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Flight Instructors: Know Thy Neighbors!

Posted 9 years 26 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

As a pilot examiner, I have the opportunity to work with many flight schools and instructors throughout my district. I sometimes take it for granted that my visits to flight schools are a rare benefit to me not often afforded to other flight schools in our local area. The ability to see varied procedures and techniques provides insights into how the average flight school conducts business. I often get to see curriculum development, local airport procedures, internal instructor training, and other aspects of day-to-day operations.

Although many flight schools are co-located at the same airport, very few flight school operational procedures are consistent. Attempting to maintain a standardized evaluation methodology between schools with differing procedures at the same airport can prove challenging. Therefore, I was led to engage the leadership within each school to find out why such a lack of consistent methods and procedures exists between co-located flight schools.

It didn’t take long to figure out the problem. After speaking with each flight school, I found they simply do not communicate. In many cases, flight instructors share the traffic pattern with their peers for hours each day, however they have never met those other flight instructors. When you ask why they haven’t met other instructors from competitive schools at the same airport, the response is often, “Why would I want to meet them?”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but part of the enjoyment I get out of each day is meeting new people. In an industry as small as the helicopter industry, much of your career successes—and failures—will be determined by the relationships you craft and foster. I still maintain relationships with industry peers I met in the early days of my flight training and the operational learning-to-walk stage of my career. Sharing experiences with them provides stimulating memories of exciting and—more importantly—humbling events. It helps keep us grounded in the fact we’re all just one “watch this” away from disaster!  

Simply put, taking the time to engage with peers sharing the same block of airspace provides for a safer flight environment. Although improving safety should be enough to motivate the most cynical, other tremendous benefits include sharing techniques and experiences, and mentoring when the opportunity presents itself. Common procedures shared among operators helps to support important issues like noise abatement, and provides interaction with our fixed-wing counterparts (we so diligently try to avoid).

Holding quarterly meetings provide neutral ground to share common issues and facilitate communication. In many cases, each flight school can alternate hosting a meeting. This is another great way to learn how the competition does business. You’ll often find your competitors are not that different from you.

Flight schools set the stage for each of their student’s perspective on the industry, and the culture by which that pilot will enter service within the ranks. Maintaining a culture of positive communication, operational standardization, and a willingness to accept that competitors are not the enemy is a great foundation for a successful career. The alternative is a less safe environment … period. Take the time to get to know your neighbors. The continued success of our industry depends on it.       

About Randy: Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award.  Randy is currently  Director of Training at Epic Helicopters in Ft. Worth, Texas.