CFI vs. Pilot
Sometimes I think the longer I'm in the aviation journalism biz, the less I know. That's the sensation I have from blogging on the Cirrus stall accident covered in this video. The research that led up to this video involved a sweep of fatal accidents in which we discovered that 18 percent of all fatals are due to stalls.
This is not a new revelation, by any means. Cessna knows all about it and so do the other aircraft manufacturers as does anyone who intimately studies general aviation safety. Maybe I knew it too, but for some reason, it just never sunk in until I tallied the numbers myself.
The Cirrus accident revealed another perhaps unhappy fact: the instructor involved in this accident had no time in type. He had apparently never flown a Cirrus. This came as a rude shock to one our correspondents, who thought the crash was due to the instructor's ineptitude. The NTSB listed the cause as the instructor's failure to retain control of the aircraft. To me, this reveals more about how pilots view instructors than how instructors ought to conduct themselves in the real world.
Let me just say upfront that I am quite confident I am not the only CFII who has instructed in airplanes in which I have zero time in type. My first hour in a Bonanza was in the right seat, giving the pilot an IPC—now ICC—in his own airplane. I knew him and also made it clear that he was to be the PIC, not me. We did most of the flight in actual. I'm sure other instructors have similar tales.
Now if he had come to me for a basic checkout in the airplane, I'd have declined. That's a different kind of instruction that requires knowledge of the type. Knowing when it's prudent to instruct in an airplane you've never seen and when it's not doesn't yield to either regulatory rigidity or a checklist. It requires something else and that's judgment. It's rarely a binary decision.
If a Cirrus owner approached me about an ICC now, I'd decline. I have time in SR20s and SR22s, but I'm neither current nor expert enough in the avionics to do an owner any good. He would have to look elsewhere.
And this leads me to observe that many pilots look at the pilot/instructor relationship all wrong. To me, it's less student/teacher and more vendor/customer, with the pilot being the customer. Put another way, the man doin' the payin', is the man (or woman) doin' the sayin.' You as pilot set the standard for what you expect in the instructor and how you want the training/evaluation to be conducted. The right attitude is pilot in command, the wrong attitude is supplicant in waiting.
Interestingly, it cuts both ways. The NTSB docket for the Cirrus crash revealed that the instructor had expressed misgivings about the pilot being a bit of a wild child. Any instructor who has had a similar misgiving—and most of us probably have—has a decision to make. Either you go forward with the realization that you'll be assertive enough to make command decisions that reflect your own standards and interests or you decline the job. The same goes for a pilot with misgivings about an instructor.
Since we don't know who was flying the Cirrus when it crashed, we can't say exactly what impact, if any, this had on the outcome of the flight. But this much is true:You as pilot are calling the training shots, including judgments that have to do with safety and comfort level. If things go badly and you find yourself blaming the instructor, take a pause and consider what got you to that point in the first place. That's another way of saying don't abrogate your PIC authority or your customer rights.
REVISED 12/27/09 5:50 a.m.