“But, My CFI Told Me…”

AOPA CFItoCFI Newsletter

CFI guidance can sometimes be wrong. Either you learned it wrong or your CFI taught it wrong – but either way, it’s a mistake. As a result, amazing errors and weird techniques often get demonstrated in flight tests or during flight reviews. The “probable cause” in NTSB accident reports often reveals ingrained bad habits that were personal SOPs. Pilots fly for years committing errors because their initial training was flawed. The supporting explanation or justification provided by the pilot flying often begins with “but my CFI told me…”

There are two obvious pathways to these errors. The first cause is benign, resulting from faulty communication/transmission. Your CFI never really did say this, you just misunderstood it. This happens; even in an undistracted environment, human communication is only 25% efficient!  The unfortunate result is that an erroneous or dangerous fact or technique was accepted as “true or usable.” The antidote for CFIs is making absolutely certain your instruction is properly heard and replicated. Insist on consistent feedback/readback of facts and repeated demonstration of skills conveyed during training.

The antidote for every pilot (at every level) needs to be an “on guard attitude” for spurious information coming from every source and channel. The aviation world is full of “instant experts” with dubious experience and credentials. Exciting, sexy websites promote all kinds of crap online. Once we accept something as “true” it is imported into our daily operating system like a virus. It is vital to check all your facts and verify every technique; your life depends on it.

Not all flight instruction is good. Not all flight instructors are sharing beneficial information. Not every flight school is acting in your best interest. Jamie Beckett

The second reason these non-standard techniques or weird “facts” get spread is from CFI with “personal techniques” they transmit as “valuable and true.” These CFIs obviously think they know better than the accepted FAA Handbooks and industry wisdom. They have developed (and are spreading) their own version of “safe and efficient flight” based on personal experiences (see the recent blog on luck reinforcing errors).  This happens more often than you would like to believe. In the absence of reflective analysis, this is how humans learn and adapt. And when any group of aviators adopts an unsafe behavior it can easily get “normalized” as “acceptable” and safe. New trends in aviation are not always positive developments.

What both of these pathways point out is the vital importance of assuring accurate learning when you are teaching or learning. For the learner, there is a responsibility to verify the data and techniques you are presented – even from your CFI. After years of flying, every pilot has discovered some facts or techniques that were improper or needed adjustment, even from the most conscientious CFIs.

Then there are just bad CFIs. Sometimes these are the people who took the “instant expert” course and did not learn thoroughly. In other cases, unchecked “adaptation” leads to a downward spiral of shortcuts and noncompliance. (See The Rogue Pilot by Tony Kern for some scary examples)

Canadian CFIs are required to go through mandatory mentoring before teaching on their own; but not in the US. Out the door with a new FAA CFI temporary and you are an “expert!” And at every level there are short-cuts available for pilots looking for “faster, cheaper, easier.” Only personal integrity will prevent a learner (at every level) from cutting corners in flight training. Do you value your life and the lives of your family and friends? Learn well and thoroughly and pursue excellence in aviation; it can be terribly unforgiving. Join a positive safety culture and test your knowledge with reliable mentors and a solid base of resources. With the right attitude, you will learn something new every day. Fly safely out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and get great benefits like 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business)

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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