How to find the right flight instructor for you.

Whether you choose to learn from an Independent Instructor or a Formalized Flight School, it is important that you take the time to interview and choose the instructor you will be working with to ensure not only the quality of the instruction that you will receive but also the compatibility between the instructor and yourself. Do not let the experience of the instructor alone guide your decision. I’ve met many experienced instructors that I would not recommend and some inexperienced ones who are natural teachers. It would also be a mistake to assume a school instructor has already been vetted by the school. It is common practice for schools to automatically hire instructors they have trained on a quid pro quo basis, regardless of their skill level or instructional focus.

When interviewing a flight instructor the first thing you will want to do is ask them to explain their training philosophy. Their answer to this question will often answer many of your questions including the ones you don’t know to ask. It will also give you the most honest representation of what your training experience will be like. It is easy for an instructor to pander to the common wishes of the prospective student by quoting low cost, fun and easy training, a short training period, and low homework load. Any salesman can tell the student what they want to hear. What you want is for the teacher to tell you what you need to know. A well elucidated training philosophy should tell you this.  You can follow this link for my training philosophy to use for comparison.

Only after they have explained their philosophy in detail, is the time to go into individual areas of focus. How you choose to rank the importance of each of these areas is for you to decide for yourself as everyone’s situation and goals are different. If you click this link for the Interview Sheet you can use it to rank your questions in terms of importance by assigning them a value on the leftmost column with ten being the highest.  Note – the questions have been deliberately randomized and are NOT in the order of importance I would choose. You can also rate your satisfaction with each answer on the rightmost column with ten being completely satisfied. Then multiply the two numbers together and total all of the results to get an overall score. I’ve left room for you to add questions of your own to personalize the form.

For an example of a completed sheet, you can follow this link to the self completed interview sheet, which has a short version of my answers and how I would weigh the importance of each area. Mind you, this is only a short version. If you are interested in possibly utilizing my skills as an instructor, you can call me for a more complete answer to these questions and should assign an importance value yourself.

You may be tempted to send this interview sheet out to many instructors, but I would advise against it. This is a sure way to rule out the best instructors. Good instructors get plenty of business from referrals and do not need to take the time to answer a lot of questions they get as part of a mass posting when they know that the poster is almost certainly going to go with the “salesman” who told them what they wanted to hear. When I get such an email, I don’t even bother to respond. The student who is really interested in finding a quality instructor will take the time to interview several instructors individually, whether it be over the phone or in person.

The interview sheet will allow you to compare the prospective instructors objectively. You will need to combine this with your subjective impression of their veracity, personality, and training style to choose the instructor who is the best overall fit.

Once you have done this you are ready to schedule an introductory flight lesson with one or more of the prospective instructors. If you decide to do this with more than one instructor, it is very important that your very first flight be with the instructor you think the best fit up to that point. That first lesson is the foundation upon which the rest of the training will be built. If it is faulty, then the effectiveness of all of the training will be reduced, no matter which instructor you choose.

It is important to note that when comparing the first introductory flight and subsequent flights, the first flight will almost always be the most exciting (and nerve-wracking), and subsequent flights will usually feel more comfortable and easier to absorb; IE. – in subsequent lessons you will have the benefit of the prior lesson. You should consider this factor when comparing experiences and making your final decision.

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Bruce J. Elig CFI/CFII/MEI/ATP

I have been flying since 1986 and instructing since 1995. During that time I have accumulated over 10,000 hours in airplanes and helicopters, with over 9,000 hours of dual flight instruction given in airplanes. After obtaining my Private Pilots License here in San Diego, I served in the Army for six years flying both the UH-1 Huey Utility Helicopter and the AH-1 Cobra Attack Helicopter. Upon completion of my term of service, I returned to San Diego and have been instructing full time in airplanes for the last seventeen years. I instruct independently utilizing club aircraft at Montgomery Airport and am available for Private Pilot instruction, Commercial Pilot instruction, Instrument Pilot Instruction, Multi-Engine Instruction, Aircraft Checkouts, Biennial Flight Reviews, Instrument Proficiency Checks, Currency Training, Local Area Orientations, and Introductory Flights on a Full-time basis. I instruct because I enjoy teaching, not for time building. Therefore, my training programs are focused on training quality and safety while trying to keep costs down. I have both FAA Commercial Helicopter and Airplane Single Engine Land with Instrument ratings, as well as FAA Flight Instructor, Instrument Flight Instructor, Multi-Engine Flight Instructor, Advanced Ground Instructor, and Instrument Ground Instructor certificates.

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