3 Things Every (Student) Pilot Needs to Know About… Selecting a Flight Instructor

Training with the right flight instructor makes all the difference when it comes to flight training success. Any flight training, initial or advanced is an investment of your time and recourses. Before embarking on that journey it is important to find the right fit. Think of picking an instructor like buying a car. Before you purchase a car you consider many factors- style, capabilities, etc… Whether you are a student pilot pursing a Sport or Private Pilot certificate or a certificated pilot looking to do some further training, working with the right flight instructor is crucial to flight training success.

Learning to fly

Picking the right instructor goes a long way in how effective & successful your flight training will be!


  1. Communication is the foundation of training, thus it is vitally important that a student and flight instructor can easily, effectively and efficiently communicate.

It’s happened to all of us, we’ve been mid-conversation with another person and thought, “what in the world are we talking about right now?” Communication involves three things a sender, receiver and a message. The message can take many forms- words/noises, facial expressions, hand motions, etc… Easy communication means that the two parties can converse and exchange concepts, thoughts and ideas in a free and simple manner. This means that when an instructor is trying to impart knowledge or ideas on the student, the student can receive the knowledge and incorporate it into their efforts.

Moreover, communication must be effective. If the student pilot is unable to receive the message and put the meaning to good use then the communication is a waste, literally. The message has to be phrased in such a way that makes sense, which will make the information useful. This is why early on during flight training a flight instructor speaks more in plain English with fewer acronyms/industry-lingo. Preparing for a student’s first flight to an airfield with a control tower, the instructor will say, “We have to contact air traffic control to let them know we are coming and what we want to do.” Whereas, later in a student’s training, the instructor will say, “Let’s contact ATC” or “Let’s call the tower.”

This difference seems minor, but for an instructor it means the difference between getting the message across effectively the first time, versus having to restate the same message multiple times to clarify. It is unlikely a new student will know what ATC means, but any student pilot that has been flying for a while will understand ATC. Thus, the newer student would have to ask what ATC stands for. This question/answer will interrupt the mental processes the student pilot is devoting to basic aircraft control (remember early on during flight training it takes a lot more concentration to do the basics, like keep the airplane straight & level…).

When it comes to having efficient communication, this is another modifier that can impact the successfulness of a student’s flight training experience. This one is a little trickier to perceive, but as a student it comes down to how many attempts it takes a flight instructor to answer the questions posed to them. One of the concepts that I have written about previously (see my article from Mentor magazine Mar/Apr 2014) is that students don’t know what they don’t know… As a result it makes asking questions more difficult, because the students are inquiring about something foreign to them. A quality flight instructor is able to determine exactly what piece of information a inquisitive student is searching for even if the student doesn’t know how to phrase the question. This is easy to detect based on how easy and efficient it is for you to learn from your instructor. Ultimately, for the instructor it means understanding how the student thinks, how they have phrased questions during their training previously, what the student is presently working on during training and being able to understand what the next piece of information the student will need to be successful is.

The communication aspect of flight training is vital; the greatest source of information during flight training is the flight instructor. For a student, being able to be comfortable and confident while communicating with an instructor is a major requirement for success.

If you feel as thought the communication between you and your instructor isn’t great, maybe it seems like you aren’t on the same page, try discussing it with them… Maybe they could make a simple adjustment and your training would be much more effective!

  1. Selecting an instructor that has a compatible schedule is crucial to YOUR flight training success.

There are a variety of barriers to flight training, schedule difficulties are just another roadblock that can be easily avoided. By selecting a flight instructor with a compatible schedule early on in your flight training, you stand a much better chance of being successful. Weather, maintenance reasons and aircraft limitations represent a number of potential obstacles that can conspire against you to cancel any given flight lesson, but flight instructor availability shouldn’t be one of these…

If you want to fly on the weekends and you are paired with an instructor that is primarily at the flight school during the week and only available on the weekends occasionally, this is obviously going to be an issue. After the first few lessons, it is a good idea to fly with only one instructor; they will be responsible for endorsing you for solo flight and to do that they must have covered a litany of maneuvers and concepts with you. Flying with multiple instructors can increase the cost of flight training because you will ultimately have to demonstrate all of the knowledge concepts and physical flying skills to one single instructor. Flying with various instructors can cause you to have to repeat items, meaning more flight lessons, meaning more cost…

Selecting an instructor that is available when you want to fly is hugely important to success; especially when you are approaching your first solo flight! During the lead up to the first solo multiple flights will be made is close succession, this will prepare you to be confident in your skills and your flight instructor to be confident in your abilities. During this crunch time it is important that your schedule and your flight instructor’s schedule match up nicely. Complimentary schedules allow you to fly whenever possible. For example, if you fly mainly on the weekends because you have a ‘9-5 day job’ then it’s a good idea to fly with a CFI available on the weekends and during some evenings. That way if you can run out of work a little early you could make it to the airport and get in a quick lesson on short notice.

I know when I was flying as a CFI (certified flight instructor) with students mainly on the weekends and I’d get a text from one of these student asking if we could fly later that afternoon, I’d be very excited about the opportunity to get an extra flight in on any given day! This type of flexibility is hugely important, because you need to be able to capitalize on any potential flight lesson. Moreover, if a couple of flights are cancelled due to bad weather or the aircraft being “down” for regularly-schedule maintenance, having the ability to squeeze a flight in on a day when you don’t normally fly can be very important to keeping your skills up to par.

  1. A flight instructor that has a professional presentation style will reduce the cost of your training.

Remember, you’re paying a good chunk of money to learn how to fly; and when you think about it, you’re learning TO FLY AN AIRPLANE, it really shouldn’t be cheap, you should want to get a good/solid/fundamental education on the topic…

When you walk into a flight school regardless of the type of school (local airport or big-box-flight academy) you should aim to work with a professional. Flight instructors come in many shapes and sizes. Some are young persons aiming to gain hours teaching while they aspire to be professional airline pilots, others do it as a full time job and some do it as a part time job whether it is in addition to their own ‘9-5 day job’ or a retirement job…

The idea though is that you should try to seek out a professional teacher. You’re learning to fly an airplane and no offense to racecar drivers or boaters, but really they are on the ground, airplanes go up in the air and there is an inherent risk in that, though if it is managed correctly it isn’t a big risk… The key is to find an instructor that helps you learn how to manage the unique classroom of the cockpit and having the ability to learn.

A professional flight instructor doesn’t have to be wearing a shirt/tie, though jeans (in my opinion aren’t professional), a professional flight instructor is someone who sets a tone for learning. A professional flight instructor encourages their students while providing a non-threatening environment where they can have some fun (you are flying after all) while still working to develop their aeronautical knowledge and skills.

Again, a professional instructor doesn’t need to be clean-shaven many great teachers have beards. But they should provide actual content and be able to answer questions and teach concepts beyond just the basics of various topics. Though it is important to note that sometimes flight instructors need to research and look things up too!

It’s a good idea when selecting an instructor to ask your self, how does this instructor present him or her self? Are they able to articulate the knowledge in a manner you can understand, are they able to coach you through situations or do they have to “take it” to get their point across? An instructor is a teacher, a coach and a mentor. A grouch that simply says, “No, that’s not right” and has to raise their voice or jokes about smacking a student across the back of the head with a knee board is not professional and not effective…

The idea is to find an instructor that can motivate and push you to succeed, while also creating a comfortable environment (in the classroom and aircraft) that makes it easy to learn. Instructors have varying styles, some can adapt based on what individual students need, so talk to your instructor, if you prefer a more motivational coach, tell your instructor. If you require someone that is more of an old-fashion hard, straight shooter, then tell them that is how you learn the best. It is likely that a good instructor will be able to adapt their style slightly to help you succeed!

So when you are selecting your flight instructor, whether it is to start your training as a student pilot, switch instructors or if you are looking for a new instructor to pursue additional ratings/certificates remember the three things that can make your training better: communication, schedule and presentation.


-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9


One thought on “3 Things Every (Student) Pilot Needs to Know About… Selecting a Flight Instructor

  1. Pingback: So you want to learn to fly? | Review Before Flight

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