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!


ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!

Why The Sport Pilot Certificate Eclipsed The Recreational Pilot Certificate

For quite some time now the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has been pushed by the general aviation community to find ways to make flying small, general aviation aircraft easier and more affordable. The General Aircraft Manufacturers Organization (GAMA), along with organizations like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) have noted with some alarm the decline in student pilot starts.

One of the ways the FAA has to encourage you to become a pilot is through their licensing requirements. At first the FAA first came out with the Recreational Pilot Certificate which required you to get a minimum of 30 hours of flight time in place of the 40 hours of flight time required for the Private Pilot Certificate.

However, the restrictions on the number of passengers you could carry, the aircraft you can fly and the limitations on when and where you can fly has  resulted in few acquiring this pilot certificate.

Enter The Sport Pilot Certificate

Sport Pilot Certificate at All Things Aviation

Cessna Skycatcher Light Sport Aircraft

After much debate the FAA came up with the Sport Pilot Certificate which has, for all practical purposes, replaced the Recreational Pilot Certificate. The basic 5 requirements for a Sport Pilot Certificate are as follows:

  1. The applicant must be at least 17 years old
  2. The applicant must hold a U.S. Drivers license or an FAA Medical Certificate
  3. The applicant must pass the FAA Sport Pilot Knowledge Test
  4. The applicant must accumulate at least:
    • 15 hours of dual instruction including 2 hours of cross country training;
    • 5 hours of solo flight time;
    • Complete 1 solo cross country flight of at least 75 nautical miles with full stop landings at 2 different airports, one of which must be at least 25 nautical miles from the starting point.
  5. The applicant must pass the FAA Sport Pilot Practical Flight Test

The best way to learn more and prepare for the Sport Pilot FAA Written Knowledge Test is to get a copy of Gleim’s Sport Pilot FAA Knowledge Test Guide for $ 19.95 + S&H.

Once you receiveyour Sport Pilot Certificate category and class privileges will be endorsed in your log book instead of being printed on your Sport Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA.

What Aircraft Can A Sport Pilot Certificate Holder Fly?

As a sport pilot you can fly what the FAA calls Light Sport Aircraft, or LSAs. These aircraft are typically 2 place aircraft weighing less than 1,320 pounds maximum gross takeoff weight (for land aircraft) or 1,430 pounds maximum gross takeoff weight (for water aircraft).

The aircraft must have a maximum airspeed at maximum power of no more than 120 knots calibrated air speed (CAS) and a stall speed no higher than 45 knots CAS at maximum gross weight powered by one reciprocating engine and a fixed landing gear system.

Has The Sport Pilot Certificate Helped?

At first there was a great deal of enthusiasm for this pilot certificate, and a number of aircraft manufacturers decided to build light sport aircraft that met the criteria for Sport Pilot Certificate holders.

Many of these manufacturers had already been producing these aircraft in Europe and as kits for home built enthusiasts, and there have been a flood of different models introduced, including from major U.S. airframe manufacturers like the Cessna Aircraft Company.

You can learn more here: Download the FAA Sport Pilot Brochure.

The FAA Forecast For Student Pilot Starts

On March 15th 2010 an article by AOPA made the following observations:

It is estimated that slightly more than 72,000 student pilots were registered with the FAA in 2009, down from almost 81,000 a year before. According to the forecast, the number won’t again reach 2009 levels until 2013; next year is expected to be the worst with the forecast bottoming out at roughly 69,000 student certificates.

The flight training industry has been struggling since Sept. 11, 2001. In fact, student certificates aren’t expected to reach the year 2000’s historical high of more than 93,000 for the entire forecast period.

The one bright spot in the forecast is light sport aircraft pilot certificates, which the FAA expects to increase at a rate of more than 7 percent for the forecast period, and more than 25 percent over the short-term.

How Many Student Pilots Are U.S. Pilots Versus Foreign Pilots?

One of the questions this forecast did not address was the percentage of U.S. Student Pilot starts versus the percentage of foreign Student Pilot starts.

During an interview I did with Dana D. Siewert ATP/CFI/DPE from the University of North Dakota (which has a very large pilot training program) he indicated that more than 70% of their students were foreign students.

Final Thoughts

For years I have heard of the impending pilot shortage due to retirements from the Part 121 airlines and the declining number of military pilots leaving the military; however, when I talk to some of my fellow pilots they tell me that there is more a lack of jobs than of pilots.

There is no question that foreign air carriers are growing rapidly and need pilots, but here in the U.S. I am not convinced this shortage exists yet, particularly in view of the low pay regional airlines get away with paying their crews.

I would love to hear any comments from you!

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!

What Are Pilot Certificates and Why Do They Matter?

When the Wright Brothers introduced the world to manned powered flight the race to build better and better aircraft ensued. Soon many individuals were building their own aircraft, and improvements in aviation technology rapidly increased.

At first there were no regulations, no licensing requirements and no restrictions for building, flying and maintaining an aircraft.

The Aero Club Of America

By mid-year 1905 a number of the members of the Automobile Club of America decided to form the Aero Club of America to promote the advance of aviation. In an effort to bring structure to flying airplanes the Aero Club began issuing pilot certificates.

The pilot certificates were not mandatory, and were issued upon a pilot demonstrating some minimum requirements which included climbing to a predetermined altitude completing a figure 8 flight while holding a steady altitude.

If you are interested in learning how to fly, and to get your own Private Pilot license, but don’t know where to start, let me suggest you get the Jeppesen Private Pilot Manual or the Gleim Private Pilot Manual. These fine books can help you understand what is involved, how to start and how to prepare for the Private Pilot Certificate.

The First Five Pilots

The Aero Club decided to award the first pilot certificates to men who had already built their own aircraft and had flown them, thus these certificates were honorary. The men were:

  1. Glenn Curtiss
  2. Frank Purdy Lahm
  3. Louis Paulhan
  4. Oriville Wright
  5. Wilbur Wright

You might wonder how they decided the order to issue these pilot certificates, and it was by alphabetical order of their last names.

Later on pilot licenses issued by the Aero Club were signed by Orville Wright who had become the chairman of the Contest Committee formed by the Aero Club.

The Air Commerce Act Of 1926

In May of 1926 the Air Commerce Act was passed which authorized the Secretary of Commerce to issue rules regarding air traffic, the certification of aircraft, the licensing of pilots and the establishment of airways and navigation aids.

The Commerce Department begin issuing safety regulations and certifying pilots while building a system of lighted airways followed by airways based upon radio beacons.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Currently, pilot certification is conducted by the FAA either directly or through the use of designated examiners who have been certified by the FAA to conduct practical oral and flight tests and then issue a pilot certificate.

These examiners are typically persons who have demonstrated to the FAA over time their competency as certified flight instructors and safety as pilots.

Today many commercial airline, corporate and helicopter pilots receive their type ratings for aircraft through test administered in flight simulators without ever flying the actual aircraft itself!

Pilot Certificates

Today there are 7 different certifications a pilot can hold:

  1. Student Pilot Certificate
  2. Sport Pilot Certificate
  3. Recreational Pilot Certificate
  4. Private Pilot Certificate
  5. Commercial Pilot Certificate
  6. Certified Flight Instructor Certificate
  7. Airline Transport Pilot Certificate

The privileges for each pilot certificate will be restricted to the category and class of aircraft to be flown, and in some cases the specific type of aircraft to be flown.

In addition, a Private, Commercial or Certified Flight Instructor can also add an Instrument Rating to their certificate allowing them to operate an aircraft solely by reference to instruments within the aircraft.

Pilot Privileges By Category, Class And Type

Some of the aircraft category ratings are:

  • Airplane
  • Rotorcraft
  • Glider
  • Lighter than Air

Some of the aircraft class ratings are:

  • Single engine aircraft
  • Multi-engine aircraft
  • Land aircraft
  • Water aircraft
  • Helicopters
  • Airships

An example of a type rating would be:

  • Douglas DC-3
  • Cessna CitationJet
  • Airbus 380
  • Boeing 777

Medical Certificates

Each pilot must also pass a flight physical by a medical doctor designated by the FAA as a medical examiner. Currently there are three basic levels of medical certificates:

  • Third Class
  • Second Class
  • First Class

The class of medical certificate required has to do with the pilot certificate a pilot holds. For example, a Private Pilot can hold a Third Class Medical Certificate, a Commercial Pilot a Second Class Medical Certificate and an Airline Transport Pilot a First Class Medical Certificate.

Each medical certificate lasts for a specified period; i.e. Third Class 2 years, Second Class 1 year and First Class 6 months.

Pilot Certificates

A pilot certificate today looks much like a fancy credit card which the pilot must carry with them at all times while operating an aircraft, in addition to their current and valid medical certificate.

To learn more you should get Flying Airplanes: For Fun and Money! (A Practical Guide to Becoming a Professional Pilot) which is a great read!

In future posts I will discuss the various pilot certificates.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!