Bring in the PPL instructor

I am a firm believer in the concept of the PPL flying instructor, where a pilot doesn’t need a CPL to teach students to PPL level.

Right now, some industry identities have gone wide-eyed at reading this, and without reading further will already be constructing vitriolic responses in their heads. I could almost give you their names. I will get back to them later.

No so long ago, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was mulling over the idea of allowing PPLs to instruct other PPLs. At the time, it was thought to be a logical solution to the 2006/07 instructor shortage, when the airlines were raiding the flying schools for the best instructors. When the unwelcome global financial crisis arrived, the shortage turned into a glut as passenger demand went into freefall. Suddenly, with the problem having gone away, the idea of PPL instructors lost momentum.

It may still happen one day. I hope it does, and I hope CASA extends that program to Australia, because I believe it stands to resolve two pressing issues that are nothing but millstones around GA’s neck: the relative lack of experience of flying instructors and the constant turn-over that is proving a turn-off for students.

Let’s start with instructor experience. At a guess, the majority of flying instructors in Australia would not have spent much time flying outside of the training environment. Young and ambitious, they tend to progress down the PPL-CPL-flying instructor path quickly. There’s not even a need for them to pass a PPL test on the way anymore.

So when they sit down beside a student for the first time, their real-world flying experience is minimal. This is not a comment on their ability to teach or their skill with operating the aeroplane, but rather pointing out they haven’t accrued much decision-making time, which they could use to influence their students’ own mid-flight choices.

FIs who have been in circulation for a couple of years have spent those years learning themselves or doubling as a charter pilot, gaining valuable real-world stick time. No sooner do they reach that level than they are often cherry-picked by the regional airlines. The students they leave behind have to start again with a new instructor. As someone who faced a similar situation 20-odd years ago, I know how disruptive to your training that can be.

PPL flying instructors would ease this situation. They are not straining at the leash to run away to the regional airline circus, they generally will be anchored by another career that pays them a suitable wage and a family that is not keen on living in Mount Isa or Alice Springs. In short, they are more likely to hang around for a student’s training from TIF to PPL.

Furthermore, many suitable candidates for PPL instructing will have spent many hours in aeroplanes making their own decisions. Much of what they learned will be out of the reach of short-time CPLs because it doesn’t appear in the CASA syllabus.

Most valuably, airline pilots with thousands of hours forced to retire their CPLs for medical reasons could be brought back into the system and all that lovely experience and knowledge remain in aviation. As it is, all that is lost.

Now, my friends the detractors always scream, “you’re advocating a lowering of training standards!” Nope, not doing that at all. Firstly, the PPL instructor should still have to have a minimum number of hours (say 500) and they should still have to get an instructor’s rating. Taking your average PPL off the streets and stuffing them in the right hand seat of a Warrior occupied by a wide-eyed student – that  would lowering standards.

They shouldn’t be able to test the student, and shouldn’t be able to authorise a First Solo. All that should still remain the responsibility of the CFI.

Other loud dissenting voices come from the CPL flying instructors because they will see their opportunities for hour-building eroded by PPL flying instructors. This is a definite negative, but teaching is supposed to be about the students’ needs, not the teachers’. Sorry, guys.

It’s not such a radical thought; as noted, EASA was very seriously thinking of introducing this system and it may happen one the GFC is consigned to history. Will we ever get it here? It would take a gutsy step by the CASA Director of Safety.

May your gauges always be in the green.

Hitch.


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