Life as a Senior Flight Instructor
- Part 1 -

by M.Zafer

It is very hard to write about my job, since I don’t really consider it a job but a way of life but let me try and see how far you can stay with me.

I think satisfaction and contentment would be two words that come to mind when I take a student from their first flight all the way to obtaining their licence, or when I send a student on their first solo. In simple terms, my job is to train ab-initio and advanced student pilots towards their private pilot and commercial pilot licences respectively among other administrative responsibilities.

Being the Senior Flight Instructor in our school means that

- I am in charge of maintaining the training standard at our flight school to be on par with and sometimes exceeding internationally accepted standards. This requires a lot of research and co-ordination with a number of local and foreign training organisations; we also involve the South African Civil Aviation especially when introducing new techniques and courses.

I also fly ten hour assessment flights with all the students being trained by other instructors every time they cross the ten hour marker. Doing this allows us to monitor the student and instructor progress.

At times I have to take harsh decisions and be cruel to be kind. I remember a time when we decided to dismiss one of our students due to lack of any signs of progress even after flying with different instructors. I also remember times when meetings with instructors were conducted regarding their training methods.

That being said, the final decision is always left to the Chief Flying Instructor who has enough knowledge and experience to judge such cases.

- Students preparing for their PPL / Night Rating flight tests are recommended to me by their instructors for the test. After accepting the recommendation, going through their training file, and having a meeting with the student, it is time to take them for their test flight.

Here I want to stress that there is no instructor in the world that embarks on a test with the intention of failing a student-contrary to what some students might claim. Instructors are generally generous with their markings, always willing to help and the CAA test forms are quite fair and clear on what the requirements are. If you have ever heard about a student failing, understand that there is a very good reason behind that and in my case the reason is normally to save lives.

A general rule that examiners use is; if I can trust this pilot to fly my family and loved ones, then he or she is competent to hold a licence. This normally cuts it for me.

- Students preparing for their Commercial Pilot Licence are normally a pleasure to fly with. These are pilots with some flying experience and my job is to polish this flying experience, scrub off any bad habits that accumulated during their hour building phase and introduce advanced or bad weather flying to them.

As the process involves flying faster and more sophisticated aircraft, the students are always learning and an aura of excitement hangs over them during this phase of training. These are students working towards a career in aviation, and my job is to offer them the best training money can buy.

My aim is not to train the candidate to pass the commercial pilot test, which is a rightfully gruelling test, but to impress the examiner on all aspects of professional flying; in other words, from greeting the examiner, dress code, attitude and knowledge to handling emergencies and any wild or creative situations the examiners can throw at them during flight in a cool level headed manner to the moment the examiner proudly hands them their golden wings and fixes their three gold bars on their shoulders.

- As Aviation Safety Officer of our company, I conduct safety audits regularly and safety meetings monthly.

Safety meetings topics range from recent local or international events to discussing safety bulletins issued by aircraft manufacturers regarding aircraft in our fleet to topics that have been agreed on by a majority regarding confusion or uncertainty with certain flight operations.

The idea that safety is boring and that being safe is not fun is as old as the Pyramids of Giza and in my opinion; anyone who still thinks like that should be wrapped in long strips of cotton and thrown in a sarcophagus somewhere in the desert. That prehistoric thinking does not exist in our industry where safety is of paramount importance.

It is a challenge to market, and yes I said market; safety as the new cool thing. If you are not safe, you are not cool in my books and that pretty much does the trick.

I have started a Safety Management System where any occurrence no matter how minute it may seem is reported immediately and completely anonymously. This encouraged young pilots, with the emphasis on the young, to report without fearing judgement or prejudice. This also helped me make lists, graphs and tables of common occurrences and reoccurring incidents.

I also established a hazard reporting system for anyone involved in our operations to report what they think might be a hazard before it becomes an occurrence.

The beauty of such systems is that everyone is allowed to express their opinion which leads to an open safety culture, better yet, each time a corrective action is taken, it is communicated to the person who reported the matter either personally or through our safety meetings. Safety in aviation is something to boast about.

--> Click here for Life as a Senior Flight Instructor - Part 2

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