I passed the CRI (Class Rating Instructor) skill test today. Read on to find out what that entitles me to do, and what was involved in gaining the rating.
What is a Class Rating Instructor and what can they do?
The CRI is a European (EASA) qualification that is fairly easy for a PPL to achieve, yet gives quite wide ranging privileges. You need 300 hours total time including 30 hours on the aircraft type you plan to instruct in. The minimum course duration is 3 days of classroom and 3 hours of flight instruction, so it can be completed in as little as a week. That compares to around 6 weeks full time for a Flight Instructor course, after several months distance learning and a minimum of 3 weeks full time classroom study for the 13 CPL theory exams.
And a CRI can receive payment for instruction.
While you can’t teach ab-initio (i.e. train towards an initial PPL or LAPL licence), you can instruct anyone who holds (or has ever held) a PPL/LAPL/NPPL licence. Even an NPPL(M) microlight licence will do. Most commonly, this would be the one instructor hour required by PPLs every two years (and now includes authority to sign the validation page on your licence). It also permits differences training (e.g. tailwheel, EFIS/glass panel, retractable gear, variable pitch prop etc.) and aircraft you are qualified to fly and instruction for any other general brush up or wider guidance. This includes cross training of a microlight pilot to a full Single Engine (specifically from an NPPL(M) to an NPPL(SSEA).
Instruction for lapsed PPL/LAPL/NPPLs who want to renew their licence is also permitted. Training for other aircraft classes (e.g. TMG) requires a prior one-time flight and sign-off by another flight instructor. Since this is an EASA rating, it can be used pretty much anywhere in Europe and with EASA licence holders from any country (signing licence revalidations for foreign pilots may require additional permission). A CRI can operate outside an ATO (or flight school or club), which is quite common with Permit aircraft.
It excludes any instrument instruction (apart from that in the original PPL syllabus), so is very much VFR only. But with my instrument rating, I’d be able to climb through a cloud layer into VFR-on-top prior to conducting a lesson.
Here’s a comparison table of the key attributes between the EASA FI and CRI ratings
|Flight Instructor||Class Rating Instructor|
|Pre-requisite hours||200 hours total time
30 hours SEP
|300 hours total time
30 hours on type
to instruct LAPL
to instruct PPL
|CPL theory exams :
Typically 6 months distance learning
plus 3 weeks classroom time 13 exams
|Classroom time||25 hours teaching and learning||25 hours teaching and learning|
|100 hours theory knowledge
30 hours flight training
|10 hours technical training
3 hours flight instruction
|Can be paid
|Validity||3 years||3 years|
Why become a CRI?
I have flown with other pilots and very much enjoyed “buddy flying” where we both learn from each other. I’ve also enjoyed taking up passengers and pilots at various stages of their journey and letting them take control at times. I’m keen to encourage fresh (and not so fresh) PPLs to venture further and make more use of their licences. This includes making their first trips abroad.
The Bristol Aero Club, of which I’m a member, is one of those that require a cross channel checkout before members are allowed to go overseas on their own. The CFI has been very supportive and was happy to authorise me to conduct cross-channel checkouts as a mentor while still just a PPL. This doesn’t require any additional qualification or instructor rating because the pilot would remain P1. As a CRI, this would add further credibility to that role and also allow me to be paid for instruction.
As with many clubs, there is a requirement for all PPL members to have an hour with an instructor every year to ensure they remain proficient. The club’s Operations Manual (used to be called Flying Order Book) specifies a few tasks to be demonstrated. Usually this would involve steep turns, stalls and landings in several configurations. The training for a CRI focuses on these aspects but frankly I wouldn’t expect this to form a huge part of my role.
I asked our club’s operations manager for a breakdown of the number of hours instruction given to ab-initio vs post PPL members and was told this was about 85%/15%. I think this is fairly typical of most club environments – many PPLs achieve their licences and either let them lapse or take minimal VFR instruction enough to keep them current.
I’d also be able to act as CRI outside the club environment as long as I was qualified and insured to fly as pilot in command of the aircraft.
Which school and what timescale?
Most flight training schools that offer Flight Instructor courses also provide CRI training, although many run to fixed schedules. While I could have done it with Aeros at Gloucester and commuted daily, I decided on OnTrack Aviation at Wellesbourne Mountford who have a tremendous reputation and highlight their flexibility to adapt to their students’ needs. Their focus is on Flight Instructor and Flight Examiner training. This was also where several of the Bristol Aero Club instructors learnt and comes highly recommended. After I started the course, I learnt that Freedom Aviation at Kemble have been approved for CRI training which would have been more convenient for me.
A friendly and encouraging phone call confirmed the cost. I provided my availability and a few days later the dates were confirmed. While the course can sometimes be squeezed into a single intensive week, it was recommended to split it into two parts. The first is a fixed three day classroom session that covers the principles of teaching and learning (i.e. how to instruct), common to both the full Flight Instructor and the CRI. The second is a nominal three days that focuses on the flying aspects. In between, you have to prepare a “long brief”, approx. 30-40 minute presentation on a topic of your choice, which would be repeated during your skill test. The test itself takes around 6 hours overall, of which one hour is airborne.
The syllabus requires a minimum of three hours of flight time but I was told to expect around five – the actual time varying with the ability of the student. The skill test consists of that long brief, an oral knowledge test and a flight where the examiner plays the part of the dumb student.
By comparison, a PPL Flight Instructor course takes about six weeks full time and costs substantially more. If you want to instruct for PPL rather than just LAPL, you’d also need to pass the CPL or ATPL exams which require months of studies and at least three weeks full time classroom plus 13 or 14 exams. So arguably the CRI course gives a much better “bang for your buck” than an FI, although the vast majority of real-world PPL instruction is done by FIs.
Classroom – Teaching and Learning
The first day began by thoroughly checking my paperwork – there’s no point in starting the course if I didn’t pre-qualify. I have 460 hours total time so easily exceed the 300 hour minimum required.
I was issued with a huge A4 binder full of specially written course material. This is the same for CRI and FI, and includes a large section on teaching methods plus detailed diagrams and text for every one of the ab-initio flight training lessons. I shared the first three days of classroom training with another student embarking on the full Flight Instructor course. It was helpful to have another student to compare and discuss topics with, while the high instructor to pupil ratio was extremely effective.
We were walked through the CAA and EASA websites, shown where to find relevant documents and forms. The only form I would ever need is SRG1157 to revalidate a PPL. Recently the CAA has given permission to instructors (including CRIs) to sign these rather than requiring an examiner to do so. You can only do this for PPLs for which you provided the one hour instruction and do have to have the FCL.945 permission specifically included in your licence. One copy of the form goes to the CAA (can be scanned and emailed); another must be retained for five years.
I learnt that LAPL licences are never signed with two yearly renewals or proficiency tests. Everything is recorded in the logbook, including proficiency tests by examiners to reset currency.
Our instructor walked us through a series of presentations covering many aspects of teaching and learning skills. Some of this was well known to me, some known but forgotten and some was new. The course has to deal with a wide variety of students from different backgrounds and experience.
It got more interesting once we got onto the specific aviation topics. The instructor gave a “short brief” that would be given prior to a flight for stall training. Both of us took it in turns to repeat the lesson in our own style, using a whiteboard and prompted by the “cheat sheet” in the training materials. We both tried to make this interactive, asking questions of our “students” and recapping before and after.
There were plenty of tea breaks, biscuits and friendly banter in between.
I flew a one hour sortie sitting in the right hand seat with my instructor talking through a normal revalidation sequence – steep turns, stalls and circuits. I was given a full briefing beforehand, recapping aspects like Standard Stall Recovery. This would be the typical default format of a one-hour instruction lesson unless a pilot has some other strong preference, and is what the CRI training focussed on. My PA28 handling skills were rusty (I had hoped to fly a club aircraft the weekend before, but the weather was too poor). I was disappointed with my first stall and first landing but both improved on the second attempts.
During these exercises (and on the ground), the instructor changed roles between acting the dumb student and as course instructor. Each role change was highlighted by the phrases “Bloggs On” and “Bloggs Off”, indicating whether they were acting as a non-descript student (Joe Bloggs) or as the omniscient instructor.
In the afternoon, I presented my “long brief”, talking for around 45 minutes about various aspects of making longer VFR flights to an audience of two instructors and an FI student. That part went quite well.
The weather didn’t play ball for the rest of the week, with cloud bases down below 1000 feet, so unfortunately I had to reschedule for after the Christmas break. It would at least allow me to get some PA28 practice time in, and regain currency.
In the weeks between, I flew a club PA28 three times from Kemble, practicing stalls and PFLs. On one flight, I flew with another PPL pilot while sitting in the right hand seat and we flew a typical revalidation flight profile. On another, I flew into cloud from the right hand seat (with an IMC rated pilot in the left) and found it hard work manually flying through cloud while scanning instruments on the other side. I did miss having an autopilot for sure but know that I could do it if I had to.
After a subsequent postponement due to weather, I turned up in a day of glorious sunshine to complete the course. My practice must have paid off, because the two separate sorties we flew were both great fun and good learning experience. My instructor made some deliberate mistakes which either required some prompting to correct or taking control to save the day. Our first flight was a full revalidation profile while the second focussed on the circuit. After a thorough debrief, we agreed that the course was complete and I was ready for test in minimum hours.
A test was quickly arranged for the following day, thanks to the flexibility of a local examiner.
I was told to expect this would take most of the day (about 6 hours was the estimate), and that you shouldn’t arrange any other flight or practice on the same day. It’s not just an exam, but another opportunity to learn. You aren’t expected to know everything!
We started at 10am with the inevitable paperwork, checking my licence, medical and training records etc.
I then gave a “long brief” using the slides I had prepared during the course. This could be on any topic, not necessarily aviation related, and is more to determine that you can give a lecture/seminar. As before, that went quite well.
My short brief assumed I would be giving differences training onto the PA28. I ran through some of the technical differences, including critical speeds, fuel operation, low wing vs high wing, instrumentation (it has a GNS430) and performance. For the flight, I’d expect to conduct a full “Check A” and explain the instrumentation on the ground, then fly a mini revalidation including steep turns, stalls, PFL and several approaches.
My examiner did much of the flying, making some major mistakes and occasionally trying to kill me. Candidates who survive are said to stand a higher chance of passing. For example, Standard Stall Recovery should push the yoke forward, add power then level the wings. Sometimes he chose not to do anything or only turn the yoke (yikes!), requiring a quick response from me. Other mistakes were resolved by prompting (you’re a bit high/fast/slow etc.). The flight lasted 1:05 and culminated in a glide approach from overhead the airfield at 2000 feet.
After debriefing the flight, I was very pleased to learn that I’d passed. Another 30 minutes of paperwork and I was ready to apply to the CAA for the rating to be added to my licence. I can’t use it until then, but it could be an interesting year ahead and open up plenty of opportunities for new adventures.
Total Time: 471:35
Total PIC: 333:20
Hours flown on CRI course: 3:00 training + 1:05 test