Rotor & Wing International
Found inSafety Watch

CFIs and Safety: Have We Missed the Target?

Keith Cianfrani examines safety in the helicopter industry.

Safety management systems (SMS), safety management, safety culture, risk management, top down-bottom up, lead from the front, safety awareness and just culture. These are safety terms that you would expect every certified flight instructor (CFI) to be familiar with.

As I travel across the U.S. conducting safety audits for HAI and the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations, I find myself talking to many young CFIs who do not know that the International Helicopter Safety Team, its U.S. regional team, the FAA and HAI have been promoting safety management, especially with the FAA/HAI Flight Data Monitoring Safety Research Project.

Many CFIs have either never heard of SMS or know very little about it. This is unacceptable. At a recent discussion with two experienced CFIs, I asked if they knew what SMS was. One instructor (who was in the military) did, but the other had only recently heard of the term.

One of these instructors said that his employer does not believe in SMS and believes initiating a safety program would bankrupt the company. That belief was based on the notion that the flight school had not had an accident in years and thus was a safe organization that did not need a safety program. I wonder if the owner knows how many unsafe events are left unreported every day.

I see this problem again and again. When conducting a safety presentation, I ask if the audience knows what SMS is. The next thing I ask is whether they know what flight data monitoring (FDM) is. I never seem to see a 100% show of hands on the SMS question, but the numbers are improving. Not so with FDM. Most operators or pilots are just becoming aware of how it could enhance safety.

I have discussed in the past the making of CFIs. You would think the industry would initiate changes over the years when qualifying new CFIs to ensure they are knowledgeable on all areas of flight instruction. I’m a CFI and a former Army instructor pilot. Anyone who has gone through any military flight instructor course knows how hard it is to be recommended and selected to attend such training, along with the minimum hours desired to qualify. Such courses span 6 to 8 weeks at 8 hr a day, depending on the branch of the military. It involves all phases of training, not just emergency procedures.

To become a civilian CFI, student pilots pay for flight training. The flight school is making money and needs to continue to generate income, so there is an initiative for the flight school to ensure its students are successful. After students receive their private ratings and commercial ratings, they study, take a test, pass a check ride and become CFIs at 250 hr with no real aviation experience, safety or aeronautical knowledge. Many don’t even possess the ability to instruct.

Since these new CFIs have never been taught safety management or even understand it, the result is a lack of safety training for student pilots who will become our future pilots.

I have personally heard a flight school owner say that because of financial factors, pilots and flight instructors are graduated when they shouldn’t be.

Many flight school operators refuse to “buy into” the safety-management culture and to promote it to their staffs and students. They refuse to allocate resources for safety because they have not had an accident in years. Unfortunately, many new pilots who want to acquire flight time to “land that perfect flying job,” can only do so by becoming flight instructors. They accept these positions without really understanding who they are working for.

As someone who has been involved in aviation safety for more than 30 yr, with many hours of flight instruction, I have had my fair share of flight emergencies and accident investigations. The industry needs to look at how it chooses and qualifies its future flight instructors. A 250-hr pilot passing a written test and check ride does not make a qualified teacher of aviation and safety.

I also blame the flight schools for not conducting safety management training and for not having their CFIs train students on safety management. How can we expect our future pilots to understand safety management when the instructors do not know what it is? R&WI