What it Takes to Become a Certified Flight Instructor
Becoming a certified flight instructor takes more than just possessing the right stuff. Naturally it takes superior flying skills, but it also takes being a people person. You also have to own not only a passion for flying, but an equal passion for seeing others succeed in getting off the ground and staying safe in the process.
But there are many reasons for wanting to become a certified flight instructor or CFI. According to one expert CFI, maybe the thought of teaching others how to fly fascinates you. Or maybe you simply want to get paid to fly, and becoming a CFI is a somewhat lucrative way to do it. Perhaps you’d like to work towards an advanced pilot’s certification like an Air Transport License (ATPL), and teaching aviation students is an excellent way to build up the hours required flying the friendly skies.
No matter what your reasons for wanting to become a certified flight instructor, you must realize that it won’t be easy. There will be long days on the ground and in the air. Tuition isn’t cheap, and earning your instructor wings can be challenging even if you’d rather be doing nothing else but flying.
So what does it really take to become a certified flight instructor? Here’s just a few of things you’ll need to tackle the demanding course work.
Prequalifications for becoming a Certified Flight Instructor
Prior to starting your training as a certified flight instructor, you’ll need to have earned both your private pilot’s license or PPL, plus your commercial pilot’s license or CPL. A PPL can take anywhere from 40 to 80 hours of flying time depending on your aptitude for piloting, but a CPL takes much longer. You’ll need 190 to 250 hours of flying time to earn the right to transport goods and/or people.
Becoming a Certified Flight Instructor Starts on the Ground
It might not surprise you that becoming a CFI begins with long hours spent inside a classroom. While some schools will allow for home study, others require you to be “on campus,” as it were. The study is necessary since you will be taking two, very comprehensive and difficult exams at the end of your course instructions. These are the Fundamentals of Instruction Exam, or the FOI, and the FAA Certified Flight Instructor Knowledge Exam. Both these tests are said to cover the learning process of flying, the elements of successful teaching techniques, training procedures, and much more. The exams will also cover ground you’ve already learned during your PPL and CPL training, so it pays to review that subject matter.
Becoming a Certified Flight Instructor means Learning to Fly from the Starboard Seat
Not only is Certified Flight Instructor school said to be one of the most difficult flight training courses in existence, there will be physical demands as well. CFI students are required to learn how to fly from the starboard seat (the right-hand seat), while physically demonstrating to your flight students every technical and mechanical aspect of the plane and how to properly use them, not only during periods of smooth flight, but during severe turbulence also. Dealing with in-flight emergencies will also have to be carried out from the starboard seat.
Certified Flight Instructor Students Must Devise a Failsafe Lesson Plan
CFI students must come up with their own unique lesson plant. They will then be required to instruct a student utilizing that lesson plan. That student is actually your CFI instructor. You will evaluate your student’s flight performance and be expected to tutor them through any mistakes they might make on the ground and/or in flight. At the end of the lesson, the CFI student must debrief their student in detail. This kind of role playing is said to be necessary since the CFI in training must learn to become at ease with teaching any kind of student under any circumstance.
Certified Flight Instructor Students Must Pass a Punishing Checkride
At the very end of the Certified Flight Instructor training, the student must engage in what’s called a checkride. This won’t be your first checkride, but for certain it is said to be your most difficult. Punishing even. These checkrides don’t occur in a single day. They can take many hours over the course of several days before you are awarded your CFI certificate. Tons of material must be covered both on the ground and in the air, none of it easy. This goes without saying, but it’s of the utmost importance the CFI student is as well prepared as humanly possible, especially when it comes to safety briefings and procedures. Even the way you dress and present yourself as a certified flight instructor to a potential student will be evaluated.
Making a Living at being a Certified Flight Instructor
Certified Flight Instructors can start their own small business and/or act as their own independent contractors. Or they can work for an established flight school. Either way, you will be training pilots both on the ground and in the air, performing flight evaluations, assessing pilot’s credentials required for their final certification, conducting knowledge exams, and checkrides.
It is said that not too long ago, certified flight instructors weren’t paid very well. But these days, there’s a shortage of reputable instructors, which means CFIs are being paid better than ever. For many however, the job isn’t necessarily about the money, so much as it’s about being paid to do what you love more than anything else. Flying.