By Terrie Mead
As you stumble, fall, and get back up en route to your primary pilot certificate (private, sport, or recreational), your flight instructor is your principal support system. When questions arise, setbacks pile up, or you turn pessimistic about ever reaching your goal—all normal, by the way—it is the CFI’s lesser-known responsibility to impart support, encouragement, and advice.
But what about the day after you have earned your coveted wings? How can you stay safe and proficient? Whom can you call on when you need access to experience beyond your current level? The FAA may be onto something.
Early in 2020, the FAA issued an Advisory Circular (AC 121-43) that required FAR Part 121 air carriers, operators, and program managers involved in training to develop and implement a mentoring program for all pilots in command in their employ. The AC was in response to the NTSB’s analysis of two fatal accidents and a limited study that revealed the accidents were caused by a lack of professionalism by the pilots in command. You might be asking, “How does this apply to me, a recreational flyer?”
Professionalism is not an ambiguous concept specific to paid pilots. The National Business Aviation Association defines the term well: “Professionalism in aviation is the pursuit of excellence through discipline, ethical behavior, and continuous improvement.” No matter the path you pursue, whether as an airline or recreational pilot, your actions are determined by your character, your character is developed through learning and experience, and mentorship can be its gateway.
Within the chapters of ASI’s online flight instructor refresher course (efirc.aopa.org) is a reference to the importance of the CFI as a mentor. The course material is a reminder of how quickly new pilots lose proficiency, then interest, and the many who hang up their wings altogether. As much as commercial and student pilots need a role model, the newly certificated primary pilot may also significantly benefit from mentorship.
What is the mentor/protégé relationship, and how can it make a safer pilot? A mentor is an experienced pilot and aviation enthusiast willing and available to give back to the community by passing their knowledge and love of flying to the next generation of aviators. The relationship between mentor and protégé is at its core supportive, with its vital benefit being one-to-one engagement. This connection can further develop communication skills, provide a reliable route for the protégé to ask questions, and create an example of professionalism worthy of emulating.
Finding or becoming a mentor. Foremost, don’t be a stranger at your base airport. There you will be exposed to numerous volunteer opportunities, including marshaling aircraft during a fly-in, an airshow, or other events. Get involved with your local aviation community and hang out with other pilots who share your aviation goals. Also, many airports rent hangar space to flying clubs. You will enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded folks, plus flying clubs commonly rent their aircraft at a reduced rate to members.
Lastly, check out your local Civil Air Patrol (CAP). Acting primarily as support for the U.S. Air Force since World War II, CAP’s core values—integrity, volunteer service, excellence, and respect—epitomize the mentor/protégé relationship and its rewards.