The importance of having the right Flight Instructor.

News Category : Student Help & Advice

News Tag : Student Help & Advice

26th, March 2022

Insights From an Instructor

Edition 2

In our last article, we spent some time discussing why it is so important to choose the right flying school and I gave some pointers on how to go about choosing the right flying school for your needs.

If you’ve found the right flying school for your needs, then congratulations! You’re already well on your way to a fulfilling a rewarding aviation journey. This article deals with the next aspect of flight training and one that is so crucially important – your flight instructor. Over the course of this article, we’ll discuss why having a good instructor is important, what to expect from your instructor, what your instructor expects of you and what to do if you’re not happy with your instructor.

What does a flight instructor do?

Well… They teach you to fly. Duh! Setting aside the obvious for just a moment, let’s explore the role of a flight instructor in a little more detail.

A flight instructor is primarily responsible for conducting ab-initio training. In other words, they are responsible for conducting training towards the issue of a PPL. This training consists of ground and flight training, so the instructor needs to be able to deliver both aspects of the training.

During flight training, the instructor remains the pilot-in-command which means they are ultimately responsible for the pre-flight preparation, in-flight safety and aircraft management, communication, and post-flight duties.

Since your training will qualify you to act as pilot-in-command as the holder of a PPL, the instructor will start shifting some of these responsibilities to you at the appropriate times, they however,

Your flight instructor is the most important person you’ll work with. Choose them wisely.

remain ultimately responsible for the safety of the flight. This means that in addition to teaching you how to fly a plane, they are also constantly monitoring the fuel state, engine parameters and looking out for traffic.

When not flying, an instructor could be expected to deliver ground briefings pertaining to the flight exercises being undertaken as well as theoretical lectures and post-flight debriefs. In fact, the debrief is one of the most important aspects of the whole training process as this is when the student and instructor can review the lesson and discuss what went well and what needs to be improved. The duties of the instructor don’t stop there though. Every training session must be documented in a training file, and it is the responsibility of the instructor to ensure that the student’s training file is kept up to date.

So, while you may only deal with your instructor for a short time per day, you’ll often find that an instructor has an incredibly busy work schedule and works tirelessly to stay on top of things.  


Why a good instructor is so important.

Have you ever had that one school teacher who inspired you to want to do better and learn more than just the basics? I’m guessing that teacher had a profound impact on your life and played a pivotal role in shaping who you are as a person today? A good flight instructor is no different.

If you consider that your flight instructor is most likely the first person in aviation that you’ll deal with on a regular basis, it stands to reason that they will very likely set the tone for how your training will go. If you and your instructor don’t get along well, then you’ll feel less comfortable around them and be less receptive to learning from them.

On the other hand, the two of you get along well, it makes the whole process much more enjoyable and allows you to feel comfortable enough to ask questions about things that you don’t understand.

It goes beyond a feel-good factor though. You are entrusting your life to your instructor whenever you get into a plane together. Flying with someone you don’t like has an impact on how much confidence you have in that person – even if only at a subconscious level.

An instructor very often becomes a role model to new students. I still do some of the same things my first instructor did. Luckily, they were all good habits! If an instructor has an unprofessional attitude, doesn’t take safety seriously and treats you like you know nothing, then immediately you are given the impression that it’s okay to behave in a similar manner. The saying “first impressions are lasting impressions” is painfully accurate here.

A good instructor recognises the vital role they play in the development of a new pilot’s career and makes every effort to always ensure they role model the appropriate behaviour.

This may all seem wishy-washy and full of nonsense, but I have seen it all too often in my 10 years as an instructor. There are countless aspiring pilots who have given up on their dreams of becoming a pilot because of their instructor.

A really good instructor can be thought of as more of a mentor than a flight instructor.


What makes a good instructor?

A good instructor doesn’t need to be some all-knowing god of the skies who never makes mistakes. In fact, these types of pilots often make the worst instructors. Because all students have different personalities, motivations and aspirations; what one student thinks is a “good instructor” may be seen by another student as a terrible instructor. Below, I’ll discuss some traits that set good instructors apart.

1) The student is King/Queen

By far and away the most important thing for any instructor to remember is that they are there to provide a service to a student. The focus should never be on the instructor, but rather on the student and their needs.

A good instructor puts their ego aside and refrains from showing how much they know or how well they fly unless there is a direct benefit to the student’s learning. There is no place for showboating.

2) A good instructor takes the time and effort to get to know you.

By knowing what motivated you to become a pilot, what other interests you have, how you react to stress and where your strengths and weaknesses lie, the instructor knows how to get you to perform to the best of your abilities. The simple act of taking 15 minutes to get to know you a bit better does wonders. On the one hand, the instructor is armed with information that will help them to develop you as a professional pilot. On the other hand, you as a student feel like your instructor is taking a genuine interest in you – you feel like more than just a number.

3) A good instructor is continually looking for valuable teaching moments.

Be it during the flight or whilst walking around the airfield, there are always opportunities to learn about something extra. As an example, say you and your instructor are walking past a plane that is different to the one you fly.

There are bound to be components of that plane that you may have learned about in your groundschool. A good instructor will take the opportunity to show you how this component works in real life. It’s these small details that give you a broader understanding of the aviation environment.

4) A good instructor is honest.

We don’t have all the answers all the time. The hallmark of a good instructor is one who admits if they do not know something and makes an effort to find the correct answer. Very often this turns into a valuable learning opportunity.

5) A good instructor is professional.

Flight training is serious business where large amounts of money are spent by customers and where the time pressures are ever present. An instructor who conducts themselves with a good degree of professionalism is a must for several reasons.

Most important of these is the fact that from day one, an instructor’s every move is being picked up on by the student who has little to no foundational knowledge of what is expected of a professional pilot.

The instructor becomes the student’s barometer of professionalism. Any bad habits that the instructor displays in an aviation environment invariably gets copied by the student. Instructors must always ensure they are role modelling the appropriate behaviour.

The key is to find an instructor who suits YOUR needs the best.


What does your instructor expect from you?

The working relationship you and your instructor will have is a two-way street. In order to get the best out of your instructor (and by extension, the best value from your training), there are some things that your instructor will expect from you.

1) Be Prepared

As mentioned earlier in the article, your instructor is usually incredibly busy training several students. Your instructor often doesn’t have the luxury of time to postpone a training session because you are not prepared for the session.

By far the biggest complaint that you’ll hear from any instructor is that their students were not prepared for the session. Try to ensure that you have all the equipment ready and in working order before you attend class or go for a flight.

Also make sure you have read through any prerequisite training material before the lesson. In short, please come to the lesson prepared!

  • PROPER
  • PLANNING
  • PREVENTS
  • POOR
  • PERFORMANCE

2) Be Punctual.

This goes in hand with my previous point. Flying schools need to ensure that all their aircraft and staff are utilised in the most effective manner. This means that flights are booked back-to-back. So are the instructors. There is usually not a lot of time available for delays as this causes a knock-on effect. Arriving late to a lesson or flight is not only unprofessional, but also causes delays that could have an impact on your fellow students. We’re counting on you to play your part in ensuring the operation runs smoothly.

3) Ask questions.

Ever since the Wright Brothers first took to the skies, there has never been a single instructor who has been able to read minds. So, if you don’t understand something, the onus is on you to say so. An instructor would far rather have a student who admits they don’t understand something than a student who pretends to know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Like anything in life, there is a time and place for this (asking your instructor a question about altimeter setting procedures on short final approach is probably not the most appropriate place to have the conversation!)

4) Do your best!

All your instructor wants from you is for you to do your best. Acknowledge your strengths and make an effort to improve your areas of weakness. Your instructor is not expecting you to be the next Sully Sullenberger or Chuck Yeager. Perfection will come in due course; just work to the best of your ability.

5) Have fun!

It is proven that learning something happens best when a person is enjoying the experience. Don’t forget to have fun during your training – you’re learning to fly an aeroplane for goodness’s sake! If you are not finding the training enjoyable, discuss this with your instructor to try and find out why you’re not enjoying the training and what could be done to make the process more enjoyable for you.


What should I expect from my instructor?

We’ve had a look at the characteristics of a good instructor and what is expected from you, but now we will discuss what you should expect from your instructor.

1) Your instructor should be punctual.

Quite simply, being late for a lesson sets a bad tone and leads to the lesson being rushed or postponed altogether. I’m sure that would frustrate you immensely. Don’t settle for an instructor who is constantly late for lessons or flights. This just places unfair pressure on you.

2) Your instructor should be respectful towards you.

Nobody wants to be treated like a fool. Do not tolerate an instructor making you feel like an idiot for making mistakes. There is an appropriate way to address mistakes and an inappropriate way. Being yelled at is certainly a red flag, as are snide comments.

3) Your instructor should not put you in a situation beyond your capabilities or set you up for failure.

This is a fine line for an instructor to follow because there are times when we can see a student is grasping a concept quicker than normal, and so we decide to raise the stakes to develop your higher order thinking skills. There is a difference between this and making you land the aeroplane at maximum crosswind limits on your first landing. The difference here is that you are being put in a situation that you have no hope of successfully carrying out; whereas an instructor getting you to do something a little more complex than what you’re used to makes you use all the skills you have learned so far to achieve something that required a higher order of thinking. If you feel your instructor placed you in an unfair situation, discuss your concerns with them. They may have a good reason for doing it that way.


I don’t seem to get along with my instructor. What can I do about it?

We’re all humans. We don’t always get on well with everyone. Personality clashes in the training environment is not conducive to the learning process.

Most of the time the flight school will make every attempt to pair you with an instructor of a similar personality. Sometimes this doesn’t work out as planned but have no fear!

If you and your instructor don’t seem to get along, you are well within your rights to request a change of instructors. It is perfectly normal to do so and is done often at flying schools the world over. This is best brought up with the Chief Flying Instructor or Head of Training, as appropriate. If you find the school unwilling to facilitate an instructor change without a valid reason, think very carefully about whether this is the right school for you.

Do not be afraid to request a different instructor!


Conclusion

As we’ve seen from this article, choosing the right instructor is one of the most important choices you’ll make in your flying career. An instructor can make or break your aviation career in the sense that a bad instructor can very easily turn you off flying and cause you to abandon your dream of becoming a pilot. I have seen it happen more times than one would like. Similarly, a good instructor will help you get the best value out of your training and provide a solid foundation for a long and successful career in aviation. Hopefully this article has provided you with some good pointers to help you choose the instructor that best suits your needs.

Happy flying!


About the Author:

Lawrence Lagaay

SkyLearner TKI
Based: South Africa

Lawrence is a Commercial Airline Pilot based in Port Elizabeth South Africa, and TKI for SkyLearner Aviation, with experience in both GA and airline training environments.