What is the flight instructor’s primary responsibility?


I was working with a new CFI candidate today.  I asked him what the primary responsibility of the flight instructor was.  He gave me a very common, and totally wrong, answer.  In fact I think this misconception is widely spread and is the biggest problem in flight training today.  His answer was, “…to teach the student to meet the minimum practical test standards.”

What’s the problem?  Teaching to the minimums, trying to do it cheap, and teaching the how to do a steep turn to PTS standards are the biggest reason why GA aviation continues to have weekly accidents and show the public how dangerous flying is.  Flying isn’t dangerous but, poorly trained “minimum” pilots are.

So what is the primary responsibility of an instructor?  Teaching the student how to make good aeronautical decisions with safety more valuable than starting a risky flight.  THREE AIRPLANES A WEEK fall short of an airport because of fuel starvation! This is not a PTS problem, it’s a bad ADM problem.

When you are with a student do you fill up on your credit card or decide to go home on 1/2 tanks so the flight school will buy the gas?  When you are low on money and the weather is marginal do you fly with the student?  If you’re running late for your next appointment, do you taxi to the ramp fast and shut down the a/c without a checklist?  I have in the past and I know most flight instructors have taken these or other similar shortcuts.  What we are really showing our students is that if the weather is bad, they can do traffic pattern.  Low on gas, it’s better to fly home and save the money.  If you need to fly, it’s OK if you really need to.

It’s far safer to send a pilot out in the world with some great examples from you, a professional pilot, that chances aren’t worth taking.  Of course the PTS is needed in training as well and useful in many ways.  Let me ask you one final question.  In 3 years at a mountain airport in marginal night vfr…. Do you want your former student to have gotten their ticket in 40 hours or to ask themselves what is worth wrecking the plane and dying for?  What if they cancelled the flight because of the example you provided?

What do you think?

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Fly Safe!

Gary Reeves, ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI
FAA Safety Team
Chief Safety Officer, PilotSafety.org

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