Archive for July, 2011

Flight instructor pay

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

As part of AOPA’s Flight Training Retention Initiative, the association and researchers looked at the idea of what constitutes a great flight training experience. Not surprisingly, many people who were surveyed felt like they were treated less than fairly by their flight instructor or flight school. The sentiment is common for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is value. There are many aspects of the value equation, to use the executive cliche du jour, but one of the most misunderstood is instructor billing and pay.

Chances are your school charges somewhere between $30 and $60 an hour for the flight instructor’s time. There are certainly places that charge more, but they are exceptions. Again, using averages, your instructor probably only sees about half of that amount. Where things start to go crazy is in how instructors bill time. There are two common scenarios. Either the student is billed for the entire time he has booked the instructor, say two hours, or time is billed for active instruction time. Even here there are variations. Some instructors bill for time the student is preflighting. The justification is that he is supervising.

So what’s fair? My billing preference was always to charge for only that time I actually spent with a student. So if the lesson was booked for two hours, but he or she had soloed, I would bill only for the briefing, debriefing, and flight. With a presolo student, I was actively shadowing the preflight, so I would bill for that as well. While I think that is fair for the student, it often meant being at the airport for eight hours and only getting paid for about six. Such is the life of a CFI working as an independent contractor.

Even though I didn’t make as much, I never billed for the full two-hour block. And here’s why: I think it’s robbery. Charging a student for two hours of instruction, but only providing an hour and a half just isn’t ethical, as far as I’m concerned. The rationale often given for this practice is that the student has blocked the full two hours, so he or she should be charged for the full two hours. Except in the majority of cases, the CFI is making money on two students at once, or making money while sipping coffee and gossiping with other instructors. It’s like paying $10 for a sandwich and only getting two-thirds of it.

None of this takes away from the fact that I think instructors are underpaid. But to make up that money by charging a student while he or she preflights is just not the way to do it. Flight instructors: If your services are worth more, charge more. And students: If a flight instructor does this, don’t just up and leave. Have a conversation about it. And remember, 10 minutes here and there means nothing if the instructor is doing good work.

–Ian Twombly

AirVenture: Bring it! (Your hat, that is)

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

When I wrote a blog a few weeks ago urging everyone to come to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, reader Yvonne wondered if I could write a follow-up aimed at first-timers with recommendations like “wear walking shoes, apply sunscreen,” et cetera.

I think she may have covered a sizable chunk of prep work right there. But I’ll add a couple more ideas, and you are welcome to add your own in the Comments section. Also, see the handy-dandy AirVenture Survival Guide on the EAA website.

  • “Wear walking shoes.” What Yvonne means is, AirVenture covers 1,600 acres. Not only do you need comfortable, durable walking shoes, but they should be broken in and will probably acquire a coat of dirt that turns them a different shade. There are trams that run back and forth along the grounds, but expect to do a lot of hoofing. I’m always flummoxed when I see young women wobbling around on platform shoes at airshows, but more power to them and their podiatrists.
  • “Apply sunscreen.”  Again and again. There are some shady spots here and there, and you can always duck into an exhibitor’s tent to get out of the sun, but it’s best to be prepared.
  • Wear a hat for additional sun protection. (See above.)
  • Bring a rain poncho–just in case. Yes, I know, I’ve been talking about sun protection. But it does occasionally rain at AirVenture–just ask the people who were there last year. And if it rains, the freebie ponchos handed out by the exhibitors tend to evaporate like…well, like water on a hot day.
  • Water. Drink it. Lots of it. Bring a water bottle. There are water fountains on the grounds and water is sold at the concessions.
  • Pace yourself. Get a map from the EAA website, figure out what you want to see, and allow extra time to get from point A to point B if you are trying to go from, say, exhibit halls to the flight line.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Sporty’s has released an AirVenture app for the Android, iPod, iPad, and iPhone. It features maps, guides, schedules, and late-breaking news. It’s free. While I haven’t had a chance to check it out, some of my Twitter followers raced to their computers to get it, and everyone so far has given it a thumbs-up.–Jill W. Tallman

Oshkosh and the job search

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

With the annual AirVenture Oshkosh coming up, many pilots are planning to make the voyage to a small town in the Midwest that outside of aviation was always more famous for the ubiquitous “Oshkosh B’Gosh” TV commercials of the 1980s. If that jingle doesn’t ring a bell, then it means that…well, it means I am north of 40 and you are not, and that you should just think of it as aviation’s Mecca. Be that as it may, pilots know it as the aviation must-see event of the year. While a few make the trek every year, most do not.

If you are one of those fortunate to go, soak it up and make sure you mail Christmas cards to your new 1 million closest friends. If you are a pilot looking ahead to a career in aviation, be it flying for someone or in sales or some other field, look at AirVenture as an opportunity. This is especially true with regard to the flying side. Check out who may or may not be there (not many in that category), and get in touch now with someone from that (or those) corporation(s) or government agencies that you may be interested in speaking with during your time in Wisconsin. If you are able to, get in contact with the persons attending for each. If you can’t get in touch with the actual individuals, get as close as you can, and write down the names of each person at (pick-your-company) that you talk to.

Once you get to the show, find the booth or booths you need, and ask to speak to the person you spoke with; if you weren’t able to make that contact, then ask to speak with so-and-so (or just start talking to someone). Have copies of your resume ready to go, as well as business cards that list both your phone and email contacts (staple them to the resume). Consider a cover letter as well. If you can make an immediate connection or rapport, offer to buy someone lunch or dinner (don’t offer to buy alcohol) if their schedule permits. Remember, what you need is face time, and it doesn’t always matter whose face it is.

The beauty of going to Oshkosh to start job searching is two-fold. First, everyone who is anyone in aviation will be there. Second, it is a very relaxed, fun, informal atmosphere. Think about it: You could wind up having an on-the-spot job interview while wearing shorts, flipflops, and shades, though I recommend you at least wear a collared shirt. The point is that it will be very easy to be yourself, to relax, and to make a very positive impression that will stick. The person or people you talk to may not be recruiters or HR types, but it doesn’t matter. If you do your job, you will walk away with contact info, and an invitation to “call me or visit whenever you like.” Take advantage of that, and take it to heart. Down the road, that network contact may pay off.

This strategy obviously applies to more than just AirVenture. It also goes for large regional airshows and events, AOPA Summit, and Sun ‘n Fun. But the fact is that Oshkosh is the Big Daddy of them all…and it is often the most fun. And if you happen by the AOPA tent, I won’t be there, so tell Ian and the gang how much you love my work!–Chip Wright

Help your student and yourself

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

For any CFI who is looking to eventually move on to corporate or airline flying, the time is now to start doing whatever you can to broaden your experience and your resume. In this respect, you can help your students by helping yourself.

Most of the time one spends as a CFI consists of flying maneuvers and traffic patterns. One of the most enjoyable parts of the training process for both CFI and student is the cross-country phase. What kind of cross-country flying you do depends on where you live. In my case, I was at the southern end of the Northeast corridor, one of the busiest stretches of airspace in the world, and one that often experiences crummy weather. Today, I live in the Midwest, and it is not at all a difficult learning environment; and, except for meeting the basic FARs for flying to a controlled airport,  never talk to a controller. You can go hither and yon with nary a need to talk to any approach controller or center. Needless to say, my students were forced to learn all about ATC.

One of the best things CFIs can do for themselves and their  students is to force them to plan a cross-country through the busiest airspace they can find, Class B being ideal. If you can land at the primary airport, all the better. If not, plan a landing at a satellite field for a lunch and fuel break.

The benefit of this is simple. It requires overcoming weak radio skills. Also, the best way to really learn and understand operations in complex airspace environments is not just to experience it, but to teach it. You will be forced to introduce your student to every aspect of dealing with air traffic control, from phraseology to protocol. The beauty of this is that you can simulate a tremendous amount of the communications with your student in the classroom, and you don’t have to go until you are both ready.

It goes without saying that the best plan of attack is a modular “step up” plan, in which you start with a Class D airport, then move to a busy Class C, and then Class B. The greatest benefit will come from full-stop landings, not just from touch-and-goes or fly-overs.

The extra benefit that you get is that in interviews, you can really play this up. It shows initiative and creativity, and reassures the interviewer/recruiter that you will be competent on the radio. Believe it or not, this was a problem with the last regional hiring surge, especially among low-time pilots.

Whatever you can do to help your students first that helps yourself is something you should consider. You owe it to themto go beyond the PTS, and to yourself to make yourself not only a better pilot, but a better teacher as well.—Chip Wright