CFIs Are Not All Equal: CFI-PRO®!

Previously published in the FAA Pilot Examiner Quarterly (shared by permission) Here is a unfortunate story of a “Rusty CFI” (not current teaching though probably very current in his biz jet). DPEs see cases like this too often- where the well-meaning CFI was not up to speed. New CFIs need mentoring, non-current CFIs need refreshing (a FIRC every two years is not enough).

Here is a scenario that happens much more often than you would think…  A commercial pilot is blessed with a great paying flying job with a lot of down time.  (Well maybe not that part) Anyway, the lucky one…we will call him “Stan” has not been an active flight instructor for more than ten years. Nevertheless, he dutifully renews his flight instructor certificate by completing an online Flight Instructor Re-fresher Course (FIRC) every 24 months. He then goes to Sheryl his local DPE and pays her an administrative fee to review his application and FIRC graduation certificate and renew his certificate.

One day our hero Stan is polishing up his Beech Debonair. He is approached by one of his hangar neighbors at the airport who asks if he can train his 16 year old son for his “pilot’s license” in their family Cessna 120.  Stan decides “well… I haven’t used the certificate and some time, maybe I should give back to the aviation community”. He reluctantly takes on the eager new student and agrees to train him free of charge.  Having not been active for a while, Stan is not aware that there have been significant changes since he was a young instructor building time to move to the airlines. Not only that, he has never instructed outside of the confines of a 141 flight school. When he was teaching with the school he had a syllabus and other more senior instructors to check his paperwork; bounce questions off of; and help keep him out of trouble.  Our student…“Junior” reports for his first flying lesson the following morning and Stan sits down with him to chat and make sure that he is ready to begin flight training. Junior is ahead of the game and went to an AME and got a second class medical. Stan looks at the medical and notices that it is on a white piece of paper but it doesn’t say “Student Pilot Certificate”. He remembers from his FIRC that there was a change in the regulation….”Uh… let’s see…. yeah that’s right, the AME no longer issues student pilot certificates and I just have to put the endorsements in his logbook instead of on back of the certificate.” They discuss the first lesson, do a preflight inspection and go out in fly.

Junior is a quick study and Stan decides to solo him after only about 8 hours of dual flight instruction. He makes an endorsement in the “boiler plate” section in the back of Junior’s logbook and sends him on his way around the pattern. After three perfect “three pointers” he congratulates Junior with a ceremonial douse with a bucket of water and cuts his shirt tail for this momentous occasion. –

Soon they are working on the cross-country and night portion of training and Junior’s subsequent solo flights go well. Stan always looks in the back of the logbook and signs the boilerplate endorsement that most applies to the flight that Junior is doing. Soon he has flown off all the solo and dual time required and has completed his Private Pilot Knowledge test and Stan deems him ready for the practical test.

Junior goes into IACRA and registers for an account and begins to fill out an application for a Private Pilot Certificate Single Engine Land. He has no problem with it until he reaches the section “Have you ever held an FAA pilot certificate?” He thinks “Well yes… I have a second-class medical; but where is that certificate number? He asks his instructor. Stan scratches his head, picks up the phone, and calls one of his co-workers who flight instructs regularly. Through the conversation, he finds out that the paper student pilot certificates he once knew are now a plastic card. Stan’s heart leaps into his throat realizing his mistake. He tells Junior to log back into IACRA and start and new application for Student pilot and Stan approves it.  Two weeks later, Junior receives a notice that his temporary student pilot certificate is ready in IACRA. Stan, then has junior finish his application for private pilot and calls Sheryl, the DPE to make an appointment for Junior’s practical test.

Stan prepares Junior for his test and wants to be a good instructor so goes to the appointment with him to make sure that Sheryl has everything she needs to start the exam. They meet at Sheryl’s office early in the morning. She first reviews the aircraft log-books and all appear to be in order. She then looks at Junior’s application and begins to look at his pilot logbooks. She checks his student pilot certificate, which has an issuance date of just a little over two weeks ago.  She also notices that there is not a tailwheel endorsement.

“Stanley, I’m sorry but I cannot accept this application.” Sheryl Says…

“Why not?” Asks Stan.

“This temporary student pilot certificate was issued a 2 weeks ago…and on top of that, Junior doesn’t have a tailwheel endorsement.” Says Sheryl.

“Well, I did all the training. I can put the tailwheel endorsement in there now.” Says Stan.

Sheryl explains. “Stan, that still wouldn’t make the flight time valid. He didn’t have the tailwheel endorsement required to act as pilot in command and he didn’t possess a valid student pilot certificate when he conducted these solo flights. I’m afraid all of his solo time just doesn’t count.” Unfortunately, for Stan and Junior, Sheryl is right. She confirms this when she calls her POI to see if there is any way they can move forward. So…What happens at this point?  Who is responsible? What are the repercussions?

It was an honest mistake but legally, there could be enforcement action against both!

Stan and Junior and probably at least a re-examination ride for Stan. The FAA would also require Junior to re-fly all of his solo flights that were made without a valid student pilot certificate before he would be eligible for a private pilot certificate. Junior also would have to bear the expense.  A student pilot hires a qualified instructor to provide a safe environment for them to learn. Above all, the instructor must be a professional. They must have an understanding of the learning process, a knowledge of the fundamentals of teaching and an ability to communicate effectively with the student pilot. They must also have a thorough knowledge of aeronautics, regulations, and possess a keen attention to detail.

Before soloing a student 61.3 states that “No person may serve as a required pilot flight crewmember of a civil aircraft of the United States, unless that person has in their physical possession or readily accessible in the aircraft when exercising the privileges of that pilot certificate.”

In this case it would be a temporary student pilot certificate issued under §61.17 Most prospective students essentially know little if any about regulation. It is the duty of the flight instructor to educate students about the certificates and documents required when they begin their flight training.

The responsibility falls upon the instructor to make sure that they meet all the regulatory requirements when they are going to operate an aircraft solo. The flight instructor must also administer a pre-solo knowledge exam that includes applicable sections of parts 61 and 91. One of those questions should be… “What documents are required to be in your possession when acting as PIC on a solo flight?”

DPEs see mistakes like this all too frequently. It is SAFE’s mission to elevate the professionalism of aviation educators. We do this through resources, training, and mentoring; Join SAFE and pursue excellence in aviation. If you are in training and have a bad CFI do not hesitate to “Ditch the Duds” or “Fire Your CFI.” Get a CFI-PRO®


Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App gives every CFIs the necessary guidance for pilot endorsements and pilot experience requirements right on your smartphone. This app facilitates smooth CFI+DPE teamwork.

Join SAFE for more tools and to resources for greater educational professionalism. Your membership supports our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)!

Stan should have taken the initiative to re-search the regulations a little closer. When he looked at Junior’s Medical certificate, he was unsure but assumed that he knew the answer was that he did not need a student pilot certificate based on a vague recollection of his FIRC training. When you assume anything, you can assume trouble. A review of the regulations or a call to his local DPE or FSDO Aviation Safety Inspector would have cleared this issue up before it became a serious problem.

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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