Anyone can be a good pilot, but it takes certain skills to be a good flight instructor (FI). Having pilot certification, experience, and knowledge are all valuable characteristics for an instructor to have, but there are other qualities that one must possess to effectively teach future members of the industry. And while all teachers must be experts, not all experts can be teachers.
If you’re a pilot or would-be pilot with any of these qualities, you might have a future in guiding your future colleagues in the aviation sector.
Strong Communication and People Skills
Flight schools are meant to transform students into professional and competent pilots, and the experts tasked with teaching novices must be able to communicate instructions well. This means not relying on jargon-speak and understanding that the students are just starting to grasp industry terminology. Instructors must know how to communicate at a student’s level during pilot training to help them fully absorb the various aviation concepts.
Having strong communication skills also means understanding that everyone has their own way of learning things. Dispelling the notion of a one-size-fits-all approach, instructors must know how to tailor their methods to help theoretical, visual, and practical learners make the most out of their training. For students who don’t learn as quickly as others, instructors must have the patience to help those lagging behind.
Instructors would also do well to improve their listening, mentoring, coaching, and facilitation skills. To know what best motivates a novice pilot, sometimes all you need to do is listen. Some students might not quite follow a lesson the class has already moved on from, and others might not be in the right headspace to learn. It’s important to pay attention to these kinds of students and not just spew a deluge of facts and figures.
Sufficient Knowledge and Expertise
Of course, anyone who wants to become a Flight Instructor must be a subject matter expert. Beyond being certificate or license holders, FIs must have the ability to translate their technical knowledge into understandable information.
Besides having a wealth of stock knowledge, a good FI must be aware that learning never stops. Good instructors have an endless thirst for knowledge and know that instructors can also learn from their students. This means being humble enough to accept corrections when proven wrong and incorporate them in future lessons.
This also means being aware of your need to invest in further training. Knowledge fluctuates with time, and it’s best to keep sharpening your expertise. Employers often cover the retraining and revalidating costs of instructors, and you should use this as an opportunity to boost your credibility further in the industry.
Proper Teaching Methods
A person can have the skills and personality to be a good FI, but these are useless without creative, well-researched and standardized modes of instruction. Instructors must promptly prepare for lessons and review lessons in relation to the flight syllabus. It’s also good for FIs to be methodical and stick to procedures, especially when it comes to the flying aspect of pilot training. An example of this is to do a pre-flight check of a plane before every flight, which is a good habit to rub off on beginner pilots.
FIs should also learn to be inventive, especially when teaching students about small, unexpected scenarios that happen in real life. Some FIs even use examples of past accident reports from the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) to highlight instances of human error and improve students’ decision-making skills. Utmost focus is another value that all pilots must abide by, and instructors must be able to train novices on dividing their attention during a flight. FIs can apply this when teaching students about making turns and identifying ground objects or terrain.
There are different ways to define professionalism, especially with FIs having the triple-hatted role of pilot, instructor, and mentor/coach/facilitator. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has an Aviation Instructor’s Handbook that comprehensively details guidelines for being a professional FI from appearance to test creation.
Besides sticking to regulations, being professional also means treating everyone, including your students, with respect. Good FIs must know how to build rapport and foster camaraderie with people regardless of skill level. After all, novice pilots are also potential industry colleagues. A good working relationship would benefit everyone beyond the training period.
Enjoys Teaching and Flying
The secret ingredient to good flight instruction is passion. Without it, you can’t convince students that a career in aviation can be rewarding. To inspire others, you also need to be inspired yourself.
But of course, you can’t be an instructor if you don’t enjoy sharing your passion with others. Knowledge and skill aren’t the only qualities that make up a good FI. You also need perceptiveness and awareness to help trainee pilots reach your skill level or do even greater things. A long career as a pilot may be rewarding, but there’s nothing like being the reason why other pilots have been able to reach their dreams.