Help your student and yourself

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


  • Greg Brown

    I would add the suggestion to pick up some instrument students. Not only will that help with communication skills as noted in the post, but it will help prepare you for the instrument flying questions and sim check you can expect on your airline interview.

  • Ryan Short

    These are all good ideas, most of which I’ve been doing already but I wish more CFIs did it because it was good for the student as opposed to being good for their career track. We need more creativity in training, and truthfully, the students generally enjoy trips as well. There are plenty of “boring” flights in flight training as it is. All of my students have to work around two class C airports for their solo cross-countries for the reasons mentioned here. It’s amazing how many private pilots I’ve run into who are hesitant to go anything above class D airspace. We need to train the students for all kinds of flying that they may want to do in the future. Anything less is negligence.

  • Garry Wing

    I would also urge instructors working with student pilots to get them comfortable with VFR flight following. Even though we teach how to file/open/close a VFR flight plan, the reality in Southern California is once they’re a Private Pilot, they will rarely file VFR flight plans. I’m amazed at how many Privates are not comfortable with or were never shown how to use flight following to traverse Class B & C airspace efficiently and safely.