each part of the former PTS. The ACS documents are being written now, and eventually there will be one for each certificate and rating. Draft versions for both the Private Pilot Airplane and Instrument Rating Airplane ACS are available here.

For checkrides, use of the new more-specific ACS documents are expected to reduce subjective judgment on the part of examiners.


One of the objectives of the ACS system is to make sure the study guides and references commonly used by students in preparing for a knowledge test or checkride are consistent not only with the test questions, but with each other as well. So far, the FAA has reviewed the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, Airplane Flying Handbook, Risk Management Handbook, Instrument Flying Handbook, Instrument Procedures Handbook, and CT-8080 test supplements.

In the next editions of these and other handbooks and manuals, the FAA will incorporate many industry recommendations to make sure they all agree with each other and with the test questions.


Of course, and here’s why:

The skill evaluation requirements in the ACS remain the same as in the PTS, but ACS improves the process by:
• Better defining knowledge needed and flight proficiency standards (skills).
• Clearly answers the “why do I need to know that?!” question in each portion of the test.
• Defines specific safety behaviors instead of using the rather amorphous “aeronautical decision-making.”
• Eliminates duplicate or overlapping tasks in the current PTS.


There is a short ACS brochure with examples of knowledge test subjects keyed to exact references in handbooks here .


The FAA is targeting June of 2016 as the start for the Private Pilot Airplane ACS, as well as the Commercial Pilot Airplane and Instrument Rating Airplane ACSs. Don’t be surprised if this date slips, however, because deploying this represents a massive change in the FAA’s testing system.

The ACSs for Authorized Instructor and Airline Transport Pilot are still in development.

Next month: How will the new ACS change knowledge and flight check preparation for my students?

IFR Currency Clarified

Be legal. safe and savvy flying IFR!

If you are instrument rated, staying current is critical to your flight safety. Without maintaining this important requirement, you are a VFR-only pilot! In addition to legal currency you should also consider competency and comfort in the clouds. Statistically, rusty instrument pilots do not make out much better than VFR pilots when the stumble unprepared into the clouds.

The FAA recently clarified their interpretations of the six-month proficiency rule for instrument pilots. You’ll find the basic rules under FAR 61.57(c), “Instrument Experience.”

To stay current for IFR, either take an instrument proficiency check with an instructor or perform holding, course intercepting and tracking and at least six instrument approaches every six months. For the approaches, you must:

  • Be in IMC or under the hood.
  • Be established on each of the initial, intermediate and final portions of the approach and descend to the MDA or DA. If available, you may use radar vectors to final.
  • The missed approach does not have to be flown.
  • If in IMC and you enter VMC after the final approach fix and before MDA or DA, the approach still counts. If under the hood, you must stay under the hood until reaching the MDA or DH.
  • If under the hood and required to deviate for safety after the final approach fix (such as to avoid conflicting traffic), the approach still counts.
  • A safety pilot qualified in the aircraft and with a current medical is required for hood work. The safety pilot name must be logged.

*And here is an IFR extra tidbit for you true IFR geeks. A question which has been debated in FBO lounges for years…”what constitutes an official ‘loggable’ approach for IFR currency purposes?” (This was asked by Donna Wilt in the comments and I thought it was worth adding here) The FAA finally came out with official guidance in September of this year. If you are in simulated or actual conditions it is necessary to fly the entire approach from the IAP (or as vectored) and pass the FAF inbound before becoming visual. So long as you fly initial, intermediate and final legs this approach is valid for currency. Of course flying it lower is valuable if you have a safety pilot (and make sure you record their name in your logbook).


SAFE represents nearly 1,000 of the nation’s top flight instructors and aviation educators and works to create a safer aviation environment by supporting aviation educators with mentoring opportunities, educational resources, and other benefits; inspire professionalism through promotion and recognition of excellence and enhanced education; represents aviation educators through interaction with the aviation industry and government and promotes learning in all areas of aviation.