It’s a few hours after dinner and you’re planning your first cross-country flight as a newly minted private pilot.
Wouldn’t it be comforting to go over the weather forecast or talk through the best way to navigate an unfamiliar busy airspace with your CFI? But he’s off the clock and your flight is in the morning.
You can still access the expertise of a trained flight educator by going to InstaCFI.com.
The website, which went live June 15, 2023, is the brainchild of Spencer Suderman, a long-time CFI and aerobatic pilot whose “day job” is in IT.
Spencer, who has been a CFI since 2002, decided about a year ago to “knock the rust off” his instrument skills and earn his CFII, as well as catch up on the latest aviation technology.
What he discovered is what other pilots and aspiring pilots have also discovered: There’s a shortage of flight training.
“There’s certainly plenty of training available, such as virtual training like Sporty’s online courses,” he says. “But it’s all in one direction. I realized from talking to other instructors that students want more than just the time they spend at the flight school with an instructor.”
Knowing that post-pandemic most people are used to connecting via video conference technology, such as Zoom and Google Meet, he was surprised to discover that most flight training organizations didn’t offer a way for students and instructors to connect online.
That’s especially true for new pilots who may still have questions even though they’ve passed their check ride.
“Maybe they want to go somewhere for the traditional $100 hamburger and they get a weather briefing and they realize, well, the weather’s VFR, but there’s a few clouds, which can be a bit bothersome,” he relates. “They might want to run a weather briefing by an instructor, but there’s not one available at their old flight school.”
What they need is the informed opinion of a CFI to help them make the go-no go decision.
But how can they find someone with that expertise?
InstaCFI offers that connection.
Spencer built the website, then began recruiting flight educators.
The CFIs offer a variety of services, such as:
- Written test prep assistance
- Mock oral exam in preparation for a check ride
- Weather briefing guidance when planning a flight around complex weather systems
- Simulated flight lessons using Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane
- Avionics training
- How to use advanced features in EFB apps like ForeFlight
- Planning an IFR flight into busy airspace and instrument approach review
- Aircraft owner guidance on maintenance decisions
- Even how to prepare to fly into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh or SUN ‘n FUN.
How Does It Work?
When a pilot feels the need to consult with a CFI they just go to the InstaCFI homepage.
The first choice is the service, such as ground instruction, new pilot support, instrument rating support, and more.
Once you make that choice, a drop-down menu reveals the names of the CFIs who specialize in those areas. Once you choose a CFI, the next page comes up with that person’s schedule. You can find one to talk with immediately or schedule a month down the road.
Once you choose the time, you enter your information, such as name and contact information, as well as what you hope to get out of the lesson, then pay. It’s $64 an hour and you can pay with PayPal, Venmo, or by credit card.
The lesson is then added to the instructor’s Google calendar, and you get an email invite from the instructor. Clicking on a link in the email will take you to Google Meet when it’s time for the lesson.
Just a few months after launch, Spencer has about a dozen CFIs who are active, with another 150 or so who have expressed interest. He’s bringing them on slowly to ensure that there’s plenty of work for everyone.
He also just added a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), who will help you prep for your check ride.
When he learned about InstaCFI, the DPE was intrigued, Spencer notes.
“His comment was, ‘I can’t believe how many instructors send me students who are not ready for their check ride. It would be great if students could get a last review with a DPE before they go on and do their check ride. It would make our job so much easier.”
An hour with the DPE will cost you $85.
Spencer notes that this service makes a lot of sense for pilots working on their instrument ratings.
“There’s so much to that rating — like learning how to brief an approach plate, learning how to read an approach plate, learning how to interpret all of the IFR information available to you in flight planning, learning how to use things like a G1000 for instrument flight purposes rather than VFR purposes. You don’t need to be sitting in the airplane, but you do need a low pressure way to just learn how to use the tools and the equipment and think about how it all works together.”
Even before InstaCFI launched, Spencer forged a partnership with Sporty’s Pilot Shop. They know him — he’s done three video series for them “for the Cessna crowd,” so when he called them up and told them about his idea they were all in.
The partnership involves Sporty’s referring its customers to InstaCFI, which should help the company’s technical support staff.
Often, customers call up with questions about a product they received from Sporty’s, then the conversations turn to questions that are really more in line with flight instruction. That’s beyond what tech support is supposed to be and now Sporty’s can send those customers to InstaCFI to get the right help.
Spencer anticipates similar affiliate programs with other online flight training organizations that run into the same issues.
InstaCFI is not meant to replace a person’s primary flight educator, according to Spencer.
“This is for people who are already flying with an instructor and maybe need more or maybe need a different point of view,” he says.
Another critical element is the most valuable commodity of all: Time.
“You set up a two-hour flight. Let’s say you’re learning instruments and your instructor expects you to show up with your flight plan done, have the approach plates ready or everything loaded up in ForeFlight. Then you’re going to jump in the airplane, do a quick brief, and then do three approaches at an airport nearby. And then you do your debrief and you’re done.”
“Two hours later, you’re having dinner and all of a sudden more questions pop into your mind. You replay the lesson in your mind and all these things come up. You think about the mistakes you made. You think about the shortcomings you had. You might know you’re meeting with your instructor again in four days for another lesson to work on some other kinds of approaches, but you’re thinking ‘I’d sure like to talk this through with an instructor now,’ but your instructor has been working all day and it’s 8 at night. It would be great to jump online and find an instructor who’s qualified to just talk to you about it and walk through it with you.”
Now you can.
For more information: InstaCFI.com.