Friday, August 19, 2005

The Economics and Psychology of Instructing

I was worried a few weeks ago that Joe was going to quit flying, so close to the license. I've seen that look several times; the dejection and frustration of having worked hard and been so close, then taking what seems like a huge step backward. With a break of three weeks, right after a couple really difficult flights, that can be a huge burden on the mind, and there are distinct differences in how people handle that.

He called a few minutes ago, and we talked a bit about what he saw on his business trips. He is in aerospace engineering, and gets access to some really cool things. I could spend a long time picking his brain about what he knows. Cutting-edge research, not just the stuff you see on magazine covers.

I learn something from every student. Teaching is an interesting profession. A brand-new flight instructor really doesn't have any idea what he doesn't yet know. Psychology is much more a part of the whole mix than I ever really grasped, until I knew it from experience. Anyone who has done a fair bit of introspection knows how his own brain works, and how he learns best. But instructing forces an examination of how other people operate, which can be a whole different thing.

One of the areas of aviation that gives me concern is the training aspect. I don't know any statistics, but a large percentage of flight instructors are twenty-something year old guys, fresh out of flight school, only instructing because that is the fastest way to build hours and move on to the airlines, or some other higher-paying profession.

Economics plays a role too. Flight training is not cheap. Even the simple little two-seat Diamond I use for primary training, cost $150,000 new. Add $10,000 annually for insurance. Add $24 for fuel every hour flown. Add at least $500 for inspections every 100 hours flown. Don't forget the replacement tires, etc. Then tack on an annual inspection. By the end of all that, there isn't much margin for paying the instructor.

So flight instructors don't generally earn much. It becomes more of a transition job, required of the fresh commercial pilot, in order to move on to what he really wants to do. I decided to be a career instructor, and that was not a fiscally responsible decision. It came from a passion for teaching.

The result of all those factors, is that far too many instructors either aren't any good at instructing or don't really care about it. I suspect that is a major source for the relatively high numbers of students that never finish the certification they started. One of the introductory flights I gave this week, ended with an interesting observation from the student. Immediately after exiting the plane, he was still processing all he experienced, and commented that a student really ought to pick instructors carefully. If you have one that doesn't care, can't teach or that you don't truly trust, then learning is inhibited.

When Joe started telling me about the research going on, and what he saw on his trip to Albuquerque, I sensed in his voice that he was back on track. Then he scheduled for Monday, anxious to conquer the maneuvers, and get his license.


At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Ruth Holman said...

Hey I'm really pleased to hear that Joe is coming back!
You're right about instructors, it's true here in NZ. We have 2-3 really good instructors at the aero club, but I know they won't be around for too long. Even in 18 months the instructor turnover has been pretty big, and then they have to wait for the new ones to pass their exams to replace them.

At 10:18 AM, Blogger also-known-as said...

Yeah, I suppose it is about the same everywhere. Instructing is relegated to the role of a transition job. That saddens me though, because a bad instructor will pass along his issues to the student.


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