Rating Flight Schools and CFIs

April 13, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

Rating products and services is all the rage these days. It’s big business. Consumer Reports can impact the sales of cars with their ratings and who hasn’t heard of Angie’s List? Plumbers, doctors, contractors, maybe even attorneys are all held up for scrutiny. Amazon and many other online stores allow people to rate the products they purchased.

Some years ago, as AOPA was discussing the coming challenge regarding flight instruction and what appeared to be at least some dissatisfaction with the flight training process, the conversation turned to rating flight schools and CFIs. The opinions split between “Good idea – accountability should improve things.” to ” How will  someone who has little experience in aviation be able to rate a business as complex as this?” As we have all learned, if it’s on the Web, it must be true — or perhaps not!

It is harder to rate a service especially where the outcome is a process that is delivered over months, in the case of sport, recreational or private pilot. Look at public education. Some professionals blame the teachers, others the administration, still others the families and the economic background of the students. Could it be that the student has a motivation problem or as simple as if the student didn’t learn, the teacher didn’t teach?

We often talk about the chemistry between CFI and student. There were some people I connected with immediately who were diligent and committed. They tended to progress well and if I had been rated by them, would have gotten 4 or 5 stars. Others might have rated my efforts at 1 or 2 stars. From my perspective, I couldn’t deliver what they were paying me to do since many  flew only once every 3 weeks and showed up for lessons ill-prepared even though we had discussed what they should review.  In their view, I might have been a crummy instructor.

So here’s a question for you? Should we, the industry,  set up a rating system for flight schools and CFIs? If yes, what factors would you put into it? Should there be some sort of vetting and arbitration so that competing schools couldn’t just flame the other operation? How should we deal with the occasional or disgruntled customer who has two left feet and a bad attitude? Obviously, you want to look to coordinated, smart, committed and well-gruntled flight students. (Before I take you on, please fill out this 50 question assessment…)

I believe Will Rogers, our great American humorist, noted that if you wanted to learn about someone, to find somebody that worked with them. It’s much easier today — the question is ” Will the commentary be accurate?”

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • http://aspiringpilots.com Andrew Smolenski

    Interesting concept. I think it would be great to have a rating system; however, care would need to be taken. As seen in other fields, complaints almost always away the compliments. People won’t seek out a rating system online when they have nothing to complain about, but will go out of their way to flame and complain online in a heartbeat. I have already seen bad comments posted against a local flying club/flight school by a competitor on the same field. He posted it as a ‘student’ yet his email was easily seen as the owner of the competing program! If this is done, care will have to be taken to avoid such situations, but they will occur however.

  • Gerard

    There must be better things to put the industries energies towards besides a rating system? There is nothing you can really do to prevent flaming or phony positive reviews so why bother. What would be the ROI for such a system? Improving the overall quality of CFIs and flight schools across the country through support and education could be a better use of resources.

    Choosing a flight school or a CFI is not the same as hiring a painter from Angie’s List. It is more like buying clothes, you need to go out and try them on first and see if they fit before deciding to invest in a long term relationship with them. And unless you are “going away” to flight school you are probably going to have limited options in the schools available to you. Most people would be lucky to have more than 1 flight school within a reasonable distance of them. Would a rating system help those people?

    Word of mouth is really the best form of advertising anyway.
    Somerset Air Service @ KSMQ ROCKS! See what I mean……

  • Greg L

    An administered rating system sounds too old school and bureaucratic…a system similar to Yelp would make the most sense to me, with pilot comments and ratings on various elements.

  • Lee Gilbert

    As usual Bruce, you cover the corners of the question elegantly. Perhaps an answer has nothing to do with a rating system, but instead with developing criteria (checklist if you will) for prospective students to use to guide them through the flight school/instructor selection process. Such criteria might include what the student should expect from the training and what the training should expect from the student. This criteria could be made available (and apparent) at ALL flight instruction locations.

  • Bruce La Fountain

    Bravo Bruce you are circling the target! Any process of rating a service function especially involving education is a two way street born of necessity.

    Extreme testing, which is actually a screening process, at the point of application is how the brightest student minds are matched with the highest quality educational institutions in the world; that harbor the finest and most qualified professors.

    Our top American military aviators are among the best and the brightest in the world. This is not by accident; it is by selection and matching of the brightest and most capable students with the very best instructors.

    The wash out rate in military aviation is often extreme so why would we want to be any less selective in cultivating our civilian pilot population?

    The most successful global companies in the market today use extreme and continuous quality measurement standards; so in an environment like general aviation where safety is paramount why not screen both ends of the training process and keep on refining it until improvement is no longer a possibility.

    A student who regularly shows up ill prepared for a lesson in aviation or an instructor who is not prepared to screen him or her out will soon be a runway incursion statistic near you if we do not commit to excellence during the training process.

    I also notice that the general economic interests of the industry as a whole often prevent only the best from becoming G.A. pilots.

  • Jacie Ann Crowell

    Yes; rate the instructors.
    Any instructor who is worth their weight in knowledge will always welcome doing things that are right for the student, because the student is an extension of their understanding. Any CFI who spouts out an FAA answer when a question is posed is not the type of instructor for me. I automatically feel that they do not have a command on the rule they are trying to impress upon me by the fact that they cannot articulate to me in their own words how they understand the subject of discussion. I admire the instructor who can hear the question, and articulate to me their knowledge about the subject then throw in at the end what CFR it relates to. Better yet, the instructor who then rewords my question back to me in a way I can find my own answers in my head. My primary instructor was a master at asking me questions to get me to go into my own memory bank and retrieve the information. It is the best way I learn. Also, each student has a duty to themselves to take their training serious and to give the instructor respect.
    One last comment; instructors sometimes simply need to shut their mouths and let the student THINK!

  • Michael Damiano

    Isn’t there a system in place already with the GOLD SEAL program for CFI’s? Why recreate or create a separate system?

  • Bruce Landsberg


    As a Gold Seal holder myself, I agree partially. As I recall from the Advisory Circular, to qualify one had to complete 10 students within a certain time frame with an 80% first time pass rate.

    Many very talented CFIs might hit the 80% number but to complete 10 students to checkride in these times or if they work part time, would take a very long time.

    Is there another way? Perhaps – that’s why your thoughts are so valuable.

  • John Lutz

    Two left feet? How ’bout two right feet??? Just kidding!

    Actually, as a pilot who was able to fly only once every couple of weeks, my initial flight training did take a long time; over a year-and-a-half. But, it required *me to be that much more diligent about my training.

    There’s a lot to be said for responsibility on the part of the student. I’d wager that if more of those who complain about bad experiences took a long, hard, honest look at the way in which they learn, and how serious they are at learning something as complex as becoming a pilot, students might be a little less critical of their instructors and/or flight schools, and a little more motivated to work through the difficulties. You can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn.

    From my experience, there isn’t a CFI out there who would risk his certificate to pass someone who isn’t ready. But, I have met a number of CFIs who have bent over backward to help the student who puts forth a concerted effort to learn. Even when the student’s learning style doesn’t exactly match-up with the instructor’s teaching style.

    Good chemistry between student and instructor is extremely valuable, but a student won’t make it without a serious dose of self-responsibility.

    I would suggest that, if any such rating system were proposed, it should incorporate student self-assessment as part of the system.