So what’s the rush?

The constantly-mentioned “pilot shortage” has created a cultural shift in flight training. More so than ever, companies, flight schools, and students alike want training to be completed in the shortest amount of time. There is pressure from all levels to produce qualified pilots to meet the growing demand. When they hear about the potential salaries, new students are lining up at flight schools to be funneled through programs as quickly as possible.

I am in the minority who strongly believe that students who meet the minimum requirements in a short time are not necessarily quality pilots. Many instructors, especially the young ones instructing to build hours, forget that they should be presenting a quality product at the end of a final checkride, not just a large quantity.

I argue that taking longer than technically necessary to take students through training will make for a better, safer pilot. I am not arguing that the current requirements are insufficient, but that there is a demonstrable benefit to spreading those required hours over a longer calendar period.

Hangar flying
Not all learning takes place in the left seat of an airplane.

There are many advantages only obtainable by extending training, the three most important of which are: hangar flying, experience in varied weather conditions, and reflection. Each of these plays a significant role in the development of a student pilot even though they are not shown in the logbook.

Hangar flying, or the informal opportunity for pilots to exchange information and experiences, is wildly undervalued during training. When the weather is bad and no flights are heading up for the day, that isn’t when we should send our students home discouraged, but instead that is when we should urge them to stick around the airport to ask questions and listen.

So much knowledge flows in and out of an FBO everyday: pilots, mechanics, veterans, they all have something different to teach. A day spent hangar flying is not a day wasted. Though this time is not logged as instruction, it can be just as valuable to the education of a student as time in the air with an instructor. A quote by an anonymous aviator I often reference concurs, stating, “Every instructor, supervisor, and contemporary, whoever spoke to him had an opportunity to influence his judgment…”

This illustrates the point that every encounter with a member of the aviation community has an effect on a pilot’s development. Every time a story is shared about how a pilot faced a challenging situation, those listening store it in their memory for future reference. A large part of flight training is scenario-based, and having the stories of experienced pilots to draw from creates a more well-rounded student.

I like to use the analogy that every person in the aviation community has their own color, a color that has been molded by all their past experiences. When students show up for their first day of instruction they come as blank canvases. As I train them, my color covers their entire canvas, but that creates an incomplete picture. When other people in aviation interact with my students, the colors of their experiences and perspectives add new details to the students’ canvases. Every pilot or person that comes into the flight school is a potential new color for these students to add. Eventually, through all of these interactions, my students create their own color; just as unique as who they are as a pilot.

Another advantage to spreading out flight training is the opportunity to fly in a variety of weather patterns. In many parts of the country, flying in the winter is a completely different experience than flying in the summer. If a student were to cram all of their training between June and August, they would be at a significant disadvantage when attempting to fly in more temperamental winter weather.

Flying during the winter months can bring a variety of challenges such as icing, strong winds, and low ceilings. Spring and summer can bring different challenges, difficult to maneuver in their own way. Among many others, those can include convective activity, strong crosswinds, and increased density altitude. It could be catastrophic to encounter one of these for the first time without an instructor, which is possible if the student has only trained during the opposite season. The problem with limited seasonal experience is twofold: one, they have not had to make as many tough go/no-go decisions based on weather, and two, if they were trying to fly in weather they had never trained in, they may not possess the basic skills required.

Flight instructor
Learning to fly in all four seasons is an important skill that can’t be rushed.

For example, a student who conducted all of their instrument training during the summer may have a difficult time assessing a flight in IMC with ice forecasted near the MEA. The danger of icing was talked about in their training, but without having to apply that knowledge regularly, they may find it difficult to weigh all the options correctly. On the other hand, if a student was never able to practice landings on hot summer days with strong crosswinds, they will lack that skill to do so safely when the time comes. Having seen a variety of flight conditions will make them a better, safer pilot.

The third and final piece of the necessary beyond-book learning is reflection. Time spent reflecting on the previous flights is equally as valuable as the time spent in the airplane during those lessons. Again, while this time is not logged, it is a crucial tool to add meaning and is invaluable to every student’s development. I remember in my own training how important it was for me to analyze each flight after the adrenaline of the landing had worn off.

During my flight training, I worked on a small grass seed research farm. My work there taught me many things I could apply elsewhere, but the most important thing it gave me was time – hundreds of hours to reflect on my flights. At times I would be running a seed cleaning machine, but really I was 3,000 ft. AGL, wondering why I was losing altitude during my steep turns.

Other days I was hoeing an endless amount of weeds but actually experiencing an engine failure and reciting my checklist items. Without that time spent reflecting, I would not be the pilot I am today. Reflection can happen both intentionally and unintentionally. That is to say students can set aside specific time for it or they can have experiences like mine, making connections while living other parts of their lives. A student who takes 12 months instead of six to complete their training will have twice the amount of time to reflect and make these ever-important connections.

Students often don’t appreciate how critical this step is to their education. The responsibility falls upon the instructor to ensure there is adequate time between lessons to allow for this process. Even if students are working under time constraints, it should be a conscious choice to encourage and allow time for students to make those connections outside of the airplane. Reflection allows for meaning to enter the lessons. This meaning connects past, present, and future experiences and forms better pilots.

When a pilot is rushed, whether in the air or during a preflight, there is a higher chance they will do something incorrectly or not at all. To prevent that, it is good practice to slow down and be thorough. So why doesn’t that same philosophy apply in flight training?

Supplementing flight instruction with extra time to learn and process outside of the lesson plans will create a more developed and experienced pilot. It should be the goal of every school and instructor to produce the most knowledgeable, well-rounded pilots possible. Taking a little extra time during the training phase of a pilot’s career should be viewed as time well spent. So next time you hear of a student wanting to finish as fast as possible, remind them of what they could be missing.

24 Comments

  • I agreed totally! My PPL training took me one full year (due mainly to $$ issues) which meant that I got to fly in all four seasons which meant a lot of weather flying, good and bad, and after my weekly lesson I would sit around and listen to the ‘real’ pilots and boy did I learn from that – so many lessons from just sitting around and listening!

    • I did agree. Its maddening to only fly once twice a week. I would rather train like I did in the military , totally immersed in the training is better.

  • I really enjoyed this article. As a 58 year old student pilot I thought that I was ready for my check ride. Went out and did a solo and was I ever wrong. This, “but really I was 3,000 ft. AGL, wondering why I was losing altitude during my steep turns.” is what I was experiencing. I realized then that I wasn’t ready for my check ride. Another thing that I have noticed in aviation is that the instructor doesn’t want to give you any information unless he is getting $$$. I feel its pretty sad when it’s all about the money.

    • Carey, if your employer wanted you to work but didn’t want to pay you, would you be OK with that? When my company does contract work, we are paid for every minute. Of course you must pay your instructor for his time. I paid mine even if I talked to him on the phone for ten minutes.

  • I would agree with you on flying in all seasons with the exception of those like me who reside in south Fl where there are no seasons. I would disagree with the hangar talk time. If someone flies twice a week then I see them at the airport twice a week. If They fly five times a week then I see them five times a week. Unless some is hanging out without flying your point does not hold water. Most students are only around when they are training due to other time constraints. If they have the ability to just hang out why not continue your training? Your point on reflection could be valid with some but my experience shows more people benefit by higher frequency training as they do not forget what was learned from their last lesson. I have seen that one size does not fit all and there are many ways to get to the same place. Until someone has done both types of training they will not know what works best for them.

    • Thanks for an insightful article! My training was fraught with the usual delays (weather, mechanical, day job demands). I now recognize that these had some upside. For exactly the reasons you mention. Again, great article.

  • The best advice that I got regarding flight instructor for my son was someone not working to ‘get their hours”. We found an older flight instructor who instructed because he loved it and one of his first rules was a max of one or two lessons a week because the student needs time to “process” what they are learning. Great article.

  • The ‘rush’ in training is most noticed at the airline level. My company has been hiring pilots with 1,500 hours and a ‘still wet’ ATP certificate. The lack of real experience is astonishing, especially when you throw them into the oceanic and international environment. They are quickly overwhelmed. It’s everything from basic navigation and VHF communications and instrument skills. All the management people see is bodies in seats…

  • As my first instructor said “don’t worry about the hours (instruction) if you truly intend to keep flying”.
    In my trade I am a journeyman, our industry, due to lack of foresight and greed are also trying to fast pace the workforce. The difference between a journeyman and a true journeyman are a minimum 3 to 5 years. A pilot like a journeyman have only learned the basics. It takes time to apply experience to situations. We all have to realize time and experience are 2 very different things.

  • I’m in total agreement! A full decade of flying before my first job gave me much more info & views to pass on to students than I’d have had earlier, which pleased my FBO no end.

  • “I am in the minority who strongly believe that students who meet the minimum requirements in a short time are not necessarily quality pilots.” No Sir, you are not in the minority. Having been a CFI for nearly 35 years, the “cram them through” approach I’m seeing in many 141 schools is producing poor aviators. Their instincts and airman (“air-person”) skills are poor because they often haven’t done anything except be in a structured environment and many cannot think for themselves without checking their Facebook page for opinions. Not long ago they were eating Tips Pods and wondering which gender they identify with…. so their “command of the aircraft” skills are extraordinarily weak. However as Mr. Lentz said, the bosses need to fill the front seats or the aircraft are parked and not producing revenue.

    We have to hope this generation grows up, the next generation learns to skip FB, and/or (although I hate to say it) the FAA raises the retirement age…. because many of “pilot factory” aviators have no clue how to command their ship.

    • As a Corporate pilot for 47 years and 24,000 hours I have seen an astonishing change in the level of competent pilots being produced. These guys can run the heck out of the automated systems but have poor piloting skills. Some companies are putting guys with 800 to 1,00 hours in the left seat of King Air 250’s and other big equipment and carrying the life’s blood of the company as passengers. I can only say that great advances Aircraft reliability and keeps many people alive. It seems crazy but possibly we old guys think that it takes good piloting skills to operate aircraft. Could we be wrong.

  • My daughter who is 16 decided she wants to become an airline pilot and we got on board with her carrer choice. On her 15th birthday we signed her up for flight lessons and since she was so young starting she had to wait a year til she was 16 to solo. Yes it cost a lot of money and time but we feel it is going to make her a better pilot in the end. So here we are 8 months before she can do her check ride she has nearly 90 hours under belt and not sure how many she will have by the time she gets her PPL. Like the saying goes ” practice makes perfect” she will be a knowledgeable pilot I’m sure because of how long its taken her. We have not let her school rush her through to wait till she is old enough to take her tests. She will take the written test soon then move on to IFR while we wait for her 17th birthday.

  • Well, that’s one point of view. As an almost 70 year old pilot with 50 years of flying and 20,000+ hours of which 3,000 + hours instructing, can honestly say that what you are saying is what is reality. The ACS books are what the FAA want you to know in order to get a certificate. Your certificate is a starting point. You will continue to learn every time you fly for the rest of your life. If you want to learn a little faster, get a flight instructor certificate and then go to work as a full time instructor.

    I eventually got a job for a major airline where I had an awesome 37 year run. But I can honestly tell you that I had many firsts while flying for the airlines. there is no way to encounter every possible situation. My point is that that yes you got the certifications but they are just starting points. Never ever stop the learning process. I am still learning and will continue until the day I can’t.

  • This depends. I pursued my PPL with a 2yr old child, and twins on the way. I didn’t have the luxury of time. I went with an immersive program flying 3-4 times a day, and most nights, for two weeks to get my ticket. I did heed the advice of many pilots I knew that said if possible start in tube-n-fabric taildraggers off grass. And that was part of the deal. It can be done quickly and done well. That depends on the instructor.

  • You forgot “Reading”! As a non pilot I read a lot about flying and aircraft. What I read sparks questions and as an Air Force retiree I have a great opportunity to ask skilled people.

    If I had the opportunity I would ask the pilot of any commercial airline I was flying on what he flew for fun? The answer would give me an insight to his skills and experience.

  • I am reminded of a lesson about driving that says you are a different person every dsy you drive a car. Tired, peppy, irritated, preoccupied etc. checklist discipline in an aircrsft helps, but it is true. More experience and hangar flying helps smooth things out.

  • Yep, I fly with guys and gals all the time who rushed through the big schools and got right into professional airline flying. Many of them are astounded when I tell them it took me thirteen years to go from first lesson to first airline job. In between, I flew scheduled mail, freight, film, people charters, pipeline patrol, test flights, photo mapping, aerial photography, instructing, and just for fun on Saturday mornings with friends in two or three airplanes in formation all over the Atlantic Coast region. I often see pining in their eyes… Which way is better? I don’t know – maybe neither one. But I had a lot of fun with that private pilot license before I went to work. Great memories – and great stories to tell.

  • I believe our requirements for FAA certificates should be increased to accommodate both the drilled in stick and throttle skills of the past with time for all the new technology with increased regulations. Do you think this will help?

    Then a minimum time pilot from a good school, a realistic syllabus could be a very well qualified pilot. Examine what the military does.

    In my time naval Aviator got his wings in about 300 hours, goes to a replacement training squadron for his combat aircraft for about 120 to 140 hours (F8, A4.) Now he is aboard a carrier off to a real war at 450 hours with no copilot, but supervised and extremely well qualified. Minimum time well qualified pilot can be achieved.

    Are now producing 1500 hour pilots that are not ready? It appears now in corporate or commuter airlines the captains are not quite up to speed, so how can they really improve the new copilots?

    Me: F11, F8, A4, A7 Type, B727, B737, B747, B777, DC9, DC10, G1159, GIV, ATP, CFII and by the way I was a Stearman crop duster for 3 seasons.

  • I believe it goes beyond the initial training. Years ago aviation had an “apprentice program” where young, inexperienced, co-pilots flew with experienced captains and learned the “tricks of the trade”. We don’t have that anymore.

    You need not look further than the Buffalo Commuter Accident to prove my point. The current “an-initio” training may be fine for teaching basic stick and rudder skills but it can’t teach what a moderate to severe icing encounter with an experienced captain in the other seat can.

  • I cannot agree more. Started my training in 2012. Only received my commercial license in 2018. Working on my MEL and CFI, and I am 36 years old. Yes, I am older than most student pilots, however I have a lot more experience than many of them in many areas. I got all of my crazy, wild, risky adventures out of the way in my 20’s. My maturity helps me to make rational decisions. I have been in and survived two emergencies, and use them as a teaching moment for other students. Hanging out with friends and partying less also allows me more time to read the articles and gain the knowledge from seasoned pilots. All of this I try to pass to the younger pilots who attend the school I rent from.

  • What a VERY fine article Devan, with many excellent comments. I am now 85 years old with 55 years of flying experience in the Air Force, Mass. Air National Guard and in the civilian sector. I flew Piper Cub, T-28, T-33, B-47, F-84, F-86H, and Cessna 182 aircraft. I am a retired Aeronautical Engineer that graduated from RPI in the Air Force ROTC program; and worked Pratt & Whitney for ~40 years. Uncle Sam paid me to become a pilot during my 3 years of active duty; and to receive my pilot’s wings, the training took about 2 years covering ALL the topics you discussed Devan. I had much fun, challenges, excitement, and pilot-in-command time… In 2014 I became a ‘Ground Pounder’,member of EAA Chapter 26 Seattle, WA co-chairing monthly newsletter, “WIND IN THE RIGGING….”, and doing mentoring/seminars on many Aviation related topics with youngsters and ‘elderly’. Being in Aviation, EAA Young Eagles program (flown just under 400 youngsters), and mentoring with youngsters and ‘oldsters’ has been, and is, a VERY rewarding experience.

  • Playing microsoft flight simulator from childhood through early adulthood definitely helped me. But also I have been working on my PPL for over 13 years now and I agree longer training times may aid in making a better pilot. If flight training was not so expensive, I probably would have gotten there sooner. Why does the military not produce a high percentage of aviators like they used to do back in the earlier days of aviation? There needs to be some sort of way to fund flight training to the standard of quality pilots like military did. The private loan industry cannot support this so I feel the current trend of poor quality pilots is here to stay. Plus the pilots today lack the passion for aviation I witnessed 13 years ago. Maybe I just fell into a lower phase of passionate pilots.

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