Being a flying instructor is a rewarding job, but there are 10 things you need to know about being a flight instructor before you sign up for that Certified Flying Instructor (CFI) course.
Flying instructing is one of the most enjoyable, and satisfying jobs there are in general aviation, but flying instructors do not just teach ab initio students. Flying instructors are also required for more complex aircraft, like corporate jets and even airliners. In this situation, however, a lot of training is done in simulators, using simulator instructors and then check captains on the line.
1. What does a Flight Instructor really do?
It’s important to realize that working as a flying instructor can be quite long hours, hard work and be incredibly challenging. Especially if you’re working through some stumbling blocks with your students. The hard work is more than worth it however when you can see the positive effect you have had on someones flying career, and start to see them really soar.
A flying instructor is more than someone who teaches you how to fly a plane. A flying instructor is a leader, a mentor, a confidant, a safety net, a psychologist, a teacher, a risk manager and in the end, could become a friend for life. Flying instructing is not just about jumping into a plane and bashing out some circuits, or going and teaching someone how to do an aerobatic routine. It is a much more holistic engagement between a developing pilot and an experienced pilot, hopefully with a transferal of not only knowledge but also a development of Captaincy.
2. How to Become a CFI
As a Certified Flying Instructor, you will need to hold a commercial pilots license, undergo an approved Flying Instructor training syllabus, pass a written theory exam and also pass a flight test with a recognized testing officer. You will also need to hold a Night flying rating or a command Instrument rating (with a strong preference for a command instrument rating).
3. Flight instructor salary
Flight instructors in General Aviation on average get paid a base rate of around $50 to $100 per flying hour. You can expect to receive the lower end of the spectrum when instructing ab-initio students in single-engine light aircraft and expect to start earning more when instructing in more complex, twin-engine aircraft. This number should be used with caution however; as an example, in my current instructing role I receive $55 per flying hour. On a typical Saturday, I might log 4 hours in the circuit or training area with my students, as well as charging up to $150 for briefings, grossing me up to $370 in wages.
Whilst this sounds great, to facilitate this I would get up at 0600, be at the flying school by 0700 in order to prepare a board brief for a 0730 student arrival. With the usual ratio of briefing to flying at around 1:1 (30 min pre-brief, one-hour flying, 30 min debrief), even with good efficiency at stacking students, I wouldn’t be leaving the airfield until 1800 or so. That is an hourly wage of just over $33 per hour, which isn’t much when you compare it to my professional wage of $150 per hour flying international cargo. Because of my income, my flying instructor wage gets hit with a high tax rate, so I net under $20 an hour after tax.
4. Popular Flight instructor jobs
Being a flight instructor is a really cool job, and some positions are more popular and competitive than others. For example, Conducting multi engine command instrument training is considered one of the best instructor pilot jobs – but requires a multi engine training approval as well as instrument flying training approval.
Multi engine IFR instructors are paid much higher than ab-initio instructors training on single engine aircraft; the aircraft are much more complex, the competency requirements require more experience and it takes longer to become proficient as an instructor and they are rewarded as such. Multi engine IFR pilots are also rewarded with valuable multi engine IFR command time, which a significant amount of hours in is typically a prerequisite for entry into the airlines.
Having said that, ab initio instructing is also very rewarding, and can be profitable for flying instructors when your student enters navigation training phase; the flights are typically much longer and your ratio of flight hours to ground hours improves significantly.
5. What are the best CFI Jobs?
The best CFI jobs are those where you get to spend time mentoring your students and watching them grow. You need to really be committed to your role, and not just in it to try and make some money, get some hours up to go to the majors or just in it for the prestige.
Unfortunately at some of the larger schools, commercial and time pressures mean that an instructor is severely restricted in the time they can spend with their students. Colloquially known as ‘sausage factories’, these flying schools are often linked with tertiary education and financed training packages and churn through a large number of students, with high classroom volumes and have higher failure rates than smaller, pay-as-you-go schools which provide more one on one time.
This means I think some of the best CFI jobs are found at smaller flying schools, particularly around less busy and more rural airfields. This lets you really get more one-on-one with your flying students and tailor an individual flying training package especially for them. It also means you usually get better continuity with your student, making it easier for both you to teach, and for them to learn.
6. How difficult is a Flight Instructor’s job?
The reality is too that flying instructing is hard work. I have come across a number of students which I have honestly struggled to get to perform. At times I have questioned my ability and seriously had to think whether I was doing the right thing by them. Of course, you always talk with your Chief Flying Instructor about almost every flight when seeking flight authorization, as well as discussing students’ progress in sync meetings every week or so. However, in a couple of cases, I had to confide in my Chief Flying Instructor that my performance as an instructor wasn’t enough to get these students up to standard, and I needed the Chief flying Instructor to fly with them.
Remember that despite all your ego or how good of a pilot you think you may be, flying instructing is ALL about the student and NOT about the instructor at all. It’s about helping them to develop to be the best, safest and most competent pilot in the shortest amount of time. Instructing is all about communicating, relationships and mutual trust, so even if your the world’s best aerobatic pilot or you can fly fast jet fighters, you can still be the world’s worst instructor (trust me, I’ve come across more than a few!). If you’re just doing it for the hours or a bit of cash, you may need to reconsider if this is the job for you.
7. CFI renewal requirements
As a Certified Flying Instructor, you will need to renew your instructor rating every two years, in addition to your command instrument rating every year. This may change depending on your local regulatory body and you should seek guidance from your approving authority and Chief Flying Instructor / Chief Pilot.
8. CFI Career progression
Progression as a Certified Flying Instructor will vary according to your regulator, but generally, you will need to do a certain number of hours of flying instruction to be eligible for an upgrade. An Upgrade consists of a recognized course which is a combination of theoretical classwork and practical flying and concludes with a flight test with an authorized testing officer. As a general rule, graduating as a flying instructor lands you a grade three instructors rating, which has a lot of limitations such as you must be supervised by a chief flying instructor, and you won’t be able to sign of biennial flight reviews. After completing 200 hours of ab initio flying instruction (essentially defined as everything prior to Navigation training) you are eligible for the grade two instructor course upgrade.
This will allow you to sign off on Biennial flight reviews, complete theory exam knowledge deficiency reviews with students and work unsupervised (although you still need authorization and general supervision in accordance with your operations manual or air operators certificate). After completing 500 hours of ab initio flying instruction you are eligible for the grade one instructor upgrade course. Having a grade one instructor rating makes you eligible to act as a Chief flying instructor for a school, but there are some additional hurdles and specific applications required for this to be approved by your regulator.
9. Sim instructor jobs
Sim instructors run the simulators. Modern simulators are high fidelity full-motion machines that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing once you get in there and up and flying. I have spent many many emergency check sims getting very sweaty palms because of the hyper-realism during scenarios.
The sim instructors usually fill a dedicated sim instructor position, which runs a company initial pilot conversion training, as well as the ongoing cyclical check and training requirements for operational aircrew.
10. Aviation ground instructor jobs
Aviation ground instructor jobs are much less regulated than flying roles, however as mentioned you will need at least a grade 2 rating to sign off on any knowledge deficiency reviews required from students who have passed an exam but with a score of less than 100% (as all theory exams must be officially debriefed to 100% prior to the sitting of the flight test).
The ground jobs are much more likely to be filled based on an individual school or flying training companies requirements, however, in general, they would seek someone with practical flying experience and industry knowledge, such as a flying instructor or an ex airline pilot. This can be a good option for pilots who have lost their medical certification or who are seeking more regular or reduced working hours as compared to line flying.
A big role for aviation ground theory instructors includes teaching in universities or colleges which offer a combined aviation theory and practical commercial pilots license qualification in a tertiary institution set up. These typically are done in a large classroom environment which could be with 30 or more students.
Ground instructors can also work for flight training organizations providing specialist tuition towards passing the theory examinations required of private, commercial and airline pilots. This includes the mandatory examinations themselves, and potentially other courses such as Night flying, Multi-engine Command instrument ratings, Multi-crew coordination ratings or even formation and aerobatic ratings. These ground school classes can also include the basics on type ratings knowledge ground school and assessments required for complicated aircraft such as different types of propulsion ranging from piston engine through to turboprops and jet engine propulsion, as well as for the intended types of operations like charter/VIP, regional or airline operating procedures.
Being a Certified Flying Instructor is a rewarding job, with a diverse range of career opportunities and progression available. If you’ve done enough hours and hold the right licenses, then becoming an instructor is a great stepping stone in your journey as a professional pilot, particularly if you want to start making more money as a commercial pilot.