Quick (Superficial) Training: "Shake 'n Bake"   Society of Aviation Flight Educators

By: David St. George, ATP, MCFI, DPE


     Learning to fly is (unfortunately) not fast, easy or cheap! It is however, endlessly rewarding and will pay back all the time, effort and money you invest. Correct and complete training in aviation takes serious time and concerted effort. After the certificate is obtained there is additional learning and "seasoning" with other professionals to be safe. With those seductive, guaranteed quick courses, the paper result may be available in your hand quicker to show friends, but your superficial depth of training and experience is not sufficient to make you a safe pilot. "Shake 'n Bake instant pilot courses" just cannot prepare a pilot for the complexity of the real world of flying. They instead give an illusion of skill and knowledge with a perfunctory exposure to the true and subtle art of flying. Any school that emphasizes studying the FAA test questions to quickly "get through the written" and then go fly (so the school starts making money) is almost surely a rip-off. Any "academy" that requires a huge up-front deposit is probably not to be trusted. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be an informed consumer in aviation. These poor deceived proto-pilots quickly gain all the FAA certificates and appear like pilots but are amazingly devoid of any real skill or correlative decision making tools. Their entire short experience in the air has been programmed and no higher level aviation functioning has been developed. Down the road when the real skill is required, there will nothing to draw upon to save the situation.

The new American motto of "faster, cheaper, easier" with the resulting instant gratification pay-off (anything is available for a price) is not creating a wonderful new breed of pilots. Add a pinch of wiz-bang techno-magic and this new pilot is only prepared for future failure. If there is one thing I have learned in more than 40 years in aviation it is that you better have a "plan B" and a deeper level of understanding when the "fertilizer hits the ventilator". Superficial skills are dangerous and lead to disaster unless every flight goes perfectly and all problems occur as a rote choice of A, B, or C. Unfortunately, for every bottom feeder pilot there must also have been a "not to honest pilot examiner." The DPE is supposed to be the final filter for quality in this business. The pilot evaluation is supposed to weed out the incapable for the benefit of the industry (and themselves!) The standard can get murky when a DPE depends upon continuous work from a large academy for his or her living. I have examined applicants for commercial multi-engine certificates that obviously were not even qualified to hold a private certificate...somewhere the system of checks failed; as in the tragic example below.

The Unfortunate Result of Perfunctory Pilot Training Colgan Air 3407 Colgan Crash; Better Pilot Training Needed!

We all are aware of the tragedy last year with Colgan Air Flight 3407. The news has already extensively analyzed this accident, most notably a series in the Buffalo Newspaper. This excellent series, though somewhat sensationalized, points out the trend toward deteriorating pilot training and the diminishing skills of modern flight crews. Following closely on the "Miracle in the Hudson" the Colgan crash highlighted this foolishness. Ultimately, this is a matter of money. Everyone likes a cheap ticket but the consequences are definitely not worth the risk! The NTSB released its final recommendations as well as a "call to action" that are good reading for all pilots and plea for increased pilot training and vigilance in flight safety.

Captain Marvin Renslow failed five checkrides getting to the captain seat and apparently falsified records to hide two failures when he applied at Colgan.

A very complete NTSB analysis can be found here! Colgan Report

     We recently had a very nice young man show up at our school intending to rent our equipment. He had a private pilot certificate that he obtained in 35 hours (part 141) and never filed a flight plan, talked to FSS, or worked with radar (flying just east of a major metropolitan airport). The school that graduated him was adamant about never renting their planes to their graduates...wise choice! With that level of preparation, they were probably largely incapable of anything but "strictly supervised solo". When our flight instructors flew with this misguided individual, it was clear he was still at a student pilot level. He believed he was a fine pilot, or "why would they have given me a certificate?" This individual was not only incapable of flying as even a private pilot, he was unaware of his deficiencies. When this progresses to the level of an equally hopeless CFI, the damage is exponential and safety of the pilots and public is compromised. A local CFI was recently accepted into a part 135 flight department. He was sent (at the company expense) to Flight Safety to train as SIC but after many days and $15K wasted in the simulator, he could not qualify due to lack of skill. This is the other price of a "hurry-up" rating that does not convey any skill...no job!

     I personally always emphasize to clients that the flight training dollar is an investment in their future safety. Obviously no one wants to throw money away, but investing in good training and spending adequate time learning to fly correctly and thoroughly is time and money well spent. To the "budget cost-cutters" please embrace the analogy of the "budget parachute:"  Would you buy the cheapest parachute available to jump out of an aircraft? For the impatient, quick-cooking, fast finishing pilot, consider that some "seasoning" and depth is an essential ingredient in the pilot recipe. Experience does not always require lots of hours, but good piloting does require time on task and true effort to achieve depth and safety. Learn aviation thoroughly and always pursue greater excellence and it will always pay you back. Many of our graduates return very appreciative of the training they received with our school. They also convey horror stories of unprepared comrades that failed at some point in their pursuit of a professional career as a result of some short-cut deficiency in their initial training. Train fully and comprehensively and achieve excellence!