The FAA Airman Certification Standard, envisioned at the SAFE Pilot Reform Symposium in 2011, is now FAA policy for pilot certification. New pilots now learn and demonstrate risk management in an integrated curriculum right from their first day of pilot training! Our Pilot Proficiency Program, started by Doug Stewart and others at SAFE in 2012, has become a national hit and the highlight of Oshkosh every year. SAFE is now focusing more intently on improving the level of professionalism of our aviation educators; this includes all CFIs and educators in all parts of aviation.

badcfisThere are far too many individuals in our industry who have acquired FAA teaching credentials and do not achieve (or maintain) the required professional standards to educate effectively and thoroughly. Every pilot and CFI reading this has experienced (and paid for) this depressing “educational experience.” Just focus on your memory of this for a moment and imagine if it was your first exposure to aviation. It is no wonder, new pilot candidates are dropping out at an 80% rate in our flight schools.

Please refer to Rod Machado’s blog on this topic or see our recent post on professionalism here. Every one of these individuals potentially provides initial and remedial training to a large number of pilots every year. The required one hour of flight time for a flight review every two years is often a perfunctory “rubber stamp” with no true value. Imagine if each of these low functioning CFIs was teaching at a more professional level how much safer all our pilot population would become.

In the US, any commercial level pilot can acquire a CFI (plus CFII and MEI) certificate in a 10-14 day course and be teaching new pilots the very next day (potentially even in a twin)! Additionally, the CFI responsible for teaching these new CFI students is only required to have 200 hours of instructional time and no particular added pedagogical experience. The professionalism of our US aviation system runs entirely on personal integrity and this system is failing badly. If each of these new CFI graduates entered a mentored education environment, this system might work acceptably. Unfortunately many new CFIs are hired teach entirely on their own and have to figure it out as they go!

In Canada, flight instructors have four levels. A beginner Class 4 instructor can only teach under the supervision of a higher Class 2 or 1 instructor. Additionally, to instruct a potential CFI in Canada you must be a Class 1 instructor with years of proven experience. This insures that only experienced professionals are teaching the new instructors. In the US, our aviation “puppy mills” are churning out “hour builders” who use their new credentials to build required experience for their future careers in an unsupervised environment. The common joke “your first five students will teach you how to be a CFI” are unfortunately not far from true in the US.

On the other side of life, we have many retired professional 121/135 pilots returning to the education system after years of line flying. These individuals retain a CFI certificate with the minimal $99 online renewal every two years and “teach” at whatever level they maintain. Often these professionals crave a refresher but have no options to refresh their skills in our industry (we hope to change that at SAFE).  In our FAA marketplace, some CFIs are wonderful and some are terrible all depending on personal ability and integrity, there is  absolutely no verification of professionalism.

Largely for this reason, JoAnn and Sandy Hill created the Master Instructor Continuing Education Program in 1995. Master Instructors are highly vetted, peer reviewed professionals that are also active aviation citizens giving back to our industry. The rigorous requirements of this certification are well recognized in our industry and raise these individuals to a professional level of Master Instructor.

But not every aviation instructor (SAFE prefers the term “educator”) has the time or experience to become a Master Instructor, but all hopefully desire to become more professional in their teaching (again our FAA system runs primarily on integrity and compliance). This is where SAFE is stepping up our game. We provide the SAFE Toolkit with all the required FAA experience and endorsements (in addition to a wealth of other resources) free to everyone (Carry it all on your phone!) SAFE has an active CFI mentoring program for new or returning CFIs where you can be matched with an experienced CFI professional to provide necessary guidance for new CFIs. This year we are presenting “CFI Pro” branded seminars at Sun ‘N Fun and hope to also present a program bonding CFIs and DPEs soon (Join us and help!)

Look for our new initiatives to “raise the bar” on CFI professionalism rolling out this year. And please offer *your* suggestions to improve our efforts! CFIs are the secret sauce for safety in our industry that touch every pilot every day. They do this either by providing instruction or in the example the set in our community. Each aviation educator needs to teach with integrity and maintain the highest level of skill, knowledge and judgment. Step up to CFI professionalism with SAFE in 2017…and have a great year!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

About the author 

David St. George (Lifetime Member)

David St. George learned to fly at Flanders Valley Airport in 1970. Proving that everyone is eventually trainable, he became an FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor for airplanes (single and multi, instrument, and glider) and serves the Rochester FSDO as an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. In this capacity, he gives flight tests at any level from sport pilot to ATP and CFI. For 25 years David was East Hill Flying Club's 141 Chief Instructor and manager. David holds multi and single engine ATP pilot certificates, with pilot ratings for glider and seaplane and several jet type ratings. He recently earned his 13th renewal as a Master Instructor and owns an Aeronca Champ so he can build hours for that airline job!

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