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Ready for take-off

Life as a Senior Flight Instructor

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

Submitted Sun Nov 20 03:53:39 2011 EST

Durban, KZN, SA

It is very hard to write about my job, since I don’t really consider it a job but a way of life but let me try and see how far you can stay with me. I think satisfaction and contentment would be two words that come to mind when I take a student from their first flight all the way to obtaining their licence, or when I send a student on their first solo. In simple terms, my job is to train ab-initio and advanced student pilots towards their private pilot and commercial pilot licences respectively among other administrative responsibilities. Being the Senior Flight Instructor in our school means that I am in charge of maintaining the training standard at our flight school to be on par with and sometimes exceeding internationally accepted standards. This requires a lot of research and co-ordination with a number of local and foreign training organisations; we also involve the South African Civil Aviation especially when introducing new techniques and courses. I also fly ten hour assessment flights with all the students being trained by other instructors every time they cross the ten hour marker. Doing this allows us to monitor the student and instructor progress. At times I have to take harsh decisions and be cruel to be kind. I remember a time when we decided to dismiss one of our students due to lack of any signs of progress even after flying with different instructors. I also remember times when meetings with instructors were conducted regarding their training methods. That being said, the final decision is always left to the Chief Flying Instructor who has enough knowledge and experience to judge such cases. Students preparing for their PPL / Night Rating flight tests are recommended to me by their instructors for the test. After accepting the recommendation, going through their training file, and having a meeting with the student, it is time to take them for their test flight. Here I want to stress that there is no instructor in the world that embarks on a test with the intention of failing a student-contrary to what some students might claim. Instructors are generally generous with their markings, always willing to help and the CAA test forms are quite fair and clear on what the requirements are. If you have ever heard about a student failing, understand that there is a very good reason behind that and in my case the reason is normally to save lives. A general rule that examiners use is; if I can trust this pilot to fly my family and loved ones, then he or she is competent to hold a licence. This normally cuts it for me. Students preparing for their Commercial Pilot Licence are normally a pleasure to fly with. These are pilots with some flying experience and my job is to polish this flying experience, scrub off any bad habits that accumulated during their hour building phase and introduce advanced or bad weather flying to them. As the process involves flying faster and more sophisticated aircraft, the students are always learning and an aura of excitement hangs over them during this phase of training. These are students working towards a career in aviation, and my job is to offer them the best training money can buy. My aim is not to train the candidate to pass the commercial pilot test, which is a rightfully gruelling test, but to impress the examiner on all aspects of professional flying; in other words, from greeting the examiner, dress code, attitude and knowledge to handling emergencies and any wild or creative situations the examiners can throw at them during flight in a cool level headed manner to the moment the examiner proudly hands them their golden wings and fixes their three gold bars on their shoulders.


As Aviation Safety Officer of our company, I conduct safety audits regularly and safety meetings monthly. Safety meetings topics range from recent local or international events to discussing safety bulletins issued by aircraft manufacturers regarding aircraft in our fleet to topics that have been agreed on by a majority regarding confusion or uncertainty with certain flight operations. The idea that safety is boring and that being safe is not fun is as old as the Pyramids of Giza and in my opinion; anyone who still thinks like that should be wrapped in long strips of cotton and thrown in a sarcophagus somewhere in the desert. That prehistoric thinking does not exist in our industry where safety is of paramount importance. It is a challenge to market, and yes I said market; safety as the new cool thing. If you are not safe, you are not cool in my books and that pretty much does the trick. I have started a Safety Management System where any occurrence no matter how minute it may seem is reported immediately and completely anonymously. This encouraged young pilots, with the emphasis on the young, to report without fearing judgement or prejudice. This also helped me make lists, graphs and tables of common occurrences and reoccurring incidents. I also established a hazard reporting system for anyone involved in our operations to report what they think might be a hazard before it becomes an occurrence. The beauty of such systems is that everyone is allowed to express their opinion which leads to an open safety culture, better yet, each time a corrective action is taken, it is communicated to the person who reported the matter either personally or through our safety meetings. Safety in aviation is something to boast about.

As person in charge of our aircraft fleet, it is purely an administrative position where I make sure that all aircraft operated by our company have all the correct paper work in order. This involves aircraft certificates of registration and release to service, radio station licence, weight and balance, flight folio, Pilot Operating Handbooks, Insurance cover, Lease agreements and so on. It is basically a way of parenting our aircraft. As most of these certificates expire on different dates, it becomes a pilot’s nightmare sometimes- and if you know one thing about pilots, they do not like paper work, yet it has to be done. As you can see I seem to be pretty busy during office hours, which are 24/7. We fly when our students are available, which could be on new years day, your birthday or anniversary for that matter. I am sure you get the point. A close eye on hour and duty periods insures that we stay human, especially during the holiday periods. Flight instruction exposes you to a different level of inter-human relationships, and I am not talking about the mile high club here for the well read of you, but today you have an engineer as a student, tomorrow you have a doctor, then one day you have an eighteen year old, the next you have a 50 year old who always dreamt about learning to fly. You meet and work with different people on a daily basis. When you have the privilege of doing advanced training you get the opportunity to meet and interact with leaders of the industry like Designated Examiners who are accomplished well known pilots who have thousands of hours, bags of experience and uniforms full of stories! This is your opportunity to shine through your students - through your work. Examiners like all great pilots, love flying; they love sharing their experiences when they see hunger for knowledge and willingness to improve. Most of them will take you under their wing, mentor you and guide you. Now this is one privilege of being an instructor, being around such aviation heavy weights. Flight instructors form the backbone of the aviation industry, yet they are not paid enough to help them conduct their job properly and this is due to the simple reason that the market is saturated with flight instructors. What makes you as an instructor different or irreplaceable is how well you conduct your work, how your students speak about you, how knowledgeable you are and how much passion you have for aviation and for your job. 100 instructors could graduate every year, yet only a few of them can proudly say they kept their jobs for more than a year! I say this because I want you to understand that once you make up your mind to become an instructor, understand that you are not doing it for how much financial reward you are getting out of it, because to be honest, you might be spending a lot buying books and manuals, even a month’s salary might disappear on a new rating or an upgrade. You are doing this for something that money can not buy, you are doing this to make you a better pilot, and for some of us, an aviator. Flight instruction is an interesting, satisfying and rewarding career with plenty of room for improvement. Some take up instruction as a stepping stone to build flying hours and experience towards flying bigger aircraft. Others might have fallen in love with flying instruction and simply have a passion for teaching something they love, because they want to share it with others. Every flying instructor has his or her version of the story, but you will generally find the words passion and flying repeated a lot in their story. One thing I have to caution you about though; if you do not have passion for flying and teaching others the art and science of flying then forget about it. Just because you are Ace of the Aces and known for your stick and rudder abilities doesn’t mean you can teach - a lot of great pilots make lousy instructors (yet it is rarely the other way round). If you chose to instruct because you couldn’t secure any other aviation job, then this should be your biggest red warning light. I am not sorry to tell you that you are not going to enjoy flight instruction, I am not sorry to tell you that you are not going to be a good flight instructor and I already feel sorry for your students. Our job is to make someone’s dream come true. Students trust you with their time, money, passion and dreams and if you mess that up, you only have yourself to blame. The old saying goes; a student can only be as good as their teacher- what we should aim for is for our students to be better than us.

What a life!

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