The road to becoming a flight instructor

On the 17th April I took my initial Assessment of Competence (AoC) to become a qualified flight instructor. Since passing my IRT in mid December I had been working as an operations assistant in Airways Aviation until a spot became free on the flight instructors course (FIC). That opportunity came in mid-February.

I was given 1 weeks notice to move my life to Spain, in a relatively remote region in Aragon close to the town of Huesca. Huesca-Pirineos Airport became my home for 6 weeks. I hadn’t flown a single engine aircraft since June 2018 and I had 5 hours to get acquainted with the Diamond DA40 aircraft before a flight assessment to be eligible for the FIC. Thankfully I had flown the larger multi engine variant (DA42) throughout my commercial training and the differences were minimal.

DA40 D in Zaragoza Int.

I was joined on the course by another candidate, who I was going to go through the training with. Then there was our instructor, an ex. RAF Hawk military flight instructor, CAA flight examiner and 20,000 flight hours. His reputation preceded him and his teaching style was unique, we both quickly realised the mountain we had to climb before the end of the course.

The FIC requires 5 hours minimum in a Single Engine Piston (SEP) aircraft to qualify for the assessment in the past 6 months and the course consists of 30 flight hours, effectively an abridged PPL. Our instructor would teach us how to teach and we would then take it in turns to teach him every flight exercise which was comical, stressful and an agonising amount of learning. The beauty of having a partner on the course is that you will see every flight exercise 3 times, as you will be back seating each other. If you have ever stepped into a flight lesson as a student, you might think the instructor has a great job. They do, but they have to: be a skilled pilot and manage the aircraft; impart knowledge to the student; know exactly where they are; maintain good time keeping as a lesson has a time limit; watch, critique and help the student through manoeuvres and keep a good lookout for conflicting traffic. All at the same time, this is the hardest thing to grasp and is exhausting.

To complete the course, we flew twice a day 5-6 days a week and also had to do 125 hours ground school with various written exams throughout. After 2 weeks my partner decided to leave as he wasn’t handling the stress, which meant now I lost the benefit of having a partner. The weeks quickly passed and I felt fatigued after 4 weeks on the trot. We had completed the syllabus in 4 weeks but not the hours, I was given two weeks respite to complete my “mutual” flying which is were I would practice teaching to other qualified instructors. I completed the course on the 11th April but had to go back to the UK to do my AoC at Oxford Airport.

Assessment day, I was warned the exam was an all day event, they weren’t wrong. I started at 8am and didn’t know I passed until 1800 and even then we still had an hour of paper work to complete.

So what takes so long? My exam went along these lines, with a few breaks in-between:

  1. Examiner briefs on the days proceedings – 20mins
  2. You deliver the long briefing (Theory Brief) – 45-60mins
  3. Examiner assesses your theory knowledge from CAA Standards Doc. 10 but expects you to teach the content – 90mins
  4. You deliver the pre-flight brief after Examiner tells you what to teach him – 30mins
  5. You deliver in-flight teaching as if the examiner was a student – 100mins
  6. You debrief the examiner as if they were a student – 30mins
  7. CAA Standards Doc. 10 theory assessment part 2 – 60mins
  8. Examiner debriefs your performance – 30mins

I found the assessment challenging, unquestionably the hardest of all my flight exams; but it was also fun, especially if you have a personable examiner. Ironically, the examiner had never flown the DA40 before and therefore, enhanced the relevance of the assessment but also made my long briefing apt, which was on differences training between a Piper Warrior and the DA40.

I returned to Huesca late April, with my first students lined up for the beginning of May, best of all, one is a person I sat next to during my ATPLs which feels surreal and terrifying all at the same time.

I didn’t expect to become a flight instructor once I concluded my training. However, I also wasnt sure my passion for flying was airline flying. There is a distinct shortage of instructors in the market because the aviation job market is lucrative and fluid at the minute. However, to become an FI is no small task often equivalent to an airline type rating. However, in my opinion, more rewarding. For those considering it as a “second choice” to an airline job, think carefully because it won’t be for everyone. If you do take the plunge, you can be sure of a few things, it will improve your skills and confidence as a pilot but will also set you apart from other candidates wherever your aviation career takes you.


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