Choosing an Instructor: Your First Checklist

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Learning to fly is like being back in school again...except that this time, you get to choose your teacher. Your choice could have a profound effect on the outcome of your training and your future success as a pilot. Here's a checklist for choosing your primary CFI.

TrainingNow that you're enrolling in flight training, it's almost like being back in school again. There is one significant difference, however. Now you have a choice.

When you were a kid in grammar or high school your teachers were assigned to you: that was it, cut and dried, no argument. Now as a prospective aviation student and customer, you have the power to make the choice of the instructor you want to share your training experience with. This one choice will be critical because it can significantly affect the outcome of your training and your future success as a pilot.

Cessna 152Here are some steps you can take to properly assess all the factors that go into making the right instructor choice for you.


If you think about it, choosing the instructor is just as if you were hiring someone and conducting job interviews, with the instructor being the job seeker. While you may not know a lot about flying and feel humbled because of it, you are the best person to know about yourself: who you are, how you learn, and how you think. You should be looking for an instructor who will take some interest in these factors and try to understand you as a person, as well as a student and customer.

Your instructor?In sales we refer to this process as "qualifying." We ask a number of carefully planned questions to determine the customer's wants and needs. You should follow a similar process with your instructor candidates. The most direct qualifying question is "why did you want to become an instructor?" The answer to this question will reveal a lot about this individuals' motivation, desires and goals.

Remember that many of these instructors, particularly the younger ones, are using instructing to build their flight time in order to advance their pilot career goals and make their skills more marketable. This is okay — the way the system is structured instructing, becomes the only effective way to build enough flight time to become hirable in the airlines and corporate flight departments. If your instructor answers your question honestly, that is fine. You need to know up front that there is a possibility you may have to make a change later on when your instructor gets the call to take the pilot's seat.

checkShop around

Like a familiar song said, "don't be sold on the very first one." Check several flight schools and instructors. Ask questions and get references.

NAFI logoA good source of information is NAFI, the National Association of Flight Instructors, headquartered at the EAA building in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They can provide you with the names and telephone numbers of flight schools and instructors in your area. Similar information, along with other learn to fly material, is also available from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in Frederick, Maryland.

Call previous students for their opinions and comments. Most will be happy to share their experience, good and bad, with you.

checkTake a test flight

GA Team 2000Most FBO's offer an introductory lesson at a reduced price. The GA Team 2000 industry association sponsors a coupon offer in various aviation magazines to provide an introductory flight at the rate of $35.00 using a coupon redeemable at selected FBO's. You might also consider taking intro lessons with different schools and instructors before you settle on one. The few extra dollars you spend doing this now can save you a significant amount later by avoiding a mistake.

checkWatch out for little things

I had one instructor who had the aggravating habit of tapping on the glareshield as if to relieve his boredom while I flew the airplane. I found this both annoying and distracting, and eventually I changed instructors. You should feel comfortable with your trainer and his or her methods. Look for an instructor who lets you do the flying and does not "ride" the controls. After all, you need to learn by your own hands­on experience. An experienced instructor will allow you to manipulate the controls while they explain the proper procedures, intervening only to demonstrate a maneuver or rectify a problem.

checkBe open­minded

Chances are that you will interview instructors of different age groups and possibly the opposite sex. Don't let any of these factors stand between you and your goal of getting to know your instructor and becoming comfortable. A professional and experienced instructor will also not let differences in age or gender influence them. Talent to fly airplanes and the ability to teach are the main qualities to search for.

checkDo your homework

Sporty's logoThere is an excellent tape available from Sporty's Pilot Shop entitled "Finding the Best Flight Instruction." It presents a detailed discussion of the how and why of choosing your instructor. The mall cost of this tape, along with your time in watching it could save you considerable expense later on.

checkRemember: you are also a customer!

As a consumer, you have the ultimate power of choice: if you are not satisfied, you can take your business elsewhere. Ask a lot of questions and don't be shy. A reputable flight school or professional instructor has a vested interest in your success as a student pilot. You are a valuable future aviation customer. Look for a school or instructor who will treat you as such.

checkGo with your gut feeling

After doing all of these things, spend some time to get to know your instructor as a person. After all, you're going to be spending a lot of time with this individual and you might as well fly with someone you enjoy. No matter how technical or complicated aviation may seem, the fact remains that you are still dealing with people. When all else fails, go with your gut feeling. It is usually right.