How to Choose a Good CFI

How to Choose a Good CFI

Leslie Caubble, CFI/IGI

Whether you’re just beginning flight training or seeking advanced training, you will need to find a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) to train with. Every CFI must meet certain requirements and have the FAA credentials to be able to instruct, but each flight instructor will vary in personality, training philosophy, cost, and expertise. 

You will spend a lot of one-on-one time with your flight instructor during the training process. Your CFI should be knowledgeable, trustworthy, make safety a priority, and be someone that you feel comfortable being around. Working with the right CFI can be the difference between you meeting your goals and hitting multiple roadblocks or obstacles. 

Choosing a good instructor is not a precise science, and there’s no CFI that is a perfect match for every student. Here are some things you should consider when deciding on the right CFI for flight training: 

Do Your Research

Invest time in researching possible flight schools and independent CFIs. If you train in a Part 141 program, you might have less input in whom you fly with. If you train in a Part 61 program, generally you’ll have more decision power in choosing your primary CFI. After all, you are the paying customer!

Utilize directories where you can find flight schools and CFIs in your area. Placement in a directory doesn’t guarantee excellent instruction, but having professional affiliations is a good sign they are up to date with best practices. Some great places to look are: Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE), and the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI).

Check the instructor’s website, or associated school’s website to gain insight on training aircraft, costs, testimonials, scheduling system, and student achievements. Social media or LinkedIn accounts are also good places to get a feel of their experience and personality. Once you have your list narrowed down, request some references. Get a feel for their pass rate, safety culture, and if the former student enjoyed flying with them. 

Another helpful exercise is to make a list of qualities you’d like to see in a CFI. Make one list of non-negotiable characteristics and another wish-list of desirable qualities. Maybe you own a Cirrus SR-20, so you’d probably want to hire a CFI with some experience in that technically advanced aircraft. If you’d like access to a full-motion simulator during training, that might be a wish-list item. No CFI will be able to check all the boxes, but this can help you in the decision-making process.

Interview Potential CFIs

Don’t jump right into a training relationship with a CFI without first asking some questions. In fact, it’s best to interview multiple CFIs to get a feel for your compatibility with them. When you get along with your CFI, flight training is much more enjoyable, and you’re less likely to drop out. Find out their aviation story: Why did they get into flying? What are their long-term goals? Why do they like to teach? It only takes a few minutes to find out if a CFI is really a passionate educator or just there to build hours.

Here are some other questions to ask when interviewing a potential CFI:

  • How do they handle ground training? Is there an online course that’s recommended? A good CFI will help you be thorough yet efficient with your time and money regarding ground training. 
  • What is their schedule and availability? If you work full time and can only train before/after work or on the weekends, be sure the CFI is available during those times. Ideally, you want to fly 3-4 times a week, so confirm they can handle that schedule.
  • What is their training philosophy? Is classroom time a requirement or will you need to depend heavily on your self-study at home? Are there training prerequisites, such as the FAA knowledge exam passed before starting? 
  • Ask what types of training aids they like to use. This should be a quick, easy answer for an aviation educator. Some CFIs have access to a simulator. They may pull out model aircraft, a flight deck poster, FAA handbooks, or show you helpful apps and online training resources. 
  • What are their billing and cancellation policies? Ask questions regarding the ground and flight instruction rates, if a deposit is required, opportunities for block rates or discounts, and any cancellation or penalties for rescheduling.

Schedule an Introductory Flight

Take the opportunity to go on an introductory flight with potential CFIs. Some instructors and flight schools refer to these as Discovery Flights. These are short flights, usually offered at a discount, that is like a “mini lesson.” You’ll have the opportunity to feel the controls, learn some flying fundamentals, and see what it’s like to fly in a small aircraft. 

The best part about a Discovery Flight is being able to work alongside a potential CFI. While you’re enjoying the views and the thrill of flying, take note of the CFI’s communication style, professionalism, and enthusiasm. Some flight schools only offer a one-time Discovery Flight discount opportunity, so make the most of it and schedule it with a CFI you’re considering hiring.

Characteristics of a Good CFI

Now you know the steps to take to make an informed decision on choosing a good CFI. What are some other qualities you should be looking for as you do you research, interview potential CFIs and take an introductory flight?

A person cannot give flight instruction without the proper training, evaluation, and credentials from the FAA. Every CFI will have that in common. Once a person is certificated as a CFI, the FAA says they have several responsibilities while acting as a flight instructor, as outlined in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook (FAA-H-8083-9) Chapter 8:

  • Helping learners learn
  • Providing adequate instruction
  • Demanding appropriate standards of performance
  • Emphasizing the positive
  • Ensuring aviation safety

Beyond these FAA-mandated responsibilities, there are characteristics of a good aviation educator to be looking for in your search:

  1. The CFI is always learning and involved in professional development. They may be actively using the FAA WINGS program, hosting aviation seminars, and seeking their own advanced training.
  2. Syllabus use. This should be a non-negotiable characteristic. One main reason for the high private pilot drop-out rate is a lack of structure. Even the most experienced CFIs use a syllabus with their students.
  3. The CFI holds a briefing and debriefing session with students at every lesson. 
  4. Regularly assigns homework and early on teaches their students how to use the FAR/AIM and other FAA resources in home study.
  5. Passionate, professional, and has a positive mindset.
  6. Encouraging and patient.
  7. Strong communication and listening skills.

Is it possible to find a good CFI with all these criteria and qualities? Yes! From newly minted CFIs to career instructors, there are not only good, but GREAT CFIs out there ready to partner with you to help you meet your aviation goals. 

Leslie Caubble, CFI/IGI

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