Learning to fly is an odyssey like no other. It will challenge your intellect, your physical aptitudes, and your resolve as you ride on a roller-coaster of emotional highs and downs.
While flight training facilities provide the training environment, the flight instructor you select to accompany you on the journey will likely make the difference between success and failure.
Of course, a flight instructor should be ‘knowledgeable’. However, as a prospective student, you are not yet qualified to judge that aspect of instructor qualifications and thus must rely on the integrity of a system designed to ensure that licensed instructors are indeed knowledgeable.
The right flight instructor for you is not just knowledgeable; he or she is a good match for your personality and needs.
Before hiring a flight instructor, make sure to take the time to speak with several and look for the following essential traits listed in order of importance.
- Cares deeply about your success – Learning to fly is challenging. During the course of primary flight training, it is not uncommon for flight students to feel like quitting in the face of mounting adversity such weather delays, financial challenges, and personal setbacks. Your flight instructor should be your rock in the storm.
INTERVIEW TIP: To test his or her level of empathy, commitment, and approach to handling instructional challenges, request actual examples of how he or she helped some challenging or challenged students succeed.
- Is articulate – A flight instructor is first and foremost a communicator. Effective communication depends on many elements including shared background and personal style. This is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
INTERVIEW TIP: Ask your potential flight instructor to explain some technical aspect of aircraft operation (e.g., how the engine works). A good instructor will seek to determine what you already know about engines to adjust his or her explanations to your level and will periodically check your understanding before continuing onto new elements. You should feel empowered, not overwhelmed, at the end of the presentation.
- Feels ‘comfortable’ – Because of the tightness of most training aircraft cockpits and the intensity of the experience, the person you choose to share your space and emotions with should feel ‘comfortable’. You should look forward to spending time with your instructor.
INTERVIEW TIP: This element is completely intuitive. The selection process is similar to the process of choosing friends.
- Has interest and experience in the type of flying you plan to do – An airline-minded flight instructor accustomed to operating in large metropolitan areas and complex aircraft is likely ill-equipped to successfully train a bush pilot and vice versa. Verify that your potential flight instructor has interest and experience in the type of flying you plan to do. The right flight instructor will teach you the extra curriculum items that will keep safe as you enjoy your pilot privileges the way you intended.
INTERVIEW TIP: Query about the type of flying and aircraft he or she enjoys when not flight instructing to learn about his or her ‘specialty’ flying interest.
Good relationships can be wrong with time. Your flight instructor is a hired professional. His or her livelihood depends on customer satisfaction and effectiveness at delivering the services sold. If the relationship’s shortfalls lead you to consider abandoning your dreams of becoming a pilot, consider abandoning the flight instructor and hiring a new one instead.