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Pilot Training Not Your Fly-by-Night Experience : There are some key things to look for when you set out to select a flight instructor.


Most licensed pilots of small planes know from experience what the Federal Aviation Administration has been saying for years: Good training is everything.

"A lot of accidents we've seen were preventable and happened because of simple mistakes, because of pilot error," says Tom Hennessee, accident prevention program manager with the FAA's district office in Van Nuys.

"The pilot runs out of fuel. An inexperienced pilot will fly in bad weather and get confused. If a pilot panics and pulls up on the controls, (the plane) can go into a spin. In Camarillo, a year and a half ago, several people got killed when the guy evidently got confused and ran into a mountain."

Good training should be something all potential pilots made sure they received. But not every consumer knows what to look for in a flight school.

"With the high cost of aviation, a lot of people also try to skimp on (instruction)," Hennessee adds. "They just try to find the cheapest flight instructor. But just because a person is cheap doesn't necessarily mean he or she is the best."

What things should be considered?

For starters, ask about the instructor's training.

Hennessee says a basic flight instructor needs to have a commercial license--which is higher than a private license--and also must be instrument rated. Holding a multi-engine or airline transport license, the highest designation, shows the person has sought out even more training.

Also, beware of making a quick judgment based solely on the number of flight hours an instructor has.

"Flight instructors are susceptible to burnout just like anyone else," Hennessee says. "They can get tired, and maybe they just want to accumulate time for bigger and better things--like corporate or airline flying. Sometimes their goal isn't to produce the best student."

Talk to the person and get a feel for his or her style of teaching.

Like choosing a personal physician, an instructor's level of expertise should be coupled with a personality you feel comfortable with.

"After you weigh everything else, a lot of times it comes down to a judgment call for the consumer," Hennessee says.

"If you see that the person is putting out a lot of time and effort to communicate clearly the ability to fly, you can feel good about the choice."

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