Recently I had an opportunity to visit with the NTSB. Normally any visit with the NTSB would be under circumstances that none of us would like to be in, but this was different. I was invited to the NTSB training center by a flight school owner and his instructors. We had just eaten pizza and I was sitting in the classroom when I really began to see some of the secret sauce of this successful flight training business.
This flight training business has a yearly full-day CFI standardization workshop, but they also bring the group together once a month. The monthly meetings do have the usual updates for standardization and ongoing issues, but they go quite a bit farther. They take the time to really share and celebrate successes in a way that makes it obvious the staff feels like they are part of something important and meaningful. It was such an upbeat and inspiring meeting, I secretly wanted to fill out a job application.
This particular monthly meeting included the NTSB meeting, which consisted of a full program of looking at actual evidence of training accidents and a tour of the NTSB training “laboratory.” The obvious effort involved in putting the evening on and having it go beyond the day-to-day logistics and issues of training operations was obvious. The investment of time and energy in the CFI as a person and whole aviator has resulted in such a positive and supportive CFI culture that it overflows into a positive and supportive customer experience at this school.
The CFI is the face of a flight school and the face of aviation as a whole for our new pilots in training. Efforts that show school leadership has an interest and values its CFIs are modeling the behavior we expect to be projected by the CFI to our customers. As humans we tend to emulate behaviors that are modeled for us. So you may not have the NTSB training center with the pieced together remains of TWA flight 800 in your backyard, but there is always some type of experience you can make available for your staff to feed their own desires as a pilot and a person.
What do you do to create a positive CFI culture?
–Shannon Yeager, AOPA vice president of strategic initiatives in the Center to Advance the Pilot Community
No matter where in aviation you look, it seems the hot topic is making new pilots. Or that the pilot population is aging. We, as pilots, need to hurry up and make more before our airports all disappear.
I own a small flight school in Massachusetts called FCA Flight Center operating out of Fitchburg (KFIT). For us, the problem surely isn’t new students, it’s getting CFIs to train them. There seems to be a larger hole in CFI ranks than in students. I’ve searched high and low all over the Internet with no luck, including a website designated for CFIs to job search. We currently have six part-time instructors. Nonetheless, we do not have any working three days per week. The planes sit on the ground on beautiful flying days.
As far as I’ve researched, we’re the highest paying flight school in the area for CFIs. The camaraderie here is great. The competition is friendly. When the instructors aren’t flying with students, they fly together out for dinner or currency.
We also have a thriving active pilot’s association on the field with more than 120 members. The Fitchburg Pilots Association EAA chapter 1415 has monthly meetings with anywhere from 50 to 200 attendees. CFIs and pilots here have no trouble making friends.
Once the CFI issue has been solved and flight training is being provided properly, we have two items left I can see to bring GA over the top. First would be to provide help to all airports to have a thriving pilot’s association. We need leaders to bring them together. That’s when pilots fly more and fly safe. Next would be marketing. General aviation fails tremendously in this area. Just try telling someone not in aviation you’re going to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for a week in July and you’ll see what I mean. It’s the best kept secret in the world. Boats, motorcycles, and even gun clubs market themselves better than we do. It’s about time we ask our friends like Harrison Ford and Morgan Freeman to help us market GA to the general public.
Charley Valera, owner FCA Flight Center
Flying self-selects fabulous people. It is easy to become fond of them. They are competent, committed and persistent. You already know this because you work with these folks all the time. My wife, Martha, and I became especially aware of how wonderful pilots are, and fond of them, during the decade or so that we traveled around the country teaching ground schools. It was also during that decade that we learned how vulnerable these special people are to the risks associated with flying.
We taught relatively large numbers, and it was not uncommon for us to return to a city in two months and learn that someone we had just taught was already dead from an airplane crash. I can name dozens. These were not foolhardy people. They just didn’t understand the risks they were taking. In each case the death was considered a local tragedy. These people make fabulous obituaries.
It points out there is such a strong need to help pilots gain insights that will save their lives. This is why I have come to so be deeply saddened by the lost opportunity represented by Flight Instructor Refresher Courses that cover all over again the same things we instructors all learned when we were training to become private pilots. Covering things like thrust, drag, lift, and weight has little or no effect on our ability to teach pilots things that will determine whether they and their passengers live or die.
The thrill of explaining what makes an airplane fly, what the flight controls do, and going over a thorough preflight while your new student eagerly awaits their chance behind the controls is an honor. That excitement you feel from that forty-forth touchdown, when your student actually pulled the airplane into the proper flare with the nose aligned with the centerline, is hard to explain. The ecstatic energy you feel when your student, after his first solo, shuts down the airplane, opens the door, has a huge smile on his red face, and says, “That was awesome!” These are just the beginning of the fulfillment that comes with being a flight instructor.
Airline, corporate, and military pilots were all taught by someone. That someone that changed their lives forever was a flight instructor. The FAA knows the importance of a flight instructor. A person who wants to become a flight instructor has to pass two written exams and many go directly to the Flight Standards District Office for the practical checkride. These examiners at the FSDO aren’t playing around either. They expect the examinee to be a meteorologist, mechanic, physicist, psychologist, and teaching professional.
Left to right: Greenville-based instructor William Bowen, Spartanburg-based instructor Adam Lockamy, Director of Operations Michele Rash, Chief Flight Instructor Cyndy Hollman, and Shane Martin, operations and future CFI
As more people realize the importance of quality flight instruction, there is a growing demand for professional flight instructors. In the past some people may have thought, “I’m just a flight instructor.” But now really good flight instructors are sought out and paid top dollar for their contribution to aviation.