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Always Learning: Press on, or pause?

During primary flight training, our instructors teach us the fundamentals of aeronautical decision making (ADM).
Always Learning
Vice President of Publications/Editor Kollin Stagnito overcame life’s inevitable curveballs to complete his primary training in 23 months, his instrument training in two months and his commercial training in 25 years.
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The FAA defines ADM as “a systematic approach to the mental process used by pilots to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances.” Often, this learning later manifests itself as our instructor’s voice in our ears offering advice, encouragement, or caution.

A common decision we make while flying is determining whether to press on (for example, performing maneuvers in the practice area while thunderstorms are building nearby) or pause (return to the airport and wait to fly on a more favorable day). The decision is not always easy or obvious, and experience plays a role.

As I write this in early April, many of us are making another kind of decision, one for which none of us have any experience: whether to press on with flight training or take a pause during a global pandemic. Stay-at-home orders, financial stress, social distancing, and temporarily closed flight schools are all creating barriers to our dreams. Storm clouds, indeed. But, with good judgment, training can continue—with modifications.

In deciding how best to continue flight training, there are gray areas to consider and the answer to many of our questions is “it depends.” Some flight schools have closed to protect students and instructors from catching—and spreading—COVID-19. If your flight school is open, can you travel from your home to the airport? And, should you? Clearly, we need to adhere to state and local stay-at-home orders. Should we simply limit our training to that which is available outside the cockpit?

If you live in a state where flight schools remain open and there are few travel restrictions, your training might be able to proceed on schedule. You may even find more aircraft and instructor availability than normal, which could accelerate your training. A risk mitigation to consider is to protect your instructor by wearing gloves and a face covering while in the cockpit, and asking your instructor to do the same.

If you live in a state where all flight schools are closed, you can take this forced grounding to prepare for your private pilot or instrument rating knowledge test. With proper precautions (gloves, mask, distance, fresh air, and other measures) your flight instructor may be able to provide an accelerated ground school to help you complete this phase of flight training. Ground school affords the opportunity to think through flying scenarios and practice ADM skills without the aircraft flying along at 120 knots. Online test prep software is an alternative to meeting with your instructor and enables students to study for the knowledge test at their own pace.

If you have questions about flight training, meeting currency requirements, or medical certificate extensions, call AOPA’s Pilot Information Center at 800-USA-AOPA. We’ll be happy to answer your questions with the latest information available to us, but don’t be surprised if our answer is “it depends.”

Press on, or pause? I wish I could provide a definitive answer. This decision is up to each one of us to make as our individual circumstances dictate. However, I can encourage you to stay engaged in flight training any way you can—and use your aviation support group as an antidote to the isolation of staying at home.

Alyssa J. Miller

Kollin Stagnito

Senior Vice President of Media and Marketing
Senior Vice President of Media and Marketing Kollin Stagnito is a commercial pilot, advanced and instrument ground instructor and a certificated remote pilot. He owns a 1947 Cessna 140.

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