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How Much GPS Training Should Student Pilots Get?

It's rare for student pilots to train in non-GPS equipped aircraft. Should they be trained to use GPS as their primary source of navigation early on?

We've included two different arguments for training methods below. The first argument emphasizes teaching GPS extensively, and early in training. The second argument focuses on teaching traditional pilotage and dead reckoning early on. Read them both, then tell us what you think is the best method.


Let's Clarify Something First...

40 hours isn't a lot of time to teach a student pilot everything they need to know about navigation before they walk away from a checkride, private pilot certificate in hand. The debate isn't whether student pilots should or should not be taught how to use their GPS systems adequately. It's about what the extent of GPS training should be. No one will argue that student pilots shouldn't be taught basic pilotage and dead reckoning!

According to the FAA's Private Pilot Airman Certification Standards (ACS), private pilot applicants are examined on pilotage, dead reckoning, and navigation systems during their practical test. Examiners want to see that student pilots have the basic skills required to fly from point-to-point without the aid of a GPS. However, examiners also test students on both ground and satellite based navigation. (See the ACS excerpt in the image below)

This begs the the limited time you have with a student before they take their checkride, how will you teach them?

1) The Argument FOR Extensive GPS Training

Instructors that encourage GPS use from day one believe that every part of the airplane's avionics should be well-taught and used extensively before a student begins to fly solo, away from their home airport. If the modern airplane you're flying is built around a glass cockpit concept, why not teach a student how to become an expert on its use? Furthermore, if your student intends to get their instrument rating, wouldn't it be a good idea to get them highly familiar with modern navigation?

With more and more ground-based navigation aids disappearing, doesn't it make sense to teach students how to use the navigation of their future instead of what you learned on?

In reality, most pilots don't fly cross countries with pages of navlogs, following roads and waypoints for hundred miles across the country. They preflight plan with an EFB, program a route into their GPS, and off they go. Teach your students the intricacies of GPS systems early, so they don't make mistakes once they have a new certificate in-hand.


Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't teach your students pilotage and dead reckoning techniques, using ground based NAVAIDs as secondary references. The idea established by this argument places the importance of GPS training equal to, or above, the importance of training ground-based navigation methods, as well as pilotage and dead reckoning.

If the student wants to become a professional pilot, you want to form good habits early and teach them to be a GPS systems experts. After all, it's what they'll use for most of their career.

2) The Argument AGAINST Extensive GPS Training

Instructors that avoid in-depth GPS training in the beginning do so for several good reasons. An over-reliance on GPS navigation has the inevitable result of students focusing their attention inside the cockpit (following the magenta line), instead of developing strong pilotage and dead reckoning skills. Initial training should be "eyes-outside," teaching students how to determine their location the most basic way possible, on a map!

Placing the importance of pilotage and dead reckoning above GPS systems allows students to develop their basic orientation skills. Introducing a technological "crutch" like GPS early in training could lead to bad habits down the road. It's incredibly easy to type in a waypoint and fly "direct-to." If students use this as a fallback, what will they do if they're caught in a situation without GPS? To pass their checkride, they should be comfortable enough with GPS to use basic features, without relying on it completely.

The summary of this argument is that extensive GPS training should be taught later in training, so that students develop the important skills of pilotage and dead reckoning early on, and so they don't develop an over-reliance on GPS. They'll have plenty of time to practice using GPS once they become comfortable with pilotage and dead reckoning FIRST.

Ok, Now It's Your Turn To Decide.

You've heard the arguments. Both sides have excellent points.

We want to hear from you. How extensive should GPS training be for student pilots during initial private pilot training? Tell us in the comments below.

Don't have a Facebook account? Email us your thoughts here.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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