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Sometimes in an effort to save our students money, we end up costing them something far more valuable.

Learning to Fly is Expensive

On Facebook a while ago I read a thread of instructors debating how much hands-on flying was appropriate for the instructor to perform.  The idea was that the flight was being paid for by the student, so they should have as much hands-on stick and rudder time as possible.  The concepts of fairness and humility on the part of the instructor seem to demand this idea.  Afterall, the student isn’t paying for the instructor to show off her skills or simply watch what’s happening.  Alas, the student is not paying just for flight time either.  The student is paying to receive effective flight instruction, and sometimes the most effective instruction requires the instructor to demonstrate a maneuver or technique.  The Facebook thread promptly got into the weeds (as they often do) debating about how much instructor flying is necessary to be the most effective.  This is one of many such arguments revolving around how to save students money and make learning to fly more affordable.

How Not to Save Money

Much of this debate misses the point, as effective instruction is not defined by hours of time spent doing or not doing something – nor is is necessarily defined by how many dollars are spent per lesson or in one particular module of a syllabus.  Effective training should be cost effective, certainly, but often times an obsession with reducing costs backfires leaving the student with a higher long-term costs and less confidence and skills – or worse – quitting before they finish.  The most effective training strategies are also the most cost effective in the long run.  They also can be the most often ignored by students and instructors.

It’s not helpful to worry about how much time the instructor spends with his hands on the controls, find cross country destinations that are just far enough away to qualify, or design the syllabus to contain only those minimum items explicitly required by the regulations.  These strategies fall into the penny-wise but pound-foolish category.  The most effective way to ensure excellent instruction and minimize the overall cost of training is to make sure the student (and instructor) is exceptionally well prepared for every lesson before the chocks are pulled.  Generally speaking this requires far more than making sure the student has done the home-study lesson and the instructor has reviewed the lesson plan.  The best instruction happens outside the airplane and enables time in flight to be put to the best use.  The more creative and diligent an instructor and student can be in this regard, the better off they will be in terms of learning-per-dollar.

The most effective way to ensure excellent instruction and minimize the overall cost of training is to make sure the student (and instructor) is exceptionally well prepared for every lesson before the chocks are pulled.

How to Save Money

A $15 cockpit poster can become a procedure trainer that the student uses at home to practice checklists, flows, and procedures.  A rainy day can become (among countless other things) a field trip to the maintenance hangar to see and feel actual engine and system components. A computer with flight simulation software and a yoke can become an effective way to introduce or drill myriad skills at a fraction of the cost of an actual airplane.  “But that time isn’t loggabe,” you say?  So what?  Does it help the student learn?  Does it allow you to strengthen their skills more effectively and at less cost than doing it in an airplane with the Hobbs meter ticking away?  Those are better questions.

Hours on the ground saves hours in the air.

The major theme here is that hours on the ground saves hours in the air.  I also argue that much of that time ought to be with the instructor present.  I’m all for using many of the great home study programs and students practicing at home, but it isn’t sufficient (nor was it ever meant to be.)  For many reasons CFIs really do shy away from ground instruction time.  It’s less fun, and it does cost money that doesn’t equate to more hours in the student’s logbook.  Nevertheless, if the goal really is to save students money while making them the most effective pilots they can be, creative use of ground instruction is the secret weapon. The fact is ground instruction rates are usually about 25% of dual instruction with the airplane and instructor.  If three extra hours on the ground saves your student an hour in the airplane over the course of their training, they’re coming out ahead.