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Instructing, Work

Update….and back to the CFI

It’s been quite a while since I last sat down to write. I had finished my training with Mauna Loa Helicopters in Kona and was hired to begin work as a CFI at the Kona base and my intention was to write about my experiences as a CFI much like I did during my training in the professional pilot program. Obviously I was not successful with this goal! I can list a bunch of excuses; too busy with work, stress, irregular schedule, etc. But in the end I just lost motivation to write and like any exercise once you stop it can be hard to get started again.

Now I’ve started a new chapter in my new career. As those who check in through the Facebook page will have seen I recently started work as a tour pilot with Novictor Aviation in Honolulu, Hawaii. This new job has brought many changes with it and one of those changes is more free time. The idea I currently have is to spend some time writing about the eight or so months I spent working as an instructor for Mauna Loa. Perhaps this will shed some light on the daily life I experienced, plus highlight what I liked and what I didn’t about the job. I’ll do my best to pick up with where I left off on the last post, so here we go…

In my last post I was working quite hard to get rolling as an instructor. I wrote a little bit about how much there was to do, all the training on the ground and in the air. Throughout May I worked primarily with the assistant chief and occasionally with the chief pilot to complete my Part 141 training. As I wrote before I had already started with my first student just one week after getting hired. Despite starting with ground right away it took over a month before I started flying with students. This felt like a very long time from my perspective, but I have nothing to compare it with, so I’m not sure if it is just the way it goes for a new CFI.

Why was it so long? Well, Mauna Loa has an intensive program to train new CFIs, the aforementioned 141 training. It involves an average of ten hours of flight training, three of which are paid for by the school and the rest covered by the CFI, as well as plenty of ground sessions. There was only one pilot at the school who could do our 141 training flights, in addition to all his other responsibilities, and there were four of us working to get signed off. So it took a while. I have to give credit to Mauna Loa for making such an effort to train us, but I can say that I wish the process had run a little smoother.

Once an instructor is allowed to begin flight training with students there are still various stages that must be signed off as experience is accumulated. The main one a new instructor is interested in is getting signed off to teach autorotations. For some it is simply the desire to start flying autos and for others it is the reality that their students need auto training and they don’t want to be stuck constantly scheduling them with someone else. Autorotations are a huge part of almost every stage of training, perhaps the thing that is trained most (which is a hotly debated subject in the industry), and if you aren’t allowed to teach autos it is a pretty big handicap.  With this in mind it is hard to feel like you are really being allowed to instruct if you can’t work autos with a student.

Before teaching autorotations an instructor has to complete 25 hours of instruction, which should be with private or commercial students, and go through more in house training. The training involves multiple flights with the assistant chief, mostly playing through possible scenarios and mistakes that are likely to come up while teaching autorotations to students, and the cost is covered by the school. All of this is for the good of the instructor, and the school, but it was hard to be patient and sit through weeks of scheduling issues to get flights and the sign off. Especially so because I had a private student who really needed to practice his autos and it was hard getting him on the schedule with other instructors all the time.  But eventually it all came together.

I believe that Mauna Loa may be unique in the level of training and “certification” that each instructor goes through once they are hired. I’m not sure to what degree the average school trains its CFIs, nor do I know if there are normally limitations put on CFIs as they progress. I do know that things were not always this way at Mauna Loa. They say that each policy now in place came from an incident or close call. In the end I was thankful for the amount training I received, but I was disappointed in the overall process. At times it was also difficult for me to accept the amount of micro-management and policy. I understand that the school needs to protect itself, and of course wants to protect the CFIs and students, but at times I wished I had just a touch more freedom to think and act for myself. I believe this is an important part of the learning process and instead of supporting this type of behavior it seemed to me that it was stifled.

All said in done it took about another month to get signed off to teach autos and by the end of July I was finally a fully functioning CFI with four of my own students plus the occasional ground or flight lesson with someone else. It felt so good to be teaching and learning both on the ground and in the air. My initial two students were both studying for instrument ratings, but soon enough I was working with two VFR students as well. In the beginning I worked almost seven weeks straight, not even a single day off, and while it may sound brutal it was exactly what I had been hoping for. Just like my training all I really wanted to do was work and I was primed mentally and physically for just that. The CFI job was shaping up to be everything I had dreamed, but unfortunately that didn’t last.

In the coming posts I’ll try and talk a little bit about what it’s like to learn in the left seat as an instructor. I’ll talk about some personal milestones and I’ll share exactly how the hour building went for me. I’ll also write about my switch to Honolulu and how instructing there provided new growth and opportunity just when it was needed. Thanks for continuing to check out the blog, please feel free to share with others or contact me with questions; best of luck to all the aspiring pilots out there!

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About Orin Bakal-Molnar

Besides aviation my biggest passion is climbing. I love spending my free time on the side of something big! But I'm almost as happy doing anything outside in the wild. Travel, photography, and fly-fishing are a few of my other pursuits. And of course there's nothing like meeting new people and sharing good conversation.

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