by Jim Hanson
As aviation consumers, all too often, we complain when things go wrong. Perhaps it’s just human nature to complain, but as one aviation mentor told me decades ago, “this business will make a bitter old man out of you!” He was right. Some time ago, I found myself handling problem after problem, almost all of which involved vendors not doing what they SAID they were going to do. It was frustrating…I couldn’t help thinking, “How much better the world would be if people only did what they SAID they were going to do!”
I resolved to deal with the issue by expecting the worst, but giving credit to those who exceed expectations; after all, if we are going to complain, we should give recognition to those who excel. That’s the reason for this column.
By the time you read this column, I will have held a Flight Instructor – Airplane Certificate for 50 years. I’ve added Instrument and Multi-Engine Instructor Ratings, a Glider Instructor Rating, and all of the Ground Instructor Ratings. As a CFI, I must renew the rating every two years. The additional ratings took care of that for several years, being an active flight instructor with a good student pass record took care of many more. FAA check-rides as a Chief Instructor in a Part 141 school, renewed some, and some renewals were done in conjunction with getting a Jet Type Rating or insurance-required check-rides with a Designated Pilot Examiner – all ways to renew the rating.
I no longer do much flight instructing – most of my instructing is limited to aircraft checkouts for those purchasing a new airplane from me. Often, a high-performance, complex, or high-altitude endorsement is required. I also do some instructing in seaplanes, and use my Glider Flight Instructor Rating for Ground Tow Glider Pilot Endorsements, or an endorsement for pilots to tow gliders. As a fixed base operator, pilots often ask my opinion on regulation compliance. In short, I am not an “active instructor” – (I don’t make enough money from my flight instruction to pay for the recertification courses) – but very few days go by that I don’t make some use of the knowledge or the rating. I worked hard for the CFI rating, and I’m not about to let it lapse.
The easiest way for a not-so-active CFI to renew the rating is to either do it online, or attend an FAA-approved Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic (FIRC). I’ve done both. Both take the same amount of time: 16 hours. The online course is beneficial because you can work at your own pace. The “weekend course” advantage is the ability to ask questions and interact with fellow flight instructors as they share information. The disadvantage of most weekend courses is that they often are dry and formulaic…the coffee provided is to keep you from going to sleep. Some evolve into questions involving minutiae in which there is very little to be learned. It’s often simply a matter of putting in your time and passing the required written test…a waste of a weekend.
A GOOD VALUE!
Two years ago, I attended an “Aviation Seminars” presentation in Minneapolis. In addition to Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics, Aviation Seminars conducts prep courses for other FAA written exams. The instructor was Jeff Masek, a Twin Cities resident and a ground-school presenter since 1988. Jeff has an interesting background; he has a Ph.D., is a former engineer, spent 14 years as an airline pilot before being furloughed in 2001 (a casualty of 9/11), is an active General Aviation pilot, and currently works special cases as a law enforcement officer. He uses that last qualification to corral the crowd of sometimes-unruly students, and the former qualifications to speak with authority on the subjects when teaching Private Pilot and Instrument Ground Schools, and Flight Instructor Refresher Courses. I immediately liked his presentation – “We WILL start on time, don’t be late. We WILL get you through this, if you pay attention. We WILL have time for discussion and questions.” The ground rules were set and enforced. I actually enjoyed the two days of classroom time so much, that I signed up again and attended the FIRC again this year. I recognized a number of other CFIs in the room – many also “returnees” from previous classes.
One of the things that sets Aviation Seminars classes apart from other FIRCs is that they cover timely subjects. Yes, the FAA mandates the subject matter to be taught, but rather than a “canned” approach that never varies from year to year (even the JOKES are the same in some seminars!), Jeff’s approach covers the important changes over the past two years. Like all FAA-approved seminars, the Federal Aviation Regulations must be covered, but Jeff took the time to not only make us aware of the regulations, but the effect upon flight training from both the viewpoint of the student and the instructor. Rather than dry recitation, the presentation was very practical.
Speaking of the students and instructors, considerable time was taken to show instructors how to navigate through the FAA’s “IACRA” maze for application for new pilot ratings (paper recommendations are no longer accepted). The computer certainly saves time – for the FAA, that is – but it is a pain for the occasional user. Aviation Seminars helped several of us in filling out the IACRA form for our own Flight Instructor Certificate renewals to teach us how to use the system. THANKS!
Presentation and discussion was held on the practical effects of the new Airman Certification Standards (ACS) for Private and Instrument pilots. The ACS replaces the decades-old Practical Test Standards that most of us are used to. Like all change, there has been some resistance to the adoption of the ACS, but by the time Jeff explained the changes, most of us saw it as an improvement, for the student and for the instructor. (The current battle over the new standard of teaching “not-so-slow-flight” notwithstanding, is causing more than a little controversy in the flight training industry). Considerable time was also taken to make sure that the flight instructors were aware of the new medical certification standards. Sport Pilot, glider, and flight training device changes were discussed. An FAA FIRC wouldn’t be possible without discussing FAA paperwork and changes, but Jeff’s presentation was slanted toward keeping instructors out of trouble, and thus was “real-world” – “news you can use” information.
The varied aspects of ADS-B operation, compliance, and limitations was discussed, so that instructors can help counsel aircraft owners about their options. The FAA wants flight instructors to be able to counsel pilots on “hot items,” like loss of control accidents, runway incursions, and weather flying, so these items were included in the presentation. FAA also wants better flight instructor performance in the administration of flight reviews, credit for pilot participation in the Wings program for flight reviews, and the conduct of Instrument Proficiency Checks, so time was spent on those items as well.
I’m liking what I see here. The FAA has recognized that the best way for pilots to “get the word” on new changes is to have flight instructors explain it during flight reviews, and that flight instructors are the local experts that pilots can come to for advice without fear of the FAA.
Expect your flight instructor to spend time on these issues at your next Biennial Flight Review (BFR). Aviation Seminars has tapped into that change nationwide, and hired good local presenters like Jeff to deliver meaningful presentations and to answer questions.
All in all, it was time well spent — 16 hours of “news you can use” for CFIs, rather than the usual “snooze-a-thon.” Kudos to Aviation Seminars, Jeff, and even the FAA for a seminar that didn’t just “go through the motions” of recertification, but delivered valuable information that flight instructors can use and pass on to other pilots.
That’s something “above and beyond expectations,” and when you can deliver that in your product, THAT’S GOOD BUSINESS!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Hanson is the long-time fixed base operator in Albert Lea, Minnesota. While others may call him an “old-crank,” he has been around long enough to achieve CURMUDGEON status. If you know of an aviation organization that gives better-than-expected service, let them know and let the rest of us know as well by sending an email to email@example.com.