As a student pilot—as a student anything, really—you may not think much of what goes into becoming a teacher of a particular…well, anything. How often as a child did you think about the training it takes to become the teacher that was standing at the front of the classroom? Chances are, not much. I’m married to a teacher, and in the last 18 years I’ve gained new respect for what a school teacher has to know and do.
Your CFI is no different. Becoming a flight instructor is a lot of work. Of all the checkrides I’ve taken over the years—including 10 or so different ratings or certificates—the CFI ride was by far the most stressful, and for many people, it’s the hardest. Aside from the private pilot checkride, it’s the one ride where you are not just responsible for everything you know about flying, but you may get asked about anything you’ve ever learned. Worse, you have to be able to explain everything with equal confidence and mastery, from the workings of a wet compass to the nuances of a lazy eight.
Like most instructors who are certified by any kind of agency, be it government or private industry, CFIs are required to go through regular recurrent training. In the case of CFIs, that training is required every 24 calendar months. In order to remain an active CFI, the FAA has several avenues that can be used, but the most common one is for the CFI to enroll in a Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic (FIRC).
Back in the day (the older I get, the more I say that), FIRCs required in-person attendance and took up a whole weekend, as the requirement is 16 hours of training. An alternative was to use home study with VHS video tapes as part of a package supplied by companies such as the former Jeppesen-Sanderson, now known as Jeppesen. Today, the FIRCs can be done online, including through the AOPA Air Safety Institute.
Actual flight time is not required in the refresher training, because the purpose is to use the time to emphasize overall training, including new material that has become prevalent (such as happened with GPS), new regulations, policies, and concepts.
In addition, there is some review on topics based on trends that the FAA sees. Some of these are areas in which the pilot population as a whole has had trouble, and others are general review. For example, several years ago, there was a realization that pilots were involved in far more runway incursions than they should have been. In this case, while general aviation pilots were the worst offenders, airlines were having issues as well. As a result, everyone—and I do mean everyone—had to go through some training to prevent runway incursions. CFIs were at the head of the pack, because of their ability to spread the message to a large number of pilots.
The post-September 11 world also brought some changes. CFIs now have to take special security training that is mandated by the Transportation Security Administration, and all pilots are more aware than ever before of temporary flight restrictions. Those on the East Coast also have to be especially knowledgeable of the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) around Washington, D.C.
Other training emphasizes the actual act of teaching. There are various laws of learning that we are all subjected to, and the training often includes a review of those laws. With all of the new avionics that have flooded the market in the last 10 years, it’s important to emphasize that we can’t teach the way we used to, and we certainly can’t be effective—let alone safe—teachers in a cramped airplane on a hot day.
I don’t mind the biennial training that CFIs are required to get. I don’t get to fly GA as much as I would like, let alone teach it, so the review is good for me. One of the things that I like about both GA training and my refresher training that I receive as an airline pilot is that neither wastes a lot of time on stuff we do every day. It instead hits the areas we might be weak on, and it covers a broad array of things we may have forgotten or don’t use often. In my case, both training events make me a better pilot.
Don’t take what your CFI does for granted. It’s a lot of hard work to get that certificate, and it takes a certain dedication to keep the certificate active. And the learning never stops.—Chip Wright