Professional Instructor Characteristics

The subject of this article comes directly from a required question in the Commercial Balloon PTS under Fundamentals of Instruction. At first glance, the list of characteristics that one would hope to find in an instructor appear obvious. However, as a professional instructor, I have found it extremely important to revisit this list occasionally because in the early days, few instructor role models could hardly be labeled “Professional”.

This is not because they didn’t want to be professional but it’s difficult to present yourself with the characteristics of “extended training and preparation” when you are still learning to fly yourself. Unfortunately, much of this “show and tell” type of instruction has persisted to the present day. Certainly there are many balloon instructors today that have developed characteristics consistent with the professional standards described in the Fundamentals of Instruction. However, they do more so by self determination and their own personal attributes than by previous example.

“Professionalism is achieved only after extended training and preparation.”

The lack of training and preparation was evident in the early days as the instructor was learning almost as much as the student on every flight. If your instructor boasted that he knew it all, it usually became apparent very quickly that there was little to back this up. Any attempt at professionalism in this scenario was lost for good. It is important that today’s instructor remain knowledgeable about current certificate requirements and ground material. This is part of preparation. If you are not sure about the current information, please visit with an examiner or FSDO Inspector before starting to instruct a student.


“The professional flight instructor should be straightforward and honest. Attempting to hide some inadequacy behind a smokescreen of unrelated instruction will make it impossible for the instructor to command the interested attention of a student.

Teaching a student pilot is predicated upon acceptance of the flight instructor as a competent, qualified teacher and an expert pilot. Any facade of instructor pretentiousness, whether it be real or mistakenly assumed by the student, will immediately cause a loss of confidence by the student in the instructor, and little learning will be accomplished.”

There is no place for instructor egos in the training session. The instructor must teach and be competent in every situation that the student will likely experience in his/her first 50 hours.

Acceptance of the Student

“The professional flight instructor must accept students as they are, with all their faults and all their problems. The student is a person who wants to learn to fly, and the instructor is a person who is available to help in the learning process. Beginning with this understanding, the professional relationship of the instructor with the student should be based on a mutual acknowledgment that both the student and the instructor are important to each other, and that both are working toward the same objective.”

This characteristic seems obvious on the surface but can be lost when the instructor is just in it for the money or has not allotted enough time for the training exercise. Effort has to be given to evaluating the student’s goals, desires, fears and motivations in addition to his/her competency.

Personal Appearance and Habits

Personal appearance has an important effect on the professional image of the instructor. Today’s aviation customers are people who expect their associates to be neat, clean, and appropriately dressed. It is not intended that the flight instructor should assume an attire foreign to the flight environment; however, since the instructor is engaged in a learning situation with professional people, the attire worn should be appropriate to a professional status.

A comfortable clean appearance is all that is expected from today’s balloon instructor. Anything short of this creates a real hindrance in the student’s ability to respect the instructor as an authority figure. Abusive language is not acceptable for the same reason. Profanity leads to distrust or, at best, to a lack of complete confidence.

Safety Practices and Accident Prevention

The flying habits of the flight instructor, both during flight instruction and as observed by students when conducting other pilot operations, have a vital effect on safety. Students consider their flight instructor to be a paragon of flying proficiency whose flying habits they, consciously or unconsciously, attempt to imitate. The instructor’s advocacy and description of safety practices mean little to a student if the instructor is observed to violate them.
This one is easy to violate. If the student sees the instructor not using his checklist or tying off when he (the student) has been told to do so, it creates a mindset that the student should practice most of what has been taught but discretion can be used when appropriate. This is dangerous!


The instructor must be patient throughout the teaching process. Frustration will overcome progress if the instructor is not resolved to let the student develop at his/her own pace. This characteristic is not mentioned in the book but is crucial in the successful training of a student.

Today’s professional balloon instructor must be clean, confident, competent and patient. It takes effort to keep up with the latest certificate requirements and ground school material. If you don’t have the personal desire to indoctrinate these characteristics for your own satisfaction, please do it for the student. What you teach and how you teach will be carried on far beyond the current student. Let’s try to make balloon instructor professionalism a habit by example for future instructors rather than relying on their personal desire to rise above the mediocrity.




Your article “Inflating the Balloon” is easily one of the best I’ve ever seen on the subject and mirrors almost word for word what I’ve been telling students for over 26 years. BUT… even if you wanted it to be a separate subject (which it certainly is worthy of) would you be willing to put in a good word for tying off prior to inflation?

I trained with Bruce and Tucker Comstock in 1976 and got that good habit from them. Saved my bacon a time or two when it would have been just as easy to say “ah, the wind is real light; we don’t have to tie off”. Especially these days, when tying off has become a part of many rallies. Just a thought; keep up the good work!!

Soft landings,

Ed Chapman

Response: Dear Ed,

Thank you for bringing attention to my oversight. Tying off is just about as critical as having someone on the crownline. You can get away without it sometimes but you will eventually pay a price.