From The CFI #1: Whose Job Is It, Anyhow?

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Our newest columnist is a long-time contributor to AVweb. Linda Pendleton, a CFI and currently the Flight Training Manager for Eclipse Aviation, will bring us the latest from the world of flight training. In her first column, Linda discusses concerns she has about the state of the instructor/student relationship. Is the CFI solely responsible when a student is not properly signed off for solo, cross-country or even the practical exam? Is the student not at all to blame if they didn't learn all the subjects in the practical test standards? Like all of AVweb's columnists, don't expect Linda to sit quietly and toe some party line -- she leaves no one off the hook.

A friend of mine called the other night. She's a designated pilot examiner and we've known each other for almost 30 years. She had the usual list of complaints about the inadequacies of the current bunch of applicants she had examined. Very often, my friend arrives at the airport to administer a practical test only to find out that the student pilot does not have the proper endorsements or flight times required by the Federal Aviation Regulations ((FARs). Once the endorsements are all checked, the oral begins. That brings about a completely new set of problems. The student pilots do not believe that any of these shortcomings are their fault and have excuses to cover all eventualities. The ones that really got to me were the excuses that started with, "My instructor didn't tell me I had to know ..." or, "My instructor said that's the old-fashioned way of doing that." What in the world is wrong with our current instructors and students?

It is true that we have a crop of instructors who were trained and certified by the previous crop, whose main interest was making the Hobbs meter go around to accumulate total time for an airline job application. Some of these instructors have inadequate training and less-than-professional attitudes toward the profession of flight instruction. (Before you folks send me hate mail, please remember that I did not say all instructors are of this ilk, but many are. If you're doing a thorough job of preparing your students, you know it. If you aren't doing so good of a job, you probably know that, too.)

Who Should We Blame?

However, does the blame for this lack of quality in applicants belong totally in the lap of the flight instructor? I believe not! It seems that no one wants take responsibility for his or her actions any longer, but it may just be time to change that. These students -- with excuses for why they are not adequately prepared for their practical test or whose logbooks and certificates are not properly endorsed -- need to take a step back and look at just what they are asking for. They have come to a Designated Pilot Examiner and are asking for the privilege of flying anywhere in the U.S. airspace, unsupervised. Shouldn't one asking for that privilege at least know what the requirements are? In case you think this the ranting of a super-strict instructor, you should take some time to check the case of Administrator v. Reno, EA-3622 (1992). In this case, it was held that even if the student/instructor relationship were the same as the first officer/pilot-in-command relationship, that would not relieve the student from the responsibility to obtain the necessary endorsements prior to flight. The student may not rely on the instructor's obligation to provide the endorsements, if only because the responsibility is not solely that of the instructor. The regulations (61.87 and 61.93) impose this independent duty upon the student.

So, What Are These Requirements?

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This is how your student pilot certificate should look with the proper solo and solo cross-country endorsements. (Click for larger version.)

This is not secret stuff. For the requirements for a student pilot, check Subpart C of FAR 61 (FAR 61.81 through 61.95, inclusive). They tell you all you need to know about student pilots, the required endorsements for solo and solo cross country flight and the limitations placed upon student pilots. FAR 61.87, in particular, outlines the requirements to solo. It lists the aeronautical knowledge required, the flight instruction required, and the endorsements on the student pilot certificate and the logbook, which must be present for a student pilot to solo the aircraft. The solo endorsement in the logbook, which is particular for make and model aircraft, must be renewed by an authorized instructor every 90 days.

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Your logbook with your solo endorsement should look similar to this. (Click for larger version.) Check this PDF file for all the endorsements you'll need.

It's common for student pilots to show up for a practical test with an expired solo endorsement. So, what's the problem? The student will be flying with an examiner, not solo, right? True, but if the solo endorsement is not current, the examiner is put in the position of having to act as pilot in command if the practical test is to proceed. Many examiners are less than enthusiastic to do this for liability reasons. In addition, any solo flights conducted while the 90-day endorsement is expired cannot be counted in the time required for the private pilot certificate. By the way, the FAA has taken suspension action against CFIs that simply endorse the student pilot's logbook with the notation, "OK to solo." That's not good enough. The instructor must indicate that the instruction required by FAR 61.87 has been conducted in the make and model aircraft to be flown and that the instructor giving the endorsement has conducted that training.

FAR 61.93 is another area that seems to be misunderstood by both students and instructors. This regulation sets forth the instruction required and the student pilot and logbook endorsements required for cross-country flight. The student pilot certificate will be endorsed for solo cross-country privileges in a specific make and model aircraft by an authorized instructor who has given the instruction required by this regulation. The student's logbook must be endorsed by the same instructor for solo cross-country privileges according to the requirements of this regulation. In addition, for each cross-country flight the student plans to make, an instructor who has checked the student's cross-country planning and found it adequate for the flight contemplated must endorse the logbook. Any cross-country flights taken without all of the required endorsements cannot be counted towards the time required for a certificate or rating.

Subpart E (FAR 61.103 through 61.113) will tell you all the requirements you must meet to be eligible to take the private pilot practical test and the privileges and limitations of a private pilot certificate. It seems that many pilots have trouble understanding the aeronautical experience required by FAR 61.109 for a private pilot certificate. Except for students in an FAR 141 flight school, a pilot must have a total of 40 hours of aeronautical experience. That is comprised of 20 hours of dual instruction and 10 hours of solo practice on the maneuvers and procedures contained in FAR 61.107. The instruction must include three hours of cross-country training; three hours of night flight training consisting of one cross-country flight of at least 100 nautical miles total distance and 10 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. Also required are three hours of instrument flight training and three hours of flight training in preparation for the practical test, which must have been given within 60 days of the practical test.

There must also be at least 10 hours of solo flight time in a single-engine airplane including five hours of solo cross-country time including one flight of at least 150 nautical miles with landings at three different airports. One segment of the flight must be a straight-line distance between the two airports of at least 50 nautical miles between takeoff and landing. In addition, three takeoffs and landings must be made at an airport with an operating control tower. There are exceptions to the night flying requirements for students living in Alaska, and exceptions to the cross-country requirements for students based on small islands.

Want to know exactly what's required on the private pilot practical test? Check the FAA's practical test standards. You can also buy nicely printed and bound copies from almost any pilot shop. Now, as to how the maneuvers and procedures should actually be performed, check the books from Gleim. ASA also publishes two books of private pilot maneuvers one for high wing aircraft and one for low wing aircraft. Sporty's Pilot Shop carries these publications. For all-over instruction in all the academic subjects you will need to master for your private certificate, you can't beat Rod Machado's Private Pilot Handbook and Rod Machado's Private Pilot Workbook. Don't waste your money on courses that only teach you to pass the test. You really need to know and master allof the material, not just pass the test. My friend complains constantly about students who come for the practical test with knowledge-test results above 90% or even 100% but who cannot pass the oral exam. They have been taught how to pass the knowledge test, not master the subjects required of a private pilot. (In addition, the companies preparing these test prep materials will try to convince you with their advertising that they have every FAA test question. That's not true. The FAA is no longer releasing the whole test question bank, principally because so many applicants are passing the test in impossibly short times.) Sporty's also has a free service allowing you to practice for your FAA knowledge test.

You'll also be responsible for knowing the pertinent parts of FAR 91, General Operating and Flight Rules. The parts of this regulation that pertain to private pilots are Subpart A, Subpart B (except for 91.167 through 91.183 which pertain to instrument flight), Subpart C, Subpart D and Subpart E. One very important regulation that you should pay particular attention to is 91.7 -- Civil Aircraft Airworthiness -- that states, in paragraph (b):

The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight. The pilot in command shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur.

That's a pretty tall order. Have your CFI or mechanic go through the aircraft logs with you and show you where each required inspection and maintenance has been recorded and the aircraft returned to service. You'll also want to know that all pertinent Airworthiness Directives have been accomplished. The FAA has no sense of humor here and this is another place where you have the ultimate responsibility. Not your instructor, but you as pilot in command must make this determination of airworthiness.

The FAA and several private companies publish the Aeronautical Information Manual and the Federal Aviation Regulations. These references are necessary to your total education as a private pilot. These can be referenced on the FAA's Web site, but are much easier to manage as printed publications. Here is a list of all the endorsements that should be in your logbook when you go to meet the examiner for your Private Pilot Practical Test.

But, What About My Instructor?

What can a student do to insure that the best possible instruction is received? Well, there are some signs you can look for.

  • Does your instructor give you his or her undivided attention when it is your lesson time?

  • Has your instructor given you a syllabus for your course and does the instructor follow that syllabus?

  • Does your instructor spend adequate time on the ground in preparation for your flight lesson so that when you go out to the airplane you are clear on what is to be accomplished in that lesson and what the tolerances are?

  • After your flight lesson, does your instructor take adequate time to debrief the lesson, indicating your strengths and weaknesses and setting forth the procedures and maneuvers that will need more work?

  • Does your instructor tell you what will be covered in the next flight lesson so that you may prepare for that flight?

  • Is your instructor on time for your lessons?

  • Has your instructor cancelled your flight lesson more than once for reasons other than weather?

  • Has your instructor told you that you should obtain a copy of the regulations, the Aeronautical Information Manual and the Practical Test Standards?

  • Is your instructor dedicated to teaching and not just trying to accumulate enough time to get a "better" job?

  • Does your instructor treat you with respect (you are his employer)?

  • Does your instructor impart an air of confidence in your ability to master the maneuvers required for your private certificate?

  • Does your instructor spend minimal time manipulating the controls and maximum time talking you through procedures?

  • Will your instructor thoroughly instruct you in basic airmanship, pilotage, dead reckoning, and VOR navigation before introducing you to GPS and other gadgets?

If you've answered "No" to more than one or two of these questions, it may be time to have a serious discussion with your instructor or find another one. Look for an older instructor who is not looking for a better flying job. Unfortunately, there has been such a turnover in the instructor ranks in recent years that the "old salt" around the flight school may be an instructor who's been at it for a year or two and has given a couple of hundred hours of dual.

Do not accept an instructor who teaches by intimidation or yells in the cockpit. Do not accept an instructor who makes the cockpit the classroom. Ground school and preflight briefings are the time to discuss and understand new concepts. The airplane is for practice. The bottom line is that the responsibility for your training rests firmly on your shoulders. Best get used to shouldering responsibility now since the responsibility for the safety of flight will be yours as long as you act as pilot in command of an aircraft.

Finally, A Note To Instructors

I know that there are a great many wonderful instructors out there who love to teach and do the very best for their students. This article is not aimed at you. There are others, though, who hate teaching and are only doing it to build time. To you I say, "Do aviation a favor. Either dedicate yourself to being the very best instructor you can be, or find another way to build time." The law of primacy is just too strong to allow folks not dedicated to the profession of flight instruction to fly with our newest pilots.


For more From The CFI, check out the rest of Linda's articles.