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So You Want To Learn To Fly Part 2-The Flight Instructor

Updated on April 22, 2012

You have had a chance to think about the first certificate you want to pursue. Now you need to find someone to help you pursue it. That person is a Flight Instructor or CFI (Certified Flight Instructor). Who are flight instructors? Well, there's a possibility that you already know one or several, and don't realize it. They come from all backgrounds and all walks of life. So how do you go about connecting with one?

As with many other things, you can start by doing a search online, or by looking in your local yellow pages. If you live in a fairly well populated area chances are there is a flight school at your local airport. If you cannot locate a flight school that is local to you, make a call or take a ride to the airport and visit the FBO (Fixed Base Operator). Airport FBO's provide all sorts of services for general aviation (which is what you are trying to become part of) and you might even run into a flight instructor while you are there. Somewhere in the FBO is probably a bulletin board advertising things like airplanes for sale, flight instruction, and so forth. They will also very likely have business cards for flight instructors in the area.

There are several ways to approach flight instruction and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Depending on where you live, there may be a large flight school with many instructors and airplanes at a nearby airport. Or there might be a smaller flight school. You can also find flight instructors who work privately almost anywhere. Here are a few things to think about:

Large Flight School

Advantages:

  • Many aircraft and instructors available, and often will have several different types of aircraft.
  • Typically can offer instruction leading to several different certificates.

Disadvantages:

  • It is possible that you will receive less personal attention.
  • If at a busy airport, there will be added pressures on the student from the beginning due to having to learn to follow commands from ground control or the tower, and having to immediately learn how to work into the flow of airport traffic, both on the ground and in the air.

Small Flight School

Advantages:

  • You will possibly get more personal attention. Fewer students will mean less likelihood that the instructor will have to wrap up your lesson, then rush out to meet the next student.
  • Smaller flight schools are more likely than large ones to be based at smaller, less busy airports, so some of the pressures of navigating a large airport and dealing with large airport traffic are removed.

Disadvantages:

  • Fewer aircraft available could mean more difficulty in scheduling a lesson.
  • Fewer instructors could mean that the school will not have qualified instructors for some certificates and/or ratings.

Private Instructor

Advantages:

  • May charge less for instruction than a flight school charges.
  • Not restricted to teaching at an airport where a flight school is based.

Disadvantages:

  • If the instructor doesn't have an airplane for instruction, you will have to supply an airplane.
  • You may not have access to all the training facilities that a flight school may have, such as a simulator.

Keep in mind that just as there are a variety of pilot certificates and ratings (we'll talk about ratings at another time), there are a variety of flight instructors. For example, a CFI who can give instruction to someone who is seeking a Sport Pilot Certificate may not be qualified to instruct someone who wants to obtain the Private Pilot Certificate. So you need to make sure you connect with an instructor who is qualified to work with you on the certificate you want to obtain.

It is a good idea to meet with and get to know your flight instructor before you begin your lessons. You will be spending a good deal of time in the air together, literally sitting shoulder to shoulder in most training aircraft, so you need to find someone who 1) fits your learning style, and 2) has a personality that you can get along with. You are putting out a fair amount of time and money for this endeavor, and you want to select an instructor you will feel comfortable with. If you have any concerns about your relationship with your instructor, it is always good to voice those to him or her, and if there is too big of a personality mismatch, don't be afraid to look for another instructor. While flight instructors, like any teachers, each have their own teaching style, they all have to teach you the same concepts and techniques, so in the long run switching instructors may be less costly in money and time than sticking with one who, for whatever reason, is just not helping you learn.

Up next in part 3: Training materials, methods and costs.

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