Since there are not a huge number of PPC CFIs we’ll readily admit that sometimes your options can be pretty limited, but here’s what we think you should be considering when seeking out flight instruction.
A Fair Price
Make sure that all of your costs are made clear up front, and that there are no nasty surprises. See the section below on Costs for some of the more common considerations.
The Right Aircraft
Make sure their PPC will fly well where you’ll be at. There’s nothing worse that being a new student pilot and trying to wrestle a grossly underpowered aircraft into the air at the same time.
Also, make sure their PPC will be available for the duration of the training. Some CFIs – believe it or not – will refuse to allow you to solo in their aircraft, and won’t allow you to continue your instruction until you go out and buy your own unit. Aside from the facts that it’s a huge disruption in the learning process, it may not be immediately financial viable, you probably won’t really know what kind of aircraft you’ll want to buy at that point, and you just may not have the money at that moment, you simply would NEVER find a fixed-wing CFI making such demands! We strongly recommend steering clear of anyone who requires you to ‘buy before you fly’. If they’re that afraid of their students’ flying ability, we’d suggest it might speak volumes to their instruction and judgement to sign you off to solo in the first place.
Running a Business
In the simplest scenario, the question to ask is what happens if you crashed or damaged their aircraft? What if your instructor was injured in the course of providing you instruction?
Are they insured, bonded, or self-insured? Are you expected to pay the costs of repair? What about medical bills? No one thinks to ask these questions until after-the-fact, and by then it’s… too late. If you’re really nervous about these things, ask if they use any type of signed contract, mutual agreement, or waiver.
Patience and Courtesy
Sad to say, but some CFIs are known to be jerks if you even think about looking sideways at them or questioning their methods. People are people, and sometimes personalities clash, but a good CFI will show patience and understanding. Our best recommendation is to talk to others who have used a particular instructor, and ask for honest feedback. You’ll almost always hear one criticism or another about an instructor (no one is perfect), but consider it an ominous warning sign if you start encountering multiple heated complaints about a person.
Just because someone has years of experience doesn’t mean they are any fun to fly with, and just because they may be a new instructor doesn’t mean you cannot get a quality experience, either. Take the time and ask questions, get to know the person, and make sure it’s a good fit. You’re going to be spending some quality time with that person, so…
Time to Fly
Some CFIs have flexible schedules, while some are working and can only fly on the weekends. Find a CFI that works with your schedule. Some of us have had a great experience by taking 2 weeks off, traveling to an idyllic flying location, and pounding out the hours in one continuous run. Others of us have earned our certificate over the course of many months flying on the weekends. There isn’t a right or wrong method, but make sure the CFI’s approach aligns with your needs.
We strongly promote the idea of doing more than the minimum – even before taking your Check Ride – if it’s possible. CFIs are focused on the goal, but there are other goods lessons and practices to learn too, and there are lots of things we know newly minted pilots may never learn during training, but find in short order that they wish they had:
- Proper use of the radio in higher traffic environments. Some training grounds may never require you to pick up a radio, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need it where you fly.
- Crosswinds and breezy days. Although CFIs will usually work very hard to ensure you only fly during optimal conditions, this will not be the case thereafter… prepare for the suboptimal.
- Thermals and updrafts/downdrafts. Many pilots (especially if you’ll be trailering around) will eventually fly in dessert-like conditions, or fly at unique sights where mesa updrafts and forest downdrafts present unseen challenges.
- Class B/C/D endorsement. Most PPC pilots don’t care about (nor are equipped for) B/C airspace, but if you want to fly at or into that small, towered Class D regional airport near you, you’re going to need this endorsement. There is some debate about the process, but it appears to be generally accepted that the CFI can restrict activities and narrow the endorsement to only one type of airspace, if desired. (Note that your instructor will either have to already have the 61.325 endorsement themselves, or be a private pilot CFI.)
Some instructors will not want to practice advanced techniques until after your Check Ride, and virtually all of them will at least wait until you’ve done your minimum time in the seat and fulfilled the certificate requirements. No matter what the case, we recommend budgeting an extra 3-4 hours of dual instruction specifically for some advanced flight training, if the instructor is amenable.
Virtually all of us as new pilots ended up with dozens (hundreds?) of questions after our training. Find out if and how much your CFI is willing to stay in touch and talk through those questions when they come up. See if they are active on public discussion boards (or host their own). Do they send out a newsletter or e-mail every so often, just to check in with their ‘graduates’? It’s these little things that can make a difference.