Instructional theory

The influence of a flight instructor is so great that it merits a career path and status of its own14. In this chapter we discuss the influence of your behaviour on that of your students.


Professionalism in flight instruction demands a code of ethics that is in no way related to the monetary gains. Flight instructors must strive for the highest levels of professionalism as attempts to operate otherwise as a flight instructor can result only in poor performance and deficient students. Anything less than a sincere effort will quickly be detected by the student, destroying your effectiveness.

Professionalism also includes a flight instructor's public image. In the past, flight instructors have all too often been willing to accept a less than professional status in the public view by relaxing their demeanour, appearance and approach to their profession.

If the status of the flight instructor in the general aviation industry is to be upgraded, it must be done through the efforts of flight instructors themselves.

The professional flight instructor commands the respect of associates and, most importantly, delivers more effective instruction.


The student pilot accepts the flight instructor as a competent qualified teacher and expert pilot. Attempting to hide inadequacy behind a smoke screen of unrelated instruction will make it impossible to command the respect and attention of the student; the professional flight instructor should be straightforward and honest.

In addition, instruction that emphasises safety will be negated if you appear to ignore your own instruction, eg, taxiing quickly, or descending below minimum altitudes.

The same applies to your insistence on precision, accuracy and smoothness of handling. The professional instructor is constantly under scrutiny and is expected to excel in aircraft handling.

Personal appearance and habits

Personal appearance has an important effect on the professional image of the instructor. Today's aviation customers are people who expect their associates to be neat, clean and appropriately dressed. It is not intended that the flight instructor should assume attire foreign to the flight environment, but as you are engaged in a learning situation, often with professional people, the attire worn should be appropriate to a professional status.

Personal habits have a significant effect on the professional image. The exercise of common courtesy is perhaps the most important of these. A flight instructor who is rude, thoughtless, impatient or inattentive cannot hold the respect of the students, regardless of piloting ability. Young, confident flight instructors need to give careful consideration to these points when dealing with students older than themselves.

The professional instructor maintains a genuine interest in the student's learning. Under no circumstances should you do or say anything that is derogatory to the student. Acceptance rather than ridicule, and support rather than reproof will encourage learning, regardless of whether the student is quick to learn or is slow and apprehensive. Criticising the student for not learning is not unlike a doctor criticising a patient for not getting well, and is totally unacceptable from a professional.

The professional image requires a calm, thoughtful and disciplined demeanour. Frequently countermanding directions, reacting differently to identical errors, and demanding unreasonable performance or progress should be avoided.

On rare occasions a personality conflict may arise between instructor and student. If, for any reason you suspect this, you should discuss the problem with your supervisor who has the experience to confirm your suspicions or offer alternative teaching methods to overcome conflict.

Cleanliness of body and breath is important to flight instruction. The cabin is a close, tightly sealed area, where an instructor and student work in close proximity and where little annoyances provide serious distractions from the learning task. Likewise, the flight instructor should not be subjected to body odour from the student. If the role model example set by you is not perceived by the student, some honest discussion may be required. Once again, it is best to discuss the resolution of this problem with your supervisor.

Safety and accident prevention

The flying habits of the flight instructor, both during instruction and as observed by students, have a direct effect on safety. Students consider their flight instructor to be a paragon of flying proficiency whose flying habits they, consciously or unconsciously, attempt to imitate. For this reason, a flight instructor must meticulously observe the safety practices taught to the students, such as using full runway length for take-off.

A flight instructor must carefully observe all regulations if a professional image is to be maintained. An instructor, who is observed to fly with apparent disregard for loading limitations, weather minima, or runway length creates an image of irresponsibility that many hours of conscientious flight instruction cannot correct.

Self improvement

"The input of aviation instruction is for as long as a pilot flies."14 Professional flight instructors must never become complacent or satisfied with their own qualifications and ability. They should be constantly active and alert for ways to improve their qualifications, teaching effectiveness and the service they provide to students. Flight instructors are considered authorities on aeronautical matters and are the experts to whom many pilots refer questions concerning regulations, requirements and operating techniques.

It is essential that you maintain access to current copies of Civil Aviation Rules, their associated Advisory Circulars, and Flight Test Standards Guides, including Flight Training Standards guides. A flight instructor who is not completely familiar with current pilot issue and rating requirements cannot do a competent job of flight instruction. However, you are not alone; if confronted with a question to which you do not know the answer, turn to your supervisor.

Better, make use of your supervisor to get answers before the questions arise. Your supervisor (probably your role model) is there to assist you – and has certified your logbook to this effect.

There are many means of self-improvement available to flight instructors: the CAA website; Vector magazine; Good Aviation Practice (GAP) booklets; DVDs; aviation periodicals; recognised texts; seminars and papers offered by the CAA; Massey, Auckland, Wellington and Otago Universities; instructional techniques and advanced instructional techniques courses, as well as libraries and other websites are all valuable sources of information for flight instructors.

Although the recommended reference texts are expensive, a reference library is as essential to the professional instructor as a navigation computer is essential to the professional pilot.

Flight instructors have a tremendous influence on their student's perception of aviation in general and piloting in particular. The level of professionalism shown by flight instructors in the way they conduct themselves and the attitudes they display directly affect their student's flying.

References for instructional theory