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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Choosing a Flight Instructor: Part One

How do you find a flight instructor, when you’re just starting out and don’t know the appropriate questions to ask?

Typical questions might include:

  • How long have you taught?
  • What planes have you flown?
  • How many hours of instruction do you have?
  • How many total hours do you have in their logbook?

But more than how long and how many… we need to establish some additional interview questions.

Today is all about: How long will your instructor be available?

Questions for your potential instructor:

Instructor Darby, you say you’ve flown for Coastal Flying School for two months now, and have 450 hours of teaching, with fifteen-hundred-hours of total time. What are you planning to do for a long-term career?

Airline job? Wow. That’s great. Me too. So, what airline do you want to fly for? …. I’d love to work for them too. What are the requirements to fly there? How long until you qualify?… Do you plan on going to go to a commuter first? How many hours do they require? Have you applied?

Key questions:

How many hours until they qualify for that airline position, and leave? Do they have resumes and applications out at the airlines? Will they be committed to finishing your training before they move on to the next job?

Many instructors are doing just this— using this teaching job as a stepping-stone to the next job. That doesn’t mean they aren’t exceptional instructors who take the job of teaching seriously. That just means they won’t be around forever.

Starting with a new instructor can be a timely and expensive endeavor—Unless of course your school has a very standardized form of training. But still, most instructors in the general aviation arena will want to see you perform everything to assure you can handle all maneuvers, despite what the other guy said, because their name is on your signoff.

You want someone with the most experience, but… if their hours enable them to, and their career plans include leaving before you’re complete—you may want to look at someone else.

I know far too many pilots who have had their training delayed, repeated, and check-rides prolonged at an added expense. One student spent an additional $20,000 (plus) for the private license, over and above the additional $11,000 quoted. Part of this is due to the numerous instructors that kept leaving in pursuit of their careers.

The benefit of having many different instructors would include accessing a variety of experience from each. But if your funds are limited, you will want to find one quality instructor, and stick with them throughout your training.

  • Ask the Flight School: What is the instructor turnover rate?
  • Ask the Instructor: What kind of guarantee are you willing to give to your students?

How many instructors have you worked with?

Did the number impact your training?

Instructor turnover is not the only reason for the added expense. Join me on Thursday for Part Two of How to find an Instructor.

Enjoy the Journey!

XOX Karlene


  1. So what I got from this was... try to find Jay for your instructor? Haha just kidding. This is all excellent advice. I've found that often an older guy/gal that isn't on the fast track to get to an airline is often a great instructor, as well as someone that doesn't really want to do that. Most will be very quick to bail on a student if they get a job call. You mentioned guarantees. This would be a good thing to talk to your flight school about. You can spend an awful lot of money switching around instructors or even schools. Great post!

  2. My flight training came nearly 40 years ago, and the private license course was a flat $695 regardless of how many hours it took. That figure probably sounds ridiculous these days.

    Even back then, it was a good bit cheaper than competitive prices, because it was a small flight school with offices across the street from the airport instead of on the grounds. They just rented some parking space for the planes, which were not new.

    Jay Flinton was my instructor for 95% of my training. He was replaced by the owner of the school once or twice when he wasn't available at the time I needed to fly.

    Jay did some extra flying ferrying planes and such, but he had no interest in the airlines, so I wasn't worried about his going anywhere. We became good friends and even took a flying vacation together.

  3. I agree 100% with what Karlene says - I had to start over 4 different times in my own private training. Once because I moved, once because the school went under, and once because he left I lost interest. Then I found the right instructor who would work with me and was interested in teaching, even though she was also building hours towards a career flying corporate jets. Finding a compatible instructor is key.

    One I really disliked was an ex-AF F-15 pilot who was teaching aerobatics. His main goal was impress me with his flying (too much testosterone). Another was just punching time cards to build his hours. I've found I do much better with female or older male instructors. That's not to say that a young guy can't be a good instructor - just that they haven't been FOR ME. Find the right type of instructor for your own personal way of learning.

  4. Wow, lots to think about! Maybe, someday . . .

  5. Thank you very much for sharing great advice.That is what we should know!I am happy that I learned what I should know when I start to study aviation.I won't miss to read your writing on this coming Thursday!!
    Have a great day,Karlene san!

  6. Very timely blog! ;) The only thing I have to add is personality and learning style. My first instructor, oh so many years ago, and I just got each other. We both felt the airplane and flying. When he moved on my second instructor and I didn't click at all. I'm sure he was a fine pilot but not the teacher for me.

  7. Daniel, Thanks for the great comment and advice. So... don't tell Jay, but I'm really lusting after his plane. :) But, I wouldn't mind him teaching me how to fly her again.

  8. David, Wow. Wow. And another Wow. I hear tears falling across the world at that price you paid. Incredible. And you know the value of keeping the same instructor. I had the same through my training too. Not an airline guy... he flew charters but always had time for me. I need to find him!

  9. D.B. Thanks for the excellent comment. I prefer older instructors too. Not that young guys aren't good, but it's a "been there, done that" attitude. They're more comfortable and confident. But then, there are some excellent young instructors.

    We must watch out for that "extra" testosterone. I wonder if the stud pilots try to impress the women more, or the men.

    This could be another interesting article.


  10. Linda, when you're ready, we'll find you the best instructor. :)

  11. Hi Jun, Thank you for the comment. When you start with your flight school, if you can select your instructor you'll have some great questions. Keep studying hard. I know you are.

  12. Theresa, Thanks for the great comment. Next Tuesday we'll be touching on the personality and learning style. The most important thing is not to fear changing if you don't click.

  13. I once received some advice that if you don't want your instructor to leave, find an old retired guy with a ton of experience, nothing but free time, and no interest in going to (or back to) an airline. It might not work for everyone, but it is an idea. I miss all my instructors.

  14. Christine, you've had the most instructors for sure. I think that old guy theory is a good one... and a plan. Besides, you know what they say... men get better with age.


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