Don’t miss lessons – This slows your progress and gets costly for your school/CFI. No, you shouldn’t fly when you’re sick, but if you’re missing lessons because you stayed out late or you failed to plan for other obligations, a busy CFI may not be able to reschedule you right away. Most will charge for repeated missed lessons. Better to plan ahead, and arrive ready to learn.
Arrive to lessons on time – Your lesson block generally includes time for your flight briefing, preflight check, flying time, and de-briefing. When you arrive late, it’s usually the flight and debrief time that has to be shortened to make up for it, so you’re spending more to fly (and learn) less. If you train at a part 141 school and/or plan to be a professional pilot, know that punctuality also makes you far easier to recommend.
Show up for lessons prepared – You should come away from each lesson knowing what to prepare for the next one (if your CFI isn’t clear about this, ASK). Make sure you follow through on this preparation, because when you aren’t ready for a lesson and your CFI has to improvise as a result, you’re not getting the most for your money.
Fly as frequently as possible – The more frequently you fly, the more you retain. The more you retain, the fewer hours you need to finish. Once a week really isn’t enough, and gaps in your training cause regression. For most of us, two to three flights a week is the minimum to see reasonable progress.
Take notes – Preflight and postflight briefings are an important part of what you’re paying for, so make the most of them by taking notes of what you need to work on. Follow through and chair-fly as needed between lessons. When CFIs repeat themselves, you’re not getting your money’s worth.
Don’t procrastinate on completing your Knowledge (written) Test – Yes, some of the material is outdated, and not all of it might apply to the airplanes and environment in which you fly. But you need a solid foundation of fundamental knowledge, and until the FAA comes up with a better way of assessing that, the Knowledge Test will remain a requirement. Get yours done early and you’ll get more out of your lessons.
Hold yourself accountable for your own learning – Your CFI is crucial for facilitating your training, but the amount of new knowledge required to be a competent pilot is massive and no CFI can cover it all on a one-on-one basis without being expensive. Ground schools help, but being disciplined about learning the material helps even more. So read, learn, review, and repeat. A good pilot NEVER stops learning.
Remember to bring critical items (navigation logs/charts/pilot certificate/medical/logbook) to lessons – Necessities left at home are some of the most exasperating reasons to have to cancel a flight. Make a checklist if you need to.
Keep track of your endorsements – Make sure your endorsements, medical, and recency requirements are current (hint: this WILL be covered on your checkride). You don’t want to show up for a solo flight, discover that your solo endorsement expired, and your CFI is away from the airport that day. CFIs try our best to double-check, but help us help you by creating your own reminders.
Carefully manage your expenditures on technology – If you have to forego lessons, charts, or textbooks because you over-spent on an iPad, GoPro, ADSB receiver, and a high-tech headset, you may find you’re slowing your training and getting less from it. Remember, you can always buy these things later.
Familiarize yourself with the ACS – Your checkride is NOT the day to learn what’s in the ACS. As you near completion of your training requirements, you should be reviewing this document constantly. Make sure you get to the appendices, too.
Don’t fixate only on the number of hours you’ve flown – We understand that pilot training is expensive, but your CFI is held responsible for making sure that you’re ready to solo (see FAR 61.87 for a list of required knowledge and skills), and ready for your checkride (that is, you can demonstrate all the knowledge and skills in the Private Pilot ACS). If you’re unclear about what’s expected, ask for specifics and a plan to work on them. If your progress has slowed, ask to fly with a different CFI from time to time, as this can help break through training “plateaus.” But understand, there is no specific number of hours that will guarantee your readiness–you (and your CFI) need to ensure that your training includes specific objectives and a clear path to achieving them.