The CFI-S Conundrum: Time for Change!

I had been thinking since I first started flying Light Sport I might want to go after my Light Sport Certified Flight Instructor Rating. I have always loved to teach and I have always loved to fly. Once it was clear to me that I needed a way to stay in aviation as the space shuttle program was being shut down with nothing to replace it, I knew I wanted to go after that rating and use it as a means of self-expression and a means of keeping my airplane (a Flight Design CTSW LSA). I engaged the help of a good friend and coworker who is a CFI and now a full-time Continental Express pilot and we have been working to teach me how to be a good teacher in the air for several months. I’ve been introducing him to Light Sport, so I like to think that, in addition to the checks I give him, it’s a good trade!

I almost decided against going down this road.

For those of you who don’t know me, I hold a Commercial ticket with an instrument rating for single-engine land and have about 1300+ hours of pilot time. That time includes various single-engine airplanes…Cessna’s, Piper’s, Mooney’s, Citabrias, Decathalon’s, Grummans, T-34B’s, T-28B’s and C’s, and even a little solo time in T-2B’s and C’s. There is also “unofficial” pilot time in both the Fixed and Motion Base Shuttle Mission Simulators flying to and from orbit, both nominally and in abort modes. I also have a little over 1200 hours as a Naval Flight Officer (Special Crew Flight Time) most of which was as a Radar Intercept Officer in the F-14A. For the last several years, ever since we decided to sell our Grumman Cheetah, I have been flying under Light Sport rules in a Flight Design CTSW both my wife and I love. For us, flying only under Day VFR is good enough; though I like flying IFR, my wife hates it. We had only been flying at night on occasion. Additionally, after sinking tons of money into the Cheetah only to mechanically catch it up, my wife refused to let me consider buying another 30 year old airplane. Light Sport allowed us to move to a newer airplane than we otherwise could have and it cost less to operate, too, though sometimes…

But I digress.

Soon after we started flying Light Sport, I realized I had enough hours to go after the Light Sport Instructor rating (which I have seen designated as CFI-SP and CFI-S, more often the latter). Two of my closest friends in aviation are both CFI’s, and knowing I might be able to work with one or both of them helped convince me to start investigating getting the rating. As I looked into it, though, I realized a rather incongruous and disheartening thing, i.e., that the FAA was saying that dual time received from a CFI-S would not count toward a Private Pilot rating. This sent an immediate message to me that the CFI-S was considered a “second class citizen”, something reinforced by the reactions of CFI’s around me who didn’t want the competition from this “new kid”, especially in an arena where most of them had absolutely no experience. In the end, after months of thinking about it, I decided to go after the CFI-S anyway. I knew that AOPA and EAA both felt that this situation was unjustified and that there was some wind blowing for change.

When Connie and I went to EAA Airventure 2011 last month, I stopped by the AOPA tent and discussed the petition that AOPA and EAA had sent to the FAA asking that the rule for CFI-S dual time accountability toward higher ratings be changed. Neither of the two gentlemen I spoke to really knew where that petition was in the FAA process, but one of them commented that “it could take years” for the FAA to respond. I am pleased to report he was wrong! Tonight, my CFI let me know he had seen an notice from AOPA that the rule change was being opened for public comment under Docket FAA-2011-0138. I IMMEDIATELY PUT MY TWO CENTS IN! All you guys who are thinking about flying LSA and going for your Private later and all you Light Sport pilots in general, now and in the future, PLEASE go to: http://www.regulations.gov/#!home and put in “FAA-2011-0138” in the Search bar and let it take you to the Docket and make a comment supporting this change. (Why should you do that? Because it gives you more options!)

Here’s what I had to say about it:

“I hold an FAA commercial/instrument rating ASEL, have been flying Light Sport for over two years and am currently pursuing my Flight Instructor Light Sport rating. Additionally, I am an ex-astronaut and flight controller trainer and have over 1000 hours as a Radar Intercept Officer in F-14 aircraft. Having started CFI training before, I can attest that there is no difference in the training I am currently receiving for CFI-S vice CFI other than not having to teach commercial maneuvers or night flying techniques. In every way, the day VFR skills for Light Sport translate directly into those needed for Private Pilot; indeed, the characteristics of the LSA I am flying make it harder to fly then many GA singles I have flown in the past. Therefore, to not count instruction I would give as a CFI-S toward the Private Pilot or higher certificate is not only illogical but does a great disservice to the CFI-S as well as the Light Sport movement, in general. Indeed, this discrepancy was a reason I almost decided not to pursue the CFI-S even though I love to fly and love to teach and Light Sport is and probably will remain my aerial province. If this is allowed to stand, it puts me and my flight school at an immediate business advantage that could result in the long run at my having to leave aviation altogether. Driving pilots out of the game is exactly the opposite of what the Light Sport rule is intended to do.

If there is a belief that CFI-S instruction is somehow inferior, then the FAA needs to revamp its training and testing systems. Otherwise, this petition needs to be adopted for the good of Light Sport and general aviation. There does not need to be a second class citizen known as the Light Sport CFI.”

The time to change this illogical and wasteful situation is now. Please support this change.

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