I'm studying for my PPL and I've accumulated roughly 70 hours towards my PPL and am only now doing my cross country training. Sometimes life gets in the way.

I am a fan of my CFI but had a situation this past weekend that has made me a bit uncomfortable - he fell asleep on 3 occasions during my first cross-country. Is this a sign of a bad CFI? Is it something to be concerned about?

I'm also wondering - is it important to know what you're going to be expected to work on before each lesson and we figure out what we're doing for the lesson during preflight? Right now most of the agenda is being driven by me and I'm wondering if that's normal.

What's a good/bad CFI?

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    $\begingroup$ General question about judging a CFI $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Your CFI is PIC and should not be falling asleep... I had a great instructor, it took me 18 months to get my PPL but I did it in 45 hours. Lessons were known in advance of what we were going to practice and after every lesson was a review of what we did and what I need to work on. If you aren't happy with your CFI, its not a horrible thing to change. Remember, its your money and your time, you should get what you pay for. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ One could argue that if the CFI falls asleep on your training flight then he probably had a lot of confidence in you $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ I'm curious about what you mean by "the agenda is being driven by me". I mean, a few flights to practice things you're not comfortable with is good, but if it has been like that from the beginning there could be an issue... $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ are you flying in the US? you should be briefing every flight beforehand, and if its a XC, you should be told which one of the possible airports you might go into well in advance, and you should have time to check the weather and NOTAMs. otherwise, why bother? $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


I'm a CFI/MEI. I have 700-800 hours teaching private pilot students in the part 61 environment. That's not an awesome amount but I think it's enough to comment on this question.

This guy is wildly unprofessional, maybe even criminally negligent. You are paying him to observe you, to provide feedback, and to keep you safe. He can do none of those things while he is sleeping on the job.

You have a lazy instructor and I'm curious to know in what other ways he is failing to teach you.

It's his job to excercise good judgement and scrub a flight if he's not up for it. If he's overworked he shouldn't be flying. That's his problem, not yours. He has no excuse for his behavior and he's setting a terrible example for you to follow. DO NOT be like your instructor. I hope you're not using him as a role model for what a good pilot should be.

He's failing to demonstrate sound judgement and showing you that complacency is OK. He's not challenging you or looking for teachable moments. He's exhibiting classic hazardous attitudes...invulnerability and anti-authourity at a minimum.

I'd talk to him first and then fire him if this nonsense continues. I'd also demand a refund on CFI billing for his nap time.

And, yes, there should be a defined lesson plan with expectations for each lesson. This goes for pt61 and pt141 schools. Every CFI should have created plans during their CFI training. I have no idea how a CFI applicant can pass a CFI practical or oral exam without a comprehensive collection of lesson plans.

No, it's not OK for you to be in charge of what is covered. You should know what the next lesson will cover so you can prepare. He needs to give you the training plan and he needs to drive it. Again, it's his job, it's why you pay him.

I think this guy is milking you for billable hours. You might just be a cash pinata for him. Either that or he's just incompetent.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with what you say (I even voted you up), and I very much understand that this is a passionate subject for you (frankly, I'm similarly concerned). But I would ask that you try and be a bit more professional in your criticisms. While your points are entirely valid, some of the language you are using is a tad inflammatory. $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ That was my intent. The original poster must be told in no uncertain terms that his instructor is failing him. This behavior needs to be corrected quickly and decisively. There is no excusue this CFI can give that makes sleeping on the job OK. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ It's your answer and you can leave it as you wish. But you can unequivocally state that something must be done and also be professional, for the sake of the site I wish you'd do that. But again, the answer is yours, do as you wish. $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ There are few things whith which I have a no-tolerance approach. Taking a flight when you're too tired to fly and then taking a nap while your PPL student flies because you need the $150 is beyond stupid, is dangerous, and is exactly what a CFI should not do. The op asked if he has a bad instructor. The answer is an objective "yes." $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ I already said I agree with your points, and I do believe you can word that strongly while still being professional. Perhaps you should come find me in chat and I can explain what I mean. $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 3:00

Before I comment I have to ask your training habit: Do you fly one lesson each week, or only occasional lessons because you're so busy, or 3 flying days each week, or full time?

Sometimes life gets in the way

In terms of progress, 70 hours and just starting cross country flights seems to be on the slow side. But then, if you're not training regularly, you can't blame the CFI for spending some time reviewing previous materials during each lesson.

Ideally, the flight lesson pre-flight should go like this:

CFI: Today we will be practicing steep turns. We will takeoff, head North to this area on the chart and practice there. Then we will fly North East and proceed to this airfield to practice some touch and go. Our weather report says there is weather system South of us, we need to keep an eye on it in case it moves North. I will work on the radios and navigate, you will be doing all the flying. Questions?

This establishes clear goals of the lesson. A good lesson should also conclude with a post-flight debriefing:

CFI: Today I noticed that you did not enter the traffic pattern correctly. You entered like this, which is not good because of that, that, and that. Given the situation, you should have went like this. We will be practicing more traffic patterns in our next lesson.

If the agenda is driven by the instructor instead, you'll get more benefits:

  • The goals of the lessons are clear.
  • The instructor can adjust lessons based on your weakness. For example, if you were rather sluggish during engine-out emergencies, the CFI should review emergency procedures with you on the ground and give you more practice in the air.
  • You may not be aware that you are not getting enough practice in some areas.
  • You can prepare for the next lesson ahead. For example, if your next lesson is a cross country, you can review flight planning, navigation principles & airspace regulations.

Is your situation normal? I'm not an instructor so I don't know, but it can be better. Then again, if your flying schedule is rather random, learning efficiency would be lower, and you end up spending more flying time and money.

Now, falling asleep......To me, this is a big No No. I am just a student. I have not been certified (yet) that I can operate an airplane safely:

  • What if I make a navigation error and end up heading to Area 51?
  • What if I'm heading into IMC and need to turn around?
  • What if the fuel level is reducing at a dangerous rate but I didn't notice?
  • What if I got a stuck elevator?

A flight instructor is seated in the same cockpit with the student to correct mistakes or react to situations in a timely manner. To fall asleep during a flight lesson is an irresponsible behavior to the student and other people on the ground who might get hurt if your plane crashes.

Of course, flight instructors are all humans and we all tend to make mistakes. Perhaps he was overstretching himself. Perhaps he got a family emergency the night before and stayed up really late. If it was just one flight, I would pass but keep an eye on. If it happens continuously, it might be a good time to turn away and look somewhere else while you're still safe.

  • $\begingroup$ I train twice a week (Sat & Sun). I guess my feeling is that when I'm done with a session I should know what I need to study before I arrive at my next session. But perhaps not... $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ Twice a week is regular training. With a bit of work & a good instructor you should get your license in only 40~50 hours. 70 hours, twice a week, just beginning cross country? I wonder how many items on the syllabus are yet to be covered. Do you feel he's teaching you new things every time you fly? Or is he just acting as a (sleepy) safety pilot? He's billed hourly, and the longer you take to get a license, the more money he'll get from you. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 13:07

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