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Southport, Manitoba, Canada
Steve Pomroy is a professional flight instructor and aviation writer. He has been teaching since 1995 and holds an Airline Transport Pilot License, Class 1 Instructor and Aerobatic Instructor Ratings, military QFI, and an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He's written and published three flight training books through his company, SkyWriters Publishing, and has several other books under development. Steve currently teaches RCAF pilot candidates on their Primary Flight Training course.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Piloting as a Profession: Part 5, More on Training Standards

... Continuing from the previous post (Part 4, Training Standards) and considering the question, "What single change could be made that would result in the most improvement in the flight training industry?":

The whole point of training is to enable students to learn from the experience of others. This suggests that we need experienced instructors, who can then pass on that experience for their students’ to benefit. So, the most important thing we need is better trained and more experienced instructors. An instructor who just barely has a Commercial Pilot License is not usually capable of providing high-quality instruction. 200 hours (ok, 230 hours) really isn’t enough time for an instructor to build up their own experience bank to draw upon when teaching.

This wasn’t always the case. When the training paradigm currently used in aviation was developed, 200 hour pilots had flown multiple high-speed, complex aircraft and had survived over 100 hours of combat. The very fact that they were alive provided a testament to their abilities and experience. No such filter exists today (thankfully!).

Does this mean that a 200 hour pilot can’t be a good instructor? Of course not. Notice that I said "usually". But making policy or regulations based on the occasional exception is a poor approach to quality control.

Increasing the experience requirements for instructors doesn’t just get us better instructors through a direct increase in experience. It also impacts motivation. If the experience requirement is increased enough, it cuts off instruction as an entry level job for time-builders. By the time an instructor candidate is qualified to teach, they will have enough flight time to have other career-path options. This means we’ll only get instructors who want to teach. Right now, there are far too many instructors who just want to get hours at somebody else’s expense—they don’t really want to teach. More often than not, this motivation shows up in the quality of work. So we often have a compound problem in that an inexperienced instructor (who is already limited by a lack of experience) also doesn’t want to teach. Both aspects of this problem can be eliminated, or at least significantly reduced, by a large increase in instructor experience requirements.

So how much experience should be required of instructor candidates? I don’t know, but I think it’s a question worth investigating. I’m inclined to suggest that an ATPL should be required for an instructor rating. But I don’t have any facts or figures to support this, it’s just a gut instinct.

Are there any "cons" to this approach? Certainly. The only significant one I can think of is in the training of Private Pilots. Increasing instructor experience requirements will also increase the cost of training, since the instructors will be paid better. I’m loath to suggest changes that will drive up the cost of training, as it is expensive enough as it is. But short of having different instructor qualifications for teaching PPL and CPL candidates (I don’t think this would work very well), I don’t see a way around the cost increase.

But what about all those pilot wannabe’s that now can’t live the dream because we’ve cut off the primary time-building option? Nonsense. This "problem" will quickly sort itself out through changes in the supply and demand dynamic. What will actually happen is that pilots fresh out of flight school will have the opportunity to fly Part VII operations much more quickly because the supply of high-time ex-instructors will disappear. Will this negatively impact safety? No, because the increase in the quality of training will cover the shortfall of experience—that’s the whole point of the change. Will there be an adjustment period? Yes, and it will have to be managed carefully.

Will this change, in and of itself, fix everything? Nope. There are changes needed in the training program and completion standard for both the CPL and the ATPL. However, this one change would fix many of the problems we see. Further, outside the training industry, there are changes needed to improve the industry overall (duty time limits and whistleblower protections come to mind).


Happy Flying!

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