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?
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.
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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