Choosing an Instructor: Your First Checklist

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’salmost like being back in school again. There is one significant difference, however. Nowyou have a choice.

When you were a kid in grammar or high school your teachers were assigned to you: thatwas 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 trainingexperience with. This one choice will be critical because it can significantly affect theoutcome 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 makingthe right instructor choice for you.


If you think about it, choosing the instructor is just as if youwere hiring someone and conducting job interviews, with the instructor being the jobseeker. While you may not know a lot about flying and feel humbled because of it, you arethe best person to know about yourself: who you are, how you learn, and how you think. Youshould be looking for an instructor who will take some interest in these factors and tryto 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 ofcarefully planned questions to determine the customer’s wants and needs. You should followa 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 willreveal a lot about this individuals’ motivation, desires and goals.

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


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

NAFI logoA good source ofinformation is NAFI, the National Association of FlightInstructors, headquartered at the EAA building in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They can provideyou 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 theAircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in Frederick,Maryland.

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

checkTakea test flight

GA Team 2000Most FBO’s offer an introductorylesson at a reduced price. The GA Team 2000 industryassociation sponsors a coupon offer in various aviation magazines to provide anintroductory flight at the rate of $35.00 using a coupon redeemable at selected FBO’s. Youmight also consider taking intro lessons with different schools and instructors before yousettle on one. The few extra dollars you spend doing this now can save you a significantamount later by avoiding a mistake.

checkWatchout for little things

I had one instructor who had the aggravating habit of tapping on the glareshield as ifto relieve his boredom while I flew the airplane. I found this both annoying anddistracting, and eventually I changed instructors. You should feel comfortable with yourtrainer and his or her methods. Look for an instructor who lets you do the flying and doesnot "ride" the controls. After all, you need to learn by your own handsonexperience. An experienced instructor will allow you to manipulate the controls while theyexplain the proper procedures, intervening only to demonstrate a maneuver or rectify aproblem.


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

checkDoyour homework

Sporty's logoThere is an excellent tapeavailable from Sporty’s Pilot Shop entitled"Finding the Best Flight Instruction." It presents a detailed discussion of thehow and why of choosing your instructor. The mall cost of this tape, along with your timein 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 cantake your business elsewhere. Ask a lot of questions and don’t be shy. A reputable flightschool or professional instructor has a vested interest in your success as a studentpilot. You are a valuable future aviation customer. Look for a school or instructor whowill treat you as such.

checkGowith your gut feeling

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