Misfortune Strikes Home

A problem seems much larger when it happens to you, and the CFI shortage has come home


The sad state of flight instruction is nothing new to any general aviation pilot who has tried to find someone good when it came time to upgrade a rating, get a biennial flight review or take an instrument proficiency check.

Think you can make it all the way through a license or rating without losing at least one instructor to the call of higher pay at a commuter airline? Bet ya cant.

Until recently, my CFII of choice was an anomaly – a dedicated professional who was a skilled veteran with a love of teaching, not just a kid looking to build time before jumping to the airlines.

Thats all changed now. My CFI (sounds as possessive as a high school romance, doesnt it?) went and became a designated pilot examiner. For the flying public as a whole, this is good news. The standards he holds are high and the applicants will have to know their stuff to get past his book of pink slips. Personally, however, it has been a devastating loss.

As I scour the area for a veteran instructor, I have so far come up empty. Judging from the mail, I know a lot of other pilots are in the same boat.

The path of least resistance is to throw your hands up in disgust and reconcile yourself to the fact that youre going to have to hire some kid whose flight time is barely higher than Sharon Stones IQ to sign off on your abilities for the next two years or six months or whatever. While you might learn something, its more likely youll either teach the CFI a couple of new tricks or youll hear his or her headset tap-tap-tapping against the right-side window and look over to see him or her catching up on some sleep.

Some months ago I was checking out a rental Mooney 201 at a local flight school. I wanted to have a backup airplane in case my Lance was down and, as an ex-M20J owner, I thought this might fill the bill. During the preflight I taught the CFI a few things about assessing the condition of the rubber biscuit shock absorbers and draining the Mooneys static system. I convinced him the thing takes off better with partial flaps and showed him how to stop bouncing his landings.

When we got back, I paid for his time and I paid for the airplanes time. Good for me.

As pilots, we get used to writing out checks. I dont know of anyone who minds paying a bit for some knowledge that may someday make the difference between a safe landing and a long way home. However, we also have to accept that we must all too frequently compensate others for the privilege of performing for them. But that doesnt mean we have to like it.

-Ken Ibold


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