GUEST EDITORIAL By RADEK WYRZYKOWSKI, founder, IMC Club
Success can be measured in many different ways. When it comes to the recent and very timely Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) Pilot Training Reform Symposium, I confess to having mixed feelings about what was achieved.
I do need to start with a sincere thank you to the organizers of the event and especially SAFE’s Chair Doug Stewart. By any measure, making the event happen was an impressive accomplishment and a giant step in the right direction. It initiated a discussion that was long overdue.
Statistics from a recent industry study showing a rapidly dropping number of new pilots and poor quality of education are definite causes for a concern. They call for a full-blown alarm and a declaration of an emergency.
The question, however, is did the meeting accomplish what was needed?
Some people overwhelmed by the euphoria of starting to move in the right direction and a success of the event itself may consider what I am about to say as some sort of aviation heresy. But any progress and productive outcomes in history have always been characterized by vigorous debate.
One could say that first the specific problem has to be identified and then we can look for a solution. But what really is the problem? There is no argument that many possible causes for the problems in GA training were clearly identified at the symposium. But, in my opinion, the core of general aviation’s sickness lies much deeper than we were willing to admit.
The problem is that our system of developing young professional pilots forces them to do something many of them aren’t interested in doing — being instructors. To accomplish their goals they have to suffer until their “time-building sentence” is over.
This has resulted in a large group of instructors who simply don’t teach but who, through no fault of their own, were put in that position by a flawed system. No release of a free syllabus will make flight instructors use it. No FAA Advisory Circular is going to create professionalism among them, especially those that have no desire to be aviation educators.
But as long as the system requires young pilots to build hours by becoming CFIs, there are distinct steps we can take to make that system more effective. No one can or should change a young person’s desires and dreams. But we can shape their behavior and attitudes through better supervision, coaching and mentoring.
Short-term fixes may relieve us of short-term symptoms. Only a long-term solution that is based on an assessment of the big picture makes any sense. It is not going to yield immediate results, but the real fix lays in the results that may show up in five or even 10 years.
There is only one way that this objective can be accomplished: We need to institutionalize the role of Career Instructor. In the words of FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt at the Pilot Training Reform Symposium: “Education helps develop professionalism…we can make rules to require certain professional behavior, but professionalism is a lot more than rule-driven behaviors. It’s a mindset. It’s an attitude that drives you to do the right thing — every time, all the time.”
The creation of a group of career instructors that will be available for years to come is our only salvation. So how do we create this group?
I propose the creation of a National Flight Instructor Academy. The academy would be created by a council of the industry and aviation education leaders and composed of approved independently participating flight instructors and aviation schools across the nation. Instructors and schools would become academy members by adopting a training syllabus developed by that council and set to the highest training standards. The academy would focus on producing true aviation educators.
I would like to invite to this task all aviation organizations, especially SAFE, the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association (AOPA), the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Women in Aviation (WAI) and all aviation industry leaders.
Our long-term future is in our own hands and does not require any regulatory change. It is up to us to guide, mentor and demand the higher standard. If you are willing to participate, please contact me.