Best Practices for Mentoring in Flight Instruction: Most pilot certificates are issued with advice that the hard-won document is only a “license to learn.” Newly certificated pilots are then dispatched into the real world to learn through their own experience. While there is ultimately no substitute for experience, too many pilots come to grief because the lessons of experience are harsh and sometimes fatal.
The tests of experience – given, as the saying goes, before rather than after the lesson – are especially challenging for two specific pilot groups. The first is new instrument pilots. With instrument rating in hand, the newly certificated instrument pilot can legally fly alone in conditions that would challenge the most seasoned professionals – perhaps without having even experienced flight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).
There are also special challenges for the newly certificated, but inexperienced, flight instructor (CFI). The CFI performs one of the most vital and influential roles in aviation and, just as in medicine, the work can have life and death consequences. But while the medical profession uses internship and residency programs to provide supervised real world training for newly graduated MDs, newly certificated flight instructors – like new instrument pilots – are mostly left to learn on their own.
Many professions besides medicine use forms of mentoring to help newly-trained novices transition from real-world application of “book” knowledge and basic skills. Teacher certification boards require a stint of student teaching that pairs the novice with an experienced classroom instructor for both observation and supervised application of knowledge and skills. Mentoring in aviation generally takes place in the airline environment, which pairs experienced pilots with junior crew members.
Unfortunately, general aviation (GA) instrument pilots and flight instructors do not typically have regular or structured opportunities to fly with more experienced aviators. Because such opportunities could provide a major safety benefit to the GA community, this guide provides ideas and suggested mentoring practices that instructors and flight schools can use to help bridge the gap between training and experience.