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The #10 skills and qualities you need to be a good flight instructor

Have you ever been curious about what skills and abilities are required to become a flight instructor? Perhaps you've never given it a second thought, our suggestion is that you should.

A good instructor will share many of the same qualities required of any pilot. You need to have a love of flying, you need to be experienced and possess a curious mind with a continuous thirst to learn more.

We asked one of our experienced pilots and instructors Martyn, what he felt were the most important attributes of a good flight instructor. 

We hope this inspires you to learn more about a career as a certified flight instructor (CFI).

#1 Enjoy flying

What I enjoy most is instructing instructors because you’re training someone who is already a qualified pilot but needs a higher level of skill, capacity, perception and awareness to guide and inspire others to be pilots.

I get a lot of enjoyment from teaching and helping students achieve. My feeling is that when a student finishes their studies here, they have the potential to reach a higher standard than myself ultimately because they have taken everything I have, added to which students have their skills and experience and what they will learn from others.

Some pilots may keep knowledge to themselves in order to make them look better. But instructors should share everything with their students (although, this can’t, of course, be done all at once)!

#2 Have a thirst for knowledge

What I enjoy about teaching at FTA is that you have the opportunity to teach at all levels which can mean pushing yourself outside your comfort zones. But this is often fundamental in achieving new goals.

#3 Be humble

It’s your role to make them the best pilot they can be, and that can mean that ultimately they have the potential to exceed your achievements.

#4 Be inventive

To illustrate an important safety point I often use past accidents investigated by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB). Such reports can be used to highlight the human error in accidents that are preventable by thorough pre-flight planning and correct decision-making. A pilot has to be trained to be a decision maker – using all the skills and knowledge learned through training.

After a period of teaching, I quiz the students to confirm understanding, often in a light-hearted fashion akin to a 'pub quiz'. I encourage the students to discuss answers between them before committing a response to me. This way the network and build up relationships with fellow students and are exposed to a different way of thinking and information processing.

After all, most will progress to the multi-crew environment in a public transport aircraft where this process is crucial for the best outcome.

#5 Possess good interpersonal skills

You need to be able to build a rapport with the students. It’s important to take time to engage with the students. I’ve trained instructors who think they need to act or behave in a certain way as an instructor and they need to work past it. You need to be true to yourself and essentially be you.

You need to be of the mindset that you treat others the way you want to be treated. If you give a student the respect, they deserve you end up with a good working relationship.

#6 Be mindful that you’ll always need to save funds to invest in your training

If you have completed your private, or commercial pilot’s licence, you will still need to keep your ratings up to date and renewed. The great thing about working as an instructor is that often your employer will cover the cost of your renewals and revalidations. If you want to progress and increase the type of training you can deliver, often your flight school will be supportive in making that possible – at the end of the day, it’s in their interest for you to grow with the business.

#7 Be courageous in splitting away from the pack

It's unfortunate that flight instruction has a reputation for being a poorly paid job. Indeed when you compare it with the expected 6 figure salary a Captain of a large aircraft, it will seem that way. However, instructors are now in very high demand and as you progress through your training to becoming an experienced, advanced instructor, so too does your salary.

The majority will enter into pilot training because of the lure of the airlines, and that’s great because we need more commercial pilots. But we also need more instructors to train and inspire those new pilots. Instructing gives you a great work balance, regular hours and ability as I have had, to explore other interests, or enjoy your life.

#8 Good English and Maths

The stumbling block for some students can be their understanding of English and Maths. Now the level of English and Maths is that of the GCSE syllabus, but some students arrive having spent some years away from school and the arithmetic and formulas you are taught. There is no time to splinter off groups and show them core maths, so it’s crucial that you’re able to deliver the tools for them to find the answers their way. A lot of the maths required in pilot training is mental arithmetic, and so it is only with your support that they can then identify the quickest way to find the right answers themselves. Your understanding Maths, therefore, needs to be good, but also appropriate for teaching others.

#9 Get experience

The more you teach, the better a teacher you become. I don’t see a lack of knowledge as a barrier (for myself), just a gap-filling exercise for learning and expanding my knowledge. If a student asks a question and I don’t know the answer, I’m honest. But I use the opportunity to find out the right answer and deliver it back to them as soon as possible. The important thing is never to ‘bluff’ or pretend you know something when you don’t.

You can always read up extra before a class and prepare yourself for the lesson ahead.

That preparation and the willingness and diligence in seeking the correct answer will be what earns a students’ respect.

#10 Enjoy teaching

Every day is different, and with each new intake you get to know new personalities, and it’s a joy. I love teaching and always knew it was something I would do. I also love flying, real flying and that’s something I get to do. With every flying experience, in either a new area, aircraft or day, I gain something new to teach my students.




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