Flight Training Standards

Flight Training Standards

The last few years have seen Harv’s Air grow at an amazing rate. Since our expansion to  St Andrews (Winnipeg) our flight hours have more than doubled. I am very grateful to our students who have made this possible. It has been exciting to see students move into commercial flying positions both in Canada and abroad. Countries like India and China have seen the need for pilots increase at an incredible rate.

Good pilots from these countries are almost certain to find employment even with relatively low experience. This demand has rarely been seen in the 39 years that I have been involved in aviation.

This brings me to my point in this letter. How do we as a flight school or you as an individual student determine whether you will be successful both in the flight training program that you will undertake and then later in finding employment as a professional pilot.

Let’s consider what skill and abilities are required to become a pilot.  What comes to mind are two things, academics and hands on skill. Academics are easy to define; you must learn air law, theory of flight, navigation and weather. This is a bit of an over simplification but these are often considered to be the four main topics. These studies can be mastered by most students who apply the effort. Much of this is learning and memorizing. The hands on skill is much harder to define and evaluate.  It is sometimes referred to as “stick and rudder skills” It includes having a feel for what the plane is doing in the air and applying the correct control inputs to control the plane smoothly. In addition you must develop and have situational and positional awareness. A safe attitude and good judgment are also essential. The academic skills can often be measured by past performance in school or in the workplace. A very small indication of hands on skill are the ability to drive a motor vehicle with safety and confidence, athletics and game skills, or playing a musical instrument. These skills are only a small indication, the real show of ability will come when you fly.

By the time you have flown 5 hours your instructor will have a good idea of what your flying skills are and what potential you have as a pilot.  But at this point it is impossible to accurately predict whether you will finish the training in the minimum standard time, 20 hours more, or twice the standard time. If the training is going to be difficult for the student this will be apparent and the student will be advised. It than becomes a decision that the student has to make, namely that it will take much longer and cost a great deal more  than expected and so is this greater expense and effort worth it to me. At this point we consider the persons attitude. If they take little or no responsibility for there progress we have great concern. It seems to be human nature that when things are not going well we tend to project blame in many directions but often we are not willing to accept our own responsibility or performance.  In these cases where progress is very slow and particularly when there are safety issues or poor attitudes we will recommend that training stop. This is done only after the candidate has been evaluated by several instructors including our most senior instructors. We do point out that the student has the option to continue at another school and get another opinion.

Asking someone to leave the program is not something that I enjoy and is one of the most difficult jobs I have as a CFI. There are emotions and hopes involved and I try to be as sensitive as I can possibly be, but it is never easy.  There are two responses that I see from the student, one is a sad acceptance of the existing reality and in some cases a thankfulness to honestly and openly offer our opinion. The other is much more difficult, it is an outright denial of the students responsibility in there progress and an insistence that not completing flight training is not an option. Many times I have heard the student say” I must return with a licence”. But the point is they are not able to perform to the required standard. When the reality of not completing further training at our school sinks in frequently they choose to get a second opinion and as already mentioned that is fine.

When a student arrives at our school with many hours logged but no licence we generally will contact the previous school to find out what has caused this. We discuss this information with the student and will  agree to fly several evaluation flights. If our findings are the same as from the previous school we will not continue flight training. In other words if the student cannot meet standards at one school they  will perform the same at another school. Sadly there are a few schools who do not take this approach. An instructor at another school was heard to comment “ My boss does not mind these kind of students he likes to milk them for everything they have”

After the student has soloed he or she has learned to fly. But only under very ideal conditions and at first only in the airport area (touch and goes) There is still so very much to learn and practice.  Practice is the big word.  This practice involves the rental of a plane and therefore a large cost. If you are learning to play a guitar and you own one, practice only involves your time.  In flying, depending on your ability, you may need more practice than the minimum required and in some cases even a great deal of practice will only see a small improvement or no improvement at all.

Another thing that some students with marginal pilot skills do not realize is that if they are able to achieve all the required licences and I emphasize if, then at some point they will be evaluated. In the case of an airline this is usually done in a simulator. In a smaller company it may be done in a small aircraft. If there requirement are not met and a minimum standard of skill is not demonstrated you will not be hired.  It makes no sense for a student to spend a great deal of money and time and then when its all done find out that they are unable to obtain a pilot position because of there skill. This training should have been stopped.

In summary; 1) flying is different than anything a person has done in the past. 2) You may be a very intelligent person with a lot of education but this does not guarantee that you have good hands on skill. 3) You may have good hands on skill but may have a hard time academically. 4) Obtaining a Canadian commercial licence requires that you meet a standard. It is a standard recognized everywhere in the world. It is not a matter of flying a certain number of hours and you will have the licence. You must earn it. 5) If you think reaching the standard was hard work your evaluation and training with a future employer will be harder.


Harvey Penner
Chief Flight Instructor