Bill writes me asking:
How do I select a flight instructor? I’m 49, good health, been around aircraft my whole life and finally beginning to find the time to learn.
Great question Bill. Choosing the right flight instructor is the first step in a successful flight training experience. Your flight instructor will influence your attitude and approach towards all your future flying. It is important that you take some time and choose an instructor wisely. I’ve had a few flight instructors since I started flying and most of them have been great and some…well, not so much. Here are couple recommendations to avoid the later:
I would begin your search by visiting local area airports. Most airports have a flight training program available and many airports have several flight schools to choose from. You’ll notice that flight schools are typically located at an FBO (fixed based operator). An FBO is the business at an airport that provides services such as fuel, maintenance, hangar rental and flight training. I would recommend calling the schools ahead of time and asking some general questions to get a good feel for the school. Here are few questions to get you started:
- What type of flight school is offered? Flight schools are broken down into 2 categories: Part 61 or Part 141 (accelerated). If you are in a hurry and plan on pursuing multiple certificates within a short time period you’ll want to focus your search for a flight instructor at a Part 141 accredited schools, otherwise an instructor at a Part 61 school would be just fine.
- How many instructors are there? The more instructors a school has the better chance that you’ll be able to find an instructor that has availability and a similar schedule as you. Many instructors (especially in today’s environment) have an additional job besides flight instructing, so you’ll have to make sure the schedules mesh.
- How many training airplanes do they have? Again, if a flight school only has 1 airplane, there is a good change it will be flying all the time which makes it harder to schedule your lessons and also harder to schedule re-flights in case a flight gets canceled due to maintenance or weather.
- What flight training courses are offered? If you find a good flight instructor or a school that retains good flight instructors, you might want to pursue additional ratings and certificates after obtaining your private pilot’s license.
- What about the costs? You’ll want to make sure you ask about both the airplane and flight instructor rates. Typically, a flight school will charge one rate for flight instruction and another rate for ground instruction. Be sure to ask about both.
Once you have some preliminary questions answered, make a list of the schools or airports that meet your criteria and start planning some visits. I would recommend visiting during the week (if you can) as you’ll have a better chance of meeting the chief instructor or catching an instructor between flights. A good chief instructor will want to sit down with you and discuss their program and your schedule. The instructor you meet with might be even be able to suggest another instructor that has a similar schedule as you. Extra tip! When you are in the parking lot of the school try and get a recommendation from another student that might be going (or coming) from a flight.
After visiting several flight schools, narrow your list down to no more than 1 or 2 schools. Call these schools and schedule an “introductory flight”. This flight consists of a casual half hour flight in the local area. Try and schedule this flight with the instructor who was recommended and that you are considering. During your flight, try and get a sense of the instructor’s professionalism and teaching style. Here are some more questions to consider:
- Was the instructor on time to the flight?
- How was the instructor dressed?
- Does the instructor seemed organized?
- And most of all, do you feel safe? Is this someone you would let take your kids or spouse on a flight?
If you don’t feel comfortable with this instructor, don’t schedule any lessons until you’ve flown or talked with an instructor you do feel comfortable with.
An important note: Once you have chosen an instructor, you are allowed to change. This isn’t a marriage and choosing a new instructor does not constitute a divorce. It is best obviously to stay with one instructor through a course or program but if for some reason you and your instructor aren’t “clicking” then it is recommended to find a new one. For some, this can be a bit awkward to do, but it is important to understand that at the end of the day, you are the paying customer and as a customer you deserve to be satisfied with the services you are receiving from the school or instructor. I have been on both ends of this for as a student pilot, I had to request a new instructor and as an instructor, I have had to recommend that a student continue his program with an another instructor.
There are a couple of online resources to help you in your search:
- Flight School Reviewer.com This site is a source for current or ex students of particular programs to offer written reviews of flight schools they attended. Not all flight schools have been reviewed (there are thousands) but there are several that have received reviews and it might be worth checking out.
- NAFI. NAFI is the National Association of Flight Instructors. NAFI offers a “Find a Flight Instructor” feature on their site. You can search for a “Master CFI” which is a nationally accredited designation for those flight instructors that have reached “the highest level of instructional activity, educational experience and professional service”. Not all flight instructors are NAFI members, but many professional and career flight instructors are NAFI members.
- AOPA. The Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association has several tools and tips for choosing a flight instructor or school. They offer both “Find a flight school” and “Find a Flight Instructor” as well as the article “How to choose a flight school / instructor“.