Are Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs) Under Attack?

One of the most discussed issues today in aviation is the level of Student Pilot starts in the United States, and the impact that will have on the future of aviation. For as long as I can remember I have heard that there is an “impending pilot shortage” due to retirements from the airlines, a lack of pilots leaving the military and the demands for pilots to fly for the airlines.

To become a licensed pilot there are a number of things you need to do, one of which is take dual instruction from a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI).  Your flight instructor could be a young person with a freshly minted CFI certificate or  a grizzled old timer who just loves to teach you how to fly. When it comes to your flight instruction don’t be shy – if you are uncomfortable with the CFI assigned to teach you ask for a different one until you are comfortable with your instructor. The relationship between your CFI and yourself is a very personal one.

To become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) is neither easy nor cheap. First, you need to attain a Commercial Pilot Certificate which requires a minimum of 250 hours of flight time as a pilot, and then complete the training and pass both an FAA practical knowledge written examination and a flight test to become a CFI.

To pass the CFI practical knowledge written examination you need to acquire that knowledge through study using a guide like the Jeppesen Guided Flight Discovery Flight Instructor manual. Once the written examination is passed and you have been recommended by another CFI you must then pass a flight test.

Why Become A Certified Flight Instructor?

Certified Flight Instructor CFI

Certified Flight Instructor Teaching Student

Most professional pilots will acquire their CFI certification as a means to building flight hours in preparation for a move to the airlines or other flying career; however, some individuals truly enjoy life as an instructor pilot and find it very rewarding. Today there are a number of opportunities for professional flight instructors to make a good living by working for a university or professional pilot training academy.

I initially became a CFI in order to gain flight time but soon discovered along the way that teaching people how to fly was a very rewarding experience. Not only were you sharing your love for aviation with a fellow pilot, but the very process of teaching someone to fly help syou hone your own skills and become a better pilot in the process.

The Flight Instructors Model Code of Conduct

Recently there has been a push to find ways to get more of you interested in becoming a pilot, and as part of that effort industry organizations have put forward ideas like the Flight Instructors Model Code of Conduct to make the instruction you receive more standardized.

While generally regarded as a step in the right direction not everyone agrees with this approach. To many CFIs it appears as an attack on their abilities. In an interesting article in the Aviation Mentor Blog the author made the following observations:

Two of the current hot topics in GA are the shrinking number of pilots and the effectiveness of flight training. The newly revised is the latest installment in the “what’s wrong with flight training” discussion. AOPA started banging this drum at one of their conventions and has been repeatedly mentioning it in virtually all of its publications and emails.

Most pilots become instructors because they dream of a better flying job and to get that dream job, a young pilot needs to log flight time. So many instructors are a young, motivated group at the bottom of the aviation food chain desperate to provide low-cost labor in exchange for flight time. This is an aviation tradition that the FAA has long supported if not enabled outright.

Flight instructors are the most active pilots in the GA community, they fly more hours than the average GA pilot, and they are crucial to training the next generation of pilots. The impact of flight instruction on the pilot population is unmistakable, but there are many reasons why student pilots decide to drop out. AOPA says that the cost of flight training, aircraft rental, and aviation fuel are not important factors. I find this claim to be utterly fantastic and unsupported: The folks they are sampling in their research must travel in different circles than the pilots I talk to.

CFI - Certified Flight Instructor

CFI Giving Dual

Is There Really A Pilot Shortage?

While I would support anything that improves the professionalism of CFIs in aviation I wonder if there really is a shortage of pilots. Many of my friends in aviation are seeking opportunities to fly, but find few jobs available today. I don’t know whether that is because of the poor economic conditions, or just that there are still too many pilots for too few flying jobs.

No doubt the regional airlines can find enough pilots to fill their cockpits, and at pay rates that make driving a cab look attractive. Add to that the lack of security with the ever changing landscape in aviation and you begin to wonder whether the lack of Student Pilot starts is important or not.

My guess is that until the economy really improves you may not know, and by then it may be too late.

What do you think?

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


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Certified Flight Instructors: Gateway or Career?

I identified “teaching” as one of the 7 great careers in general aviation. Despite what many think, teaching people how to fly is not just a way to build time, but it can provide a life-long career which delivers incredible benefits to certified flight instructors ranging from a good income to the knowledge that the flight instructor has launched many a successful pilot.

There is no greater achievement than to pass on to others the knowledge and skills required for them to be successful in life. Whether the Student Pilot simply wants to fly for pleasure, or to achieve a career as a professional pilot, the certified flight instructor is essential to achieving those goals.

CFI and Student Pilot Performing a Pre-Flight Inspection

CFI and Student Pilot Performing a Pre-Flight Inspection

Flight instruction is where every pilot starts and begins to learn the skills necessary to safely pilot an aircraft through the skies. In the early days of aviation there were no civilian flight instructors – budding pilots simply purchased an airplane, climbed in and figured it out as they went. Some went on to accomplish great things, others died quickly from ignorance and over confidence.

The military was always a great place to learn how to fly. Knowledge and skills were passed from instructor pilot to instructor pilot, solutions to problems were sought and found, and a large pool of knowledge was formed which continues to grow.

In the civilian world much the same goes on. The further up the ladder of licenses and ratings a pilot climbs, the more sophisticated and experienced the certified flight instructors must be. Today many young civilian pilots attend major universities with large aviation programs and a history of quality education in flying.

A Gateway?

Some regard flight instructor jobs as a “gateway” to what they really want to do in aviation: smell jet fuel and fly big jets! And for any number of flight instructors, that is exactly what this job is.

Many of the pilots going through flight training build flight time by teaching others how to fly, all the time improving their knowledge and flying skills. Even at the universities where there are large programs, many of the students become certified flight instructors for the last year or two of their education.

But for some the passion for teaching catches on, and the feeling of doing something noble kicks in.

Or A Career?

Over the years I have known any number of pilots, many of whom would rather teach someone else how to fly than to fly an airplane as a job. Some love the old airplanes: the J-3 Cub, an old Stearman or perhaps even a PT-19; others relish the opportunity to fly a well-equipped Cirrus with all the modern equipment and side stick control.

Most airline pilots would rather spend a weekend off out at the local airport tooling around in a Cub where an open window invites the smell of freshly harvested beans, or the cool air of an October morning, or even a late sunset as the sun slowly sinks below the horizon as you turn the ship and slip in for one last landing before dark.

The Adventure

Flying airplanes is not so much a job, but rather an adventure, and a good flight instructor wants to share that adventure with each of their students. Many work hard to advance their profession, like Max Trescott who shares his experience and knowledge with the world through his blog.

The AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) works hard to promote excellence in flight instruction while encouraging more people to learn to fly. The EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) promotes aviation for young people through its Young Eagles program.

Share The Joy!

No matter what stage in your flying career you are at, share the joy with as many people as you can. As you slip the bounds of earth and soar skyward reward some youngster with the thrill of a lifetime: flying!

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


Man’s flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge.

— Austin ‘Dusty’ Miller, the quote on the Eagle & Fledgling statue at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Donated by personnel from Air Training Command in 1952.

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