Become a Flight Instructor!

sfi-6-1142842Wanted – enthusiastic, knowledgeable pilots for part-time, full time, or freelance professional flying. Lots of fun and adventure, highly respected position, and great learning experience. Age no factor. Travel as much (or as little) as you like. Get paid to fly!

Where do flight instructors come from? The most visible CFIs are often the aspiring airline pilots who populate flight schools on their way to a jet cockpit. Despite occasional concerns about “time-building,” the vast majority of those folks do a super job for us.

But where can we find flight instructors with the commitment and long term interest to meet the needs of general aviation? The answer is that more CFIs must sprout from the enthusiastic general aviation pilots we meet every day at the airport. You know, people like us, who find flying a 172, a Kitfox, or a Baron to be a blast. Pilots who delight in doing a professional job of piloting even while sustaining other full-time careers. Aviators who’d love a professional flying career, but who aren’t necessarily interested in flying the “heavy iron.”

Me? An Instructor?

Many student pilots and private pilots wonder about the feasibility of becoming a CFI one day. Well, that ad up above has your name on it! Let’s consider why becoming a flight instructor is a worthy mission for you to pursue right now.

We’ve already touched upon some reasons for becoming a CFI;  your experience and dedication can benefit the industry. But there are other great reasons to become a flight instructor.

First, the old adage, “the best way to master a subject is to teach it,” is most definitely true. As an active CFI your knowledge and flight proficiency will rapidly exceed your greatest expectations as a Private Pilot. By teaching others you will truly learn to fly as a pro.

Next comes the reward of setting goals and achieving them. Many of us find ourselves sitting at home on a given day, thinking, “Gee, I wish there was a reason to go flying today.” Well, there is! Start working toward that CFI and you’ve got a meaningful personal and professional objective to justify the time, effort, and investment in continuing regular flying.

Then there’s the contribution to be made to the aviation community. Not only can you as a CFI personally impact the safety and proficiency of pilots you train, but there’s also the critically important role CFIs serve in recruiting new blood to aviation. The vast majority of new pilots sign up through the direct or indirect efforts of active CFIs, and we need your help carrying the flag.

Best of all, here’s your big chance to become an honest-to-goodness pro. Almost every active pilot harbors the dream of flying professionally. But for many reasons – age, family and lifestyle considerations, success in another occupation – only a certain percentage of pilots are in position to pursue, say, the captain’s seat in a Boeing or a LearJet. Well here’s your opportunity to fly professionally under schedule and conditions more or less of your own choosing, all while having someone pay you to do it.

What Does It Take to Qualify?

“But hold on a minute,” you say, “becoming a CFI takes years of full time study, and many thousands of flight hours, right?”

Not at all! With dedication and concentrated effort one can become a CFI relatively quickly. After earning your Private Pilot certificate, it takes only three more steps to become a primary flight instructor: an Instrument rating, the Commercial Pilot certificate, and then the Flight Instructor certificate itself. That’s certainly not a long path.

Recent regulations allow new Private Pilots to begin training for the instrument rating as soon as they like. (All CFI applicants must be instrument rated, even if they never plan to fly IFR.) The Instrument rating is roughly comparable in flight training hours to earning one’s Private certificate, and is something many of us go on to earn anyway. As with the Private, FAA Knowledge (written) and Practical (oral and flight) Tests are required. But once earning your instrument rating the route to flight instructor status can be a quick one.

You’ll need some flight experience to be eligible for your Commercial Pilot Certificate – 190 to 250 hours total flight time are required by the time you complete your training. But earning the rating itself requires only a fraction of the effort required to earn a Private; it’s entirely feasible to earn your Commercial in fifteen hours or less, if you set your mind to it. Again there are Knowledge and Practical tests to pass, and then you’re ready to pursue your Flight Instructor Certificate.

There is no minimum training requirement for the Flight Instructor certificate itself, but it will probably take you some fifteen to twenty flight hours to earn, plus a good deal of ground instruction. Along with Knowledge and Practical Tests there is an additional FAA written addressing, “Fundamentals of Instruction.”

The oral portion of the CFI Practical Test is notoriously challenging, but what’s covered there is largely material you’ve seen before, so keep sharp on the Private and Commercial Pilot material you’ve learned, and you’ll have little trouble mastering the CFI tests. Of course teaching technique is an important element of the test, too. If there’s one certificate where you should seek out a truly outstanding instructor, the CFI is it.

As for flight physicals, CFIs fall into the most favorable regulatory status of almost any professional pilot. With recent regulation changes, one can instruct with a third-class medical certificate, so if you qualify medically for a student pilot certificate you can instruct. What’s more, some instruction can even be conducted without a medical.

And other than the fact that you must be eighteen to earn your Commercial and therefore CFI Certificates, there are no age limits on instructing. This is one case where the experience and maturity of older pilots is desirable and unrestricted. You’re a sixty-year-old student pilot? Cool! Move right along and earn your CFI.

How Soon Can I Become an Instructor?

Before we get on with more privileges and benefits of instructing, here are a few tips to speed you along the path. First, many people don’t realize that they can become certificated as Ground Instructors – teaching ground school and signing off applicants for their written Knowledge tests – simply by passing several FAA written tests. That means you can start your instructing career almost immediately! Not only will ground instructing help pay for your flight training, but it’s great preparation for flight instructing. And Private Pilots can qualify to become Sport Pilot Instructors.

For those who plan to knock off their Commercial and CFI certificates in short order, here’s a little trick to accelerate your progress. Arrange with your CFI and pilot examiner to train for and take your Commercial Pilot Practical Test from the right seat. That way your right-seat flying skills will already be nailed when you dive into CFI training – doing it this way could save you five or even ten hours of training. Ask here at the flight school about the details for your situation.

What Are the Privileges and Benefits of Being a CFI?

Your initial Flight Instructor certificate will allow you to train Private and Commercial Pilot applicants through to their certificates, and also authorize you to perform flight reviews. (Imagine, you giving the flight review!) Additional instructor ratings, such as instrument, multiengine, and those for other aircraft categories such as glider and helicopter, are relatively easy to add if you have journeyman skills in the ratings sought.

Okay, now lets talk about the “get paid to fly” part. In the past earnings have often been pretty limited for full-time flight instructors, depending on location, employer, number of students and other factors. But with the developing CFI shortage instructor pay and benefits are rapidly going up. If you want to pursue a full-time instructing career, excellent positions are now to be had around the country.

However, a great many CFIs choose to join the many part-timers and freelancers around the country who ply their trade in a professional manner, and contribute beyond their numbers to the well-being of general aviation. Many of those folks work other jobs, flying and non-flying, and instruct strictly for the fun and personal reward of it. When you look at instructing as a part-time activity that supports your flying and that of others, it’s a pretty darned good deal.

First, instructing gets you up in the air on a regular basis at a price anyone can afford – free. Many part-time CFIs reinvest their instructing income into a fund for personal flying, yielding a good return in both professional and pleasure flying. Other not-so-obvious instructor benefits include discounts on aircraft rental, lower insurance premiums for aircraft owners, and broader insurability in the planes you fly.

Did you realize that as a CFI you get to log all the time flown by your students as PIC time? And as an instrument instructor the approaches flown by your students are often loggable for your own currency, too. What’s more, each of those ratings you earn in the process of becoming a flight instructor – the IFR, the Commercial, and your CFI – count as flight reviews. That’s the money-saving bureaucratic stuff. The important part is that you’ll be sharp far beyond what flight reviews could do for you in themselves, and it all comes in the course of business without the need for lots of currency flights.

Instruct well and charge appropriately for your services, and you can generate some pretty good part-time income at this business. That also raises the possibility of deducting many flying expenses from your income taxes, including charts, headsets, recurrent training, your flight physical, and some or all flight training expenses. (Talk to your accountant for the official word on your situation.)

Now for the most important and rewarding reason to become a flight instructor – people. As a CFI you’re going to meet many, many fine individuals from all walks of life who share your dream of flying. It will be you who introduces them to the special fraternity of aviators, you who delivers them the key to flight on their own, and you who conveys the skills and knowledge to help them fly safely and enjoyably with their thousands of future passengers. Your words will be riding with them many years in the future at times when they need you most.

Opportunity Knocking!

Join the illustrious ranks of flight instructors. Whether you’re eighteen, or beginning a new life after retirement; whether you’re a schoolteacher with summers available, or looking to change careers altogether, we need you! No one cares whether you wear glasses or not, and the skies are yours to own in everything from ultralights to jets.

Just bring along your passion, your life experience, and some dedication. Here’s your big chance to experience the ultimate thrill of flying, all from the seat with the world’s greatest view – the spectacular high of opening doors of flight to yet another generation of pilots. Carpe diem! Become a CFI! ©2009 Gregory N. Brown

Portions of this material first appeared in “Flight Training” magazine.

For more on becoming and succeeding as a flight instructor, see Greg’s archived live-stream “CFI Professionalism,” webinar, with Rod Machado, David St. George, and Russ Still and read Greg’s recently updated book, The Savvy Flight Instructor Second Edition..

31 Responses to “Become a Flight Instructor!”

  1. Hi Greg,

    I’ve just started the journey to become a CFI,
    and I’m looking for a road map to follow.

    I’m looking for the specific steps to take to prepare
    for the oral and the practical.

    I have my commercial and instrument ratings,
    and I’ve passed the FOI and Flight Instructor knowledge tests.

    Has someone published a list of specific things to study and to do
    to be fully prepared to earn their CFI?

    Thanks.

    Steve

  2. Thanks Greg!

  3. […] instructor training: what to expect A pilot commented yesterday asking how to prepare for, and what to expect in training for his flight instructor […]

  4. It’s an awesome thing to teach, and pass along your passion for what you love most! I highly recommend it.

  5. Chip Lysne Says:

    Hi Greg,

    I have been working toward my CFI for a long time. I keep getting set back for one reason or another. Have you come across pilots with this same problem? Trying to decide whether to keep trying or do something else. Any thougts?

    • Greg Brown Says:

      Hi Chris, that’s a challenge with pilot training at every level. Earning your CFI is certainly worth doing for reasons at many levels – proficiency, fun, economical flying, the joy of helping people fulfill their dreams of flight… What’s been setting you back? Fill me in so we can tackle it!

    • Hi Chip…..Larry’s brother? Tried to track him down for 30 year HS reunion and found his obit. Un-fathomable.

      Hope you got your CFI. Been with Alaska for 22 years now. Good luck!

      Joel

  6. greg, next time your in ohio, i’d like to do some island hopping with you. ever hear of put in bay? it’s a really fun island in lake erie… not far from toledo or cleveland.
    take care,
    joe
    440-343-2112

  7. Excellent article, and inspiring.x

  8. Phil Pag Says:

    Very informative article… i have my first introductory flight on the 28th… looking forward to the journey!!!

  9. […] For those who plan to knock off their Commercial and CFI certificates in short order, here’s a little trick to accelerate your progress. Arrange with your CFI and pilot examiner to train for and take your Commercial Pilot Practical Test from the right seat. That way your right-seat flying skills will already be nailed when you dive into CFI training – doing it this way could save you five or even ten hours of training. Ask here at the flight school about the details for your situation. Source […]

  10. Just came across this post. Once again, a great article Greg. I have been teaching for over 16 years now, full time, and loving it.

  11. Thanks Greg for this wonderful article!!! I am planning on starting pilot training soon with the goal to be a CFI, so this article was very motivating. You mention above that one can be a Ground Instructor simply by passing some FAA exams. Can you please elaborate on this? Does one have to be a private pilot to teach ground school classes?

    • Hi Yusef, Congrats on pursuing your CFI! 1) Take the Basic Ground Instructor Knowledge Test (BGI – very similar to the Private Pilot Airplane written, so I encourage you to study for and take both around the same time), and 2) the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) Knowledge Test which once taken applies to CFI as well as ground instructor certificates. Once armed with both tests results you simply head to the nearest FAA District Office and they will hand you your Basic Ground Instructor certificate. You do NOT need your Private Pilot certificate to earn your BGI, teach ground school, and sign off attendees to take the test. Yours is an excellent plan, in my opinion! Please consider joining my Student Pilot Pep Talk group on Facebook; I think you’ll find it valuable for answering these and future questions.

  12. Robert Hall Says:

    Hi Greg,
    I’m a 52 year old living teaching aviation English in Asia now and used to teach it in the US back in the late 90s as well. I have a PPL with just under 200 hours with about 45 or so hours of it in a combination of either a Frasca sim or hood flying (even took IFR graound school, but never finshed the IFR rating). Also have maybe 2 hours of actual IMC! Not really worth mentioning, but what the heck. I haven’t flown in several years now, but am really missing it again since I’ve been here teaching and being around planes every day again. I wonder if I am too old to get into flight instruction. I have been an English as a Second Language teacher for 21 years and several of those were teaching flight English, so I’m really used to the teaching environment and like helping students. (I’d probably do well as a ground inistructor!) That being said, I’d really like to fly as well. I don’t have any dreams of the airlines or any kind of thing like that. I’d just like to be able to make a living by flying and be able to fly privately sometimes when I wanted to go somewhere or just get the old $100 hamburger. One problem I would have is financing the ratings. I wouldn’t have a lot of money to chuck down for it (years of low teacher’s salary!) and wouldn’t really want to have to pay back a loan for years due to my age. Any suggestions on how I could make this idea of becoming an instructor work? Or am just too far down the glide slope now?

    Robert

    • Hi Robert, Such a CFI career is not only feasible for someone your age, but ideal. Your teaching experience will equip you to be an exceptional CFI, and it’s the nature of the business that teaching opportunities should be accessible the day you earn your CFI. It’s a career allowing a high degree of control of activities and schedule. Location will have some impact on demand for your services, so keep that in mind. Finally, when it comes to pleasure piloting in particular, a bit of grey hair actually works to your advantage. Many pleasure pilots don’t learn to fly until their 30s, 40s, 50s, or above. They generally tilt toward CFIs they view as seasoned and “mature.”

      As for funding your training, the biggie will be finishing your IFR. The commercial and CFI can be accomplished regularly quickly, especially if you combine training for them as per my post. In your case, I’d consider proceeding immediately to earn your ground instructor ratings, so you can begin teaching classes immediately upon your return with an eye toward reinvesting the proceeds into further flight training. Basic ground instructor you could go for immediately. Consider taking IGI and CFI-I writtens concurrently, since they’re similar. Then take AGI, Commercial and CFI-A writtens. You’ll also need to study for and take the Fundamentals of Instruction test (unless you hold a teaching certificate which replaces it.) To get the ground instructor ratings you simply carry your appropriate test results into a nearby FSDO and walk out with the certificate(s).

  13. Hi Greg, awesome article!
    I’m 18 and nearing the end of my CPL and will need to soon make the decision to either do my multi-engine command instrument rating, or my instructor rating, or neither (and try find a job working for a parachutist company or charter work). I’ve been with a great school since the beginning of my flying journey and a few of the students who complete the instructor course usually get jobs with the company.
    Was hoping you might somehow help me make this choice I’m stuck with! Not sure where you’re located but here in Australia it isn’t a requirement to have a multi engine or instrument rating to instruct!

    Thanks heaps,
    Gen

    • Hi Gen, Congrats on making such rapid piloting progress at such a young age! I’m in the US and know nothing about Aussie regs or hiring market, but here are a couple thoughts to consider. If you’re headed for an airline, charter, or corporate pilot career you’ll sooner or later need IFR/Multi, and IFR is the longest and hardest to obtain, meaning you can’t do it in a hurry later if you need to. But if budget is a factor, you may be wiser to earn instructor first so you can begin earning money to apply later toward IFR/Multi. Are there instructing opportunities in your area? Please consider joining my Student Pilot Pep Talk group on Facebook; I think you’ll find it valuable for answering these and future questions.

  14. Tony Gutierrez Says:

    Greg,

    I found this blog after listening to your interview with Jason Miller on The Finer Points Podcast (May 2008). Here, and in the podcast, you mentioned that age was no factor. As a person who has never flown but has always dreamed of it, I wish I had this information when I was 18. I’m not 48 and still dreaming of it. Is it unrealistic at my age to try and become a CFI, especially if funds are limited?

    Thanks and safe flying.

    TG

  15. Badger Fishinski Says:

    I hold a cfi certificate. I haven’t flown in over 5 years, but have remained recent on taking the FIRC refresher course and test. 1.) What is required for me to become an active CFI again (I hold CFII and MEII). 2.) What if I just want to become current so I can simply rent a Cessna and fly just VFR for my own personal use? What do I need to do in both scenarios?

    • Congrats on keeping your CFI certificate current over the years! I’ll answer the second part of your question first. To fly VFR personally, you’ll simply need to 1) update your minimum-3rd-class medical certificate to current with a new flight physical* and 2) complete and log a flight review with an appropriately rated instructor. (This can be accomplished concurrent with your rental checkout.) That’s all it takes to get back to flying! (IFR and multi will of course require additional currency.) *Note that private-pilot medical requirements are slated to become more liberal within the coming year, with CFI implications as yet unclear. See aopa.org for details.

      Now for the first part of your question. Once you’re current to fly in a given regime — VFR, IFR, multiengine — you’re also current to instruct there, though a little homework might be in order to do it well.

  16. Hi Greg, Ive read your blog [on becoming a CFI] with interest. This is something that I wish to pursue – as family commitments make the though of a Commercial airline pilot [and the trips away] unappealing, plus, as a teacher, I already enjoy ‘teaching’!

    However, I always thought that you needed the full Commercial / ATPL License otherwise you could not get paid?

    Is this route you mention the same in the UK do you know?

    Thanks,

    Stuart

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