A match made in Heaven (Selecting a flight instructor)


(Selecting a flight instructor)I once compared selecting a flight instructor with making a commitment to a long-term relationship. Your instructor, after all, is someone you’re going to spend a lot of time with—in close quarters—and someone with whom you’ll be sharing some rather significant experiences.

Just as you wouldn’t commit to a relationship without some sort of dating period, you shouldn’t select an instructor without making some effort to get to know him (or her). When you first visit a flight school, one of the instructors will probably invite you to sit down and have a soda or cup of coffee while discussing what the flight school has to offer you. Take him up on it. If he doesn’t suggest it, you can.

If it has been awhile since you’ve made the dating scene, you can think of it as an interview. You are about to hire someone to teach you to fly and this is their job interview, their opportunity to impress you and convince you of why they’re the one you should hire.

It is important that you feel comfortable with your instructor. All instructors have had to demonstrate they can manipulate the controls of an airplane capably enough to perform all the maneuvers required for a pilot’s certificate. They have all passed written exams covering both aeronautical knowledge and fundamentals of instruction, so they know their stuff and the theories behind imparting that information to a student. Those are the minimum requirements, and all instructors have satisfied them. It won’t do you any good, though, if your instructor knows everything there is to know about flying but can’t convey it to you in a way you can understand. Ask some of those basic questions you’ve been curious about: How long should it take to learn to fly? How much will it cost? What are the requirements for a license? What’s a stall? What’s a spin? What makes an airplane fly?

As the instructor answers, you’ll get a sense of his ability to explain difficult technical subjects in a way you’re able to understand. Another good sign is when he is willing to admit he doesn’t know something, with a promise to get back to you.

What sets an instructor apart is an enthusiasm and an excitement for aviation that’s infectious and motivating. An inch-thick logbook is no guarantee that one instructor is any better than another whose permanent certificate hasn’t yet arrived in the mail. Neither youth nor age nor gender has the inside track on teaching excellence.

Talk to pilots and other students about their instructors. Attend Transport Canada safety seminars, and during coffee breaks talk to other pilots. Often presentations at safety meetings are made by local instructors, so you will have an opportunity to see them perform.

It’s no secret that some instructors are only building time so they can move on to more financially rewarding piloting positions. An instructor whose eye is on an air carrier career can still be as good an instructor as one who is content to stay with instructing as a (probably part-time) profession, or better. Unfortunately, since instructing doesn’t pay a living wage, most instructors move on frequently. That is not necessarily a problem unless they move on before you’re finished with your training, but even then, a change in instructors needn’t be too disruptive to your progress.

Sometimes a change in instructors is a positive learning experience. If, for whatever reason, you feel you are not progressing the way you should be, talk to someone. Start with your instructor. If that doesn’t solve the problem, speak with the chief flight instructor. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make a change. Learning to fly is expensive in terms of time and money, and if you feel you are not getting a reasonable return on your investment, try changing instructors or changing schools before you give up on flying. Those of us who have stayed with it feel it was well worth the effort.

What clients say