The gift of flight: It starts with instructors

Learning to fly is a life-altering experience. While many flight instructors teach as a means to build time for other aviation jobs, there are some who are dedicated to bestowing the gift of flight on others.

“If I teach a student, I have taught one person to fly. If I teach a flight instructor, I teach many people to fly,” explains David Cowan, two-time Master Instructor from Galvin Flying Services at Seattle’s Boeing Field.

Galvin leads the nation in the number of instructor pilots who have earned the title of Master Instructor from the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) while employed at Galvin.

“When the program started, Embry Riddle had the most Master Instructors at 12, but Galvin has far surpassed that with 18,” notes Sandy Hill who, with his wife JoAnn, is NAFI’s director of education and administers the Master Instructor program.

Although NAFI was founded in 1967, the Master Instructor designation didn’t come about until 1995. The designation was created by the Hills, who used to be high school teachers. It is based on a model teachers in the state of Colorado use to renew their teaching certificates every few years. The designation recognizes instructors who work above and beyond FAA and industry standards. It must be renewed every two years. It also can be used to renew an instructor’s CFI ticket.

“We talked to the American Medical Association and The American Bar Association, among others, and asked questions about their recertification programs and took what we thought was the best and created the Master Instructor program,” Hill explains.

Master Instructor candidates must have been teaching at least 24 months and achieved at least 32 Credit Equivalent Units (15 hours is equal to one unit) to be eligible for the designation. CEUs are earned through time spent in service to the aviation community through mentoring, continuing education and instruction.

“When I started at Galvin in 1999, Peter Anderson (Galvin’s president and CEO) said he wanted to make the flight school the best that it could be,” says flight school manager Nick Frisch.

Frisch determined one way to do that was to make the Master Instructor designation part of the corporate culture.

“Everybody is going to say they have the best instructors, the coolest, the most professional instructors,” he says. “You have to have a way to back that statement up. Often there is a tendency to see flight instruction as a stepping stone rather than an end unto itself. I am one of those people who love instruction more than any other aspect of aviation. I have been at it for 23 years, about 20 of those as a professional instructor. The Master Instructor program is a way to recognize those instructors who have made it a point to be better instructors, to learn more and to teach and to be of service to the community. It is an attitude and a mentality that says instruction is important.”

Many Galvin Master Instructors go on to other jobs in aviation but while they are at Galvin they are encouraged to become well-rounded members of the aviation community.

“There is a continuous atmosphere of mentoring here,” says Henrietta Ball, who earned her Master designation in November 2004.

Jack McGoldrick, another Galvin instructor, believes the designations help the school attract more customers.

“The plaques that are awarded to the Master Instructors are displayed prominently in the school lobby,” he says. “When people see the plaques they know this is the place to come to because the instructors have met a standard in the field of flight instruction that is above what the FAA has required.”

Some instructors are reluctant to partake in the program, notes Frisch, because they are worried getting the designation gives the impression that they know all there is to know about aviation and they will be put on a pedestal.

“I tell them what I don’t know about aviation grows exponentially every day, what with the advances in technology, and what I do know grows in baby steps,” he says. “The important thing is that you are always learning.”

Frisch’s promotion of the Master Instructor program has not gone unnoticed. In July he was the recipient of NAFI’s Jack J. Eggspuehler Award, which is presented to an organization or individual that has made a significant contribution to flight instructors, flight instruction or aviation education. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey presented the award to Frisch during the annual NAFI breakfast at EAA AirVenture.

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