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Pilots in Training

Building Time as a Flight Instructor

by Tim Genc

The path to becoming a pilot, once you gather all the information necessary to make the decision that is right for you, starts off relatively simple and straight forward. The Airman Certification Standards spell out what needs to be learned and the school at which you’re training will (or should) provide you the curriculum. Your journey into aviation will start with your Private Pilot training and follow the path through your Instrument Rating and Commercial Pilot certificate training, and there will be a multi-engine rating dropped somewhere in there. It’s what happens next that presents one of the biggest challenges for the would-be professional aviator.

How does one get from 200-250 hours of flight time to their dream job, often requiring 1,500 or more hours of total flight time? Simply put, you need to build hours and experience. There are only two ways to gain those hours: buy them or work for them, the later usually being the more popular – and almost always the more educational – option. One of the most commonly followed paths to this next step is to add a Flight Instructor certificate to your repertoire, and work for those hours while teaching the next generation of budding aviators to fly.

To many pilots, it is simply the next logical step and only perceived option. To some, it is something they would truly love to avoid and they have their reasons. Two of the most common arguments against obtaining one’s CFI certificates/ratings are cost and aptitude. By the time one gets ready to start working on his/her flight instructor training – assuming they have not already integrated some of it during their time in an instrument or commercial flight program – they have already spent a significant amount of money on their education, possibly in addition to their college tuition. While the training needed to become a CFI is a fraction of the cost of the rest of this training and probably should’ve been part of the initial training budget, one can make the argument that enough has been spent, and why should they have to go any further into debt? The other argument is aptitude. Let’s face it; not everyone is meant to be a teacher! It takes a unique individual with a specific skillset to be able to teach someone. Some people recognize that they are already limited in this area, and some people simply don’t want to endure it. Keeping both of those objections in mind, here are some things to consider when it comes to choosing whether or not to become a flight instructor.

1. The ability to teach something represents the highest level of learning. “Those who cannot do teach” is more of a humorous axiom than words to actually live by. In the case of flying, it could not be more off the mark. You never really learn something until you’ve had to teach it. The ability to break down complicated and/or multi-faceted maneuvers into bite-sized palatable segments is a skill that every pilot must learn. Doing it day in and day out is a way to make yourself a better pilot.

2. There are always CFI jobs available. There is still a steady supply of people who want to either learn to fly or add certificates and ratings. If you have the flexibility to go where the work takes you, you will have an easier time landing a job as a flight instructor than you will flying right seat, 135, 91(k), or other entry level, time-building jobs.

3. You are forced to stay in a regulation-governed environment. Because you are teaching the basics – and that is the standard to which your students are tested – you stay in closer contact with the regulations than most other time-building jobs. This, in turn, keeps you up to date and current on what is going on in the industry. It keeps your fresh skills fresh and ready.

4. Teachers – Flight Instructors – make great students. The expectations instructors have of their students don’t change much from person to person, from program to program. Punctuality, preparedness and proficiency are qualities that CFIs of all levels look for in their students; nothing will drive this point further home than having a student who does NOT exemplify these qualities. This, in turn, often makes the CFI a good student once they start the next phase of their aviation journey.

5. You are accustomed to operating in a crew environment. As a flight instructor, you are a part of a team. Whether you’re on the ground, in the simulator or in the aircraft, you have resources and personnel available to assist you in completing each and every lesson. Knowing that there are people on whom you rely – and rely on you as well – is a quality that will transfer to your next aviation job.

6. Whether you like it or not, one day you are going to be a Flight Instructor. In the simplest of terms, one of the main jobs of a flight instructor is to be always training his/her replacement. In the simplest of terms, the same can be said of a Captain. Part of their responsibility is teaching – sometimes merely through example – the student-First Officer with them in the cockpit how they, too, can one day become a captain. The relationship between a CFI and their student closely mirrors that of the Captain and FO. Earlier in your flying career, it might behoove you to get used to teaching in a much less advanced cockpit and slower aircraft. Later in your career of being a professional pilot, you are going to be teaching someone else to fly and your success at this skill may have a significant impact on your career.

There is no one preferred or best-perceived way to get into aviation; there are many paths and your particular path can absolutely be tailored to you, your scheduling and budgetary capabilities and your needs. Similarly, there is more than one way to time-build to get to the point that you can make application to your first real flying job. Regardless of whether you plan on using your CFI certificates to build your hours and experience or not, the education required to earn them is an invaluable tool and, in this writer’s opinion, should be a part of your professional aviation education. I go back to all of the reasons to consider as listed above, but none is more important than number one. Remember that a good pilot is ALWAYS learning and learning to teach what you already know how to do – the mechanics and methodology of flying – is merely the next step in your aviation journey.


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