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Life as a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor)


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If you have worked, or are now working, as a Certified Flight Instructor, please let us know about your experiences. We have listed some basic ground rules and questions, but you can certainly add as much information as you would like.

 

Ground rules:

 

We want to know about YOUR actual experience, not hearsay.

 

Do not slam operators, we want to know the good and the bad, but please keep it professional.

 

If you have support folks that are not on the forum, you can ask them to type up a paragraph and add it to your post, it would be great to get their input as well.

 

 

Suggestion:

 

You might reply in a 'quote' so you can type inbetween the questions like this:

 

"What was best about the job?"

 

your answer here

 

or, cut and paste the questions and then answer..

 

 

Questions:

 

What were your qualifications (hours, certificates, and prior experience) when you got this job?

What was your pay and other considerations (vacation, insurance, 401k matching, etc).

How long did you work in this area? How many hours per year did you log?

What were your primary job responsibilities?

What was best about the job?

What was worst about the job?

Where did you go afterward, and how did this job help you get into your next one?

Was this your dream job or a rung in the ladder? Was it what you expected it to be?

If it's in the past, would you go back? if you did return, what would you do differently now?

 

What advice would you impart on folks wanting to follow this career path?

 

Thanks in advance for your help and input, this information could help many thru-out their careers.

 

aloha,

 

dp

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What were your qualifications (hours, certificates, and prior experience) when you got this job?

I started a long time ago flying fixed-wing. I received my Private Airplane when I was 17, and just kind of flew around for fun at that time. After High School I started working as a Firefighter/EMT and got an Associates in Fire Science.. While working there I got the chance to work with the Flight for Life crews quite a bit and decided that there wasn't a job more suited to me then flying EMS. I decided to go back to school for a Bachelors in Aviation and Meteorology, and to finish out my ratings in Airplanes. After that I started working flying fixed-wing weather research in light twin engine airplanes. I Flew into a local field one day where an EMS heli had stopped over for fuel and we started talking to the crew. It was then I decided to carry on with my dream, and went back to peruse my Heli ratings.

 

When I got hired as a Heli instructor I had ~100 hours Helicopter

Commercial Airplane, Single and Multi Engine land, Single Engine Sea, Instrument Airplane, Commercial Rotorcraft Helicopter, Certified Flight Instructor Helicopter.

 

What was your pay and other considerations (vacation, insurance, 401k matching, etc).

For Hourly instructors: starting pay $26/hr, CFII's it's $31/hr. Free Medical insurance through Blue Cross (Vision, Dental, available but not free), no retirement, and as much vacation as you want.... just not paid.

 

For Salary instructors: Pay depends on hours and ratings usually starting ~$30k/yr, free Medical through Blue Cross (Vision and Dental available but not free), 401k with matching % dependent on years of service. Paid vacation, and sick pay.

 

How long did you work in this area?

As a CFI for 2 years, be 3 in January.

 

How many hours per year did you log?

Last year I logged ~230 flight hours, ~400 student contact hours

This year so far ~255 flight hours, ~550 student contact hours

 

What were your primary job responsibilities?

Instruct students, keep records in order, maintain my own currency, I also currently handle Bell 206 procedures, So I keep in contact with Bell reps and publications, and handle changes to checklist, maintenance procedures, etc...

 

What was best about the job?

Knowing that you are helping people achieve their dreams. It's a great feeling after one of your students first solo, or passes their checkride. They're probably at one of the happiest moments of their lives and you were a part of that.

 

What was worst about the job?

Paperwork! haha. No really, it's a great job and there isn't a whole lot of downfall to it. I have my dislikes for the place I work, but it's not a reflection on the Job itself.

 

Where did you go afterward, and how did this job help you get into your next one?

I haven't been able to move on yet due to not having the Heli time needed. I have met a lot of great people though and I'm sure the networking opportunities will pay off in the end.

 

Was this your dream job or a rung in the ladder? Was it what you expected it to be? If it's in the past, would you go back? if you did return, what would you do differently now?

Not a dream job for me. I enjoy it and will probably continue to do it part time on the side even after I move on, but it's not my all time dream job. It is about what I expected however when I was just starting out I had the feeling of "It can't be that hard." Wow was I in for a shock. Instructing is easily the hardest flying I've ever done and it took a little to get used to (and I've flown a Beech Baron into thunderstorms). Juggling the Radio's, paying attention what's going on around you, making sure your following ATC procedures, trying to keep your student from killing you, all while trying to teach him/her something... not easy. I've also learned WAY more instructing then I ever had throughout all the training I had prior. There really is truth to the DPE when he gave me that signed temporary CFI certificate and said "This is not an instructors certificate, this is a learning certificate."

 

What advice would you impart on folks wanting to follow this career path?

Be prepared to learn. Don't go into it with the idea that you're the instructor and you are going to teach them everything they know. Be patient, allow them to make mistakes to learn from, but don't let it go too far. And I could go on and on, but I'll spare people. My last piece of advice is get in with a good company that you mesh well with. It's very hard to instruct if the company you work for isn't willing to cooperate with their instructors.

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Questions:

 

What were your qualifications (hours, certificates, and prior experience) when you got this job?

 

My background was a little different. I am total civilian trained pilot. But my first pilot job was not as a CFI. My first job was flying a fire patrol for the summer. I did my flight training while I was attending college, so it did slow my time accumulation down a little. However that particular summer was the hottest on record and I flew my butt off. By the end of the summer I had 1100 hours total time. I finally got my CFI right after I finished college. from there I went on to instruct at a satellite office for an FBO. Then got hired as an instructor at a school in Texas. Once there I quickly became a charter pilot and Chief CFI. The owner gave me the opportunity to get my CFII and CFI-ME.

 

Later when I was working for a company that operated helicopters and airplanes, I got tired of having my chain jerked but the helicopter side and I got my Commercial add-on, CFI-H, Instrument and CFII-H and finally this year got my Helicopter ATP add-on. It has been quite a ride.

 

What was your pay and other considerations (vacation, insurance, 401k matching, etc).

How long did you work in this area? How many hours per year did you log?

 

My first CFI job paid if I remember correctly $600/mo base and $10/revenue hour. We didn't have any vacation days, insurance or 401K. I really didn't work just in the flight training, I also flew charter, pipeline and powerline patrol, etc. However, I did have several students, supervised the other instructors, etc. However, I stayed at this approximate level with this operator and one other for about 3 years. It was in the late 70's when the military was dumping pilots left and right on to the market. During those 3 years I averaged about 1000 hours/year.

 

What were your primary job responsibilities?

 

Like any other instructor, my duties included teaching organized ground schools, conducting ground and flight training, marketing flight training, record keeping and so on. Since I became the senior CFI rather quickly, I also ended up supervising the other instructors, auditing the schools records, conducting final reviews of the students prior to them taking their checkrides and dealing with the DPE's and FAA as required. At the second operator I worked for, I was also the Chief CFI and had to not only deal with the FAA on the 141 program but also deal with VA audits and the like. After working for this operator, most of my instructing was as a Part 135 training officer and check airman.

 

What was best about the job?

 

One of the best parts of the job was the variety of people I met and dealt with. 15 and 16 year old CAP cadets to a 75 year old retired farmer, who had rebuilt a champ to fly around.

 

 

What was worst about the job?

 

There really wasn't anything that was bad about the job, but there were things that could grate on you if the operator wasn't careful. Things like the expectation that you be in the office everyday, no matter the weather or be there 7 days a week. If the weather was good, you really didn't mind being at the airport, because it increased your chances of flying, but it was easy to become burned out if you were not careful.

 

 

Where did you go afterward, and how did this job help you get into your next one?

 

The CFI job made it possible for me to become a Part 135 training pilot and check airman. And those are some of the best times I had as a charter pilot.

 

What advice would you impart on folks wanting to follow this career path?

 

Go into this area with the attitude that you have been given a gift and that you are going to pass it on to those following behind you.

 

Sometimes you just have to be the stern father type. I had a CAP cadet that another instructor was having problems with. After I flew with him, we had a discussion, where I told him that flying was a privilege and it came with some responsibilities. While it was fun, the potential of people getting hurt or killed was high, so he really needed to buckle down and mature a little. After the student leave the office manager got all over me about upsetting the student. I didn't yell or get abusive, it was just a discussion. The next day this cadet came back and soloed. About a week later, the student and his parents stopped by and they thanked me caring enough to sit down and talk with him.

 

You don't know who your students will become. I soloed a man who was just a bit older than I was. About 15 years later, I was out of work a dropped a resume off at a charter company. Two weeks later, this former student called me. He was DO of the company I had dropped my resume off to. It was probably my shortest interview ever. "Do you want to be over worked for low pay and bad conditions?' 'yes' 'well get your a$$ down here and get to work'. That just how long the interview lasted. It goes well with the old airline saying 'treat your co-pilot well, cause next year, he could be your chief pilot'.

 

There are somethings I do as a flight instructor that some might not agree with, but my experience has taught me that they should be done. Whenever I endorse a student for solo, I add some extra restrictions to the endorsement. I add wind, weather and x-wind component restrictions and also make a note of no night or passengers. Why? Because I caught a student doing rides one day. I quickly unendorsed his solo authorization. And he immediately became an ex-student. His excuse? 'I never told him that he couldn't give rides' 'RIGHT'. As for the night restriction, I had read an accident report when 2 students that owned a helicopter together, had decided to fly from the LA area to Phoenix and back. Together. They had not had any x-country training or night training. On the way back to LA, they hit a mountain and were killed.

 

If they own their own aircraft, I add a note that they must call me prior to flying. That way I can exercise a little control. I realize it is their aircraft, but they are flying on my certificate and student pilots get into enough trouble as it is without letting them run wild and free.

 

On the student's 2nd x-country, I try to do it on a day that has as marginal visibility as I can get, but remains legal VFR. I tell them that I am just a passenger on this flight and he is basically on his own. Somewhere around half way, I get the student distracted and then play the panicky passenger to see if I can distract him enough. Then I reintroduce getting unlost procedures. VOR position plotting, DF steers and approaches and so on. After the flight we discuss what happened and why. How to prevent it and other actions. I have seen students who never had this done to them, get totally lost and then panic and freak out. The students who have had it done to them, seem to go 'I been here before, its not a big deal' and handle it.

 

When you sign off a student for a solo x-country, be sure to check his math. I had one instructor who didn't and the student had forgotten to carry over a 1. Problem was it was the 3rd digit to the left, meaning he was over 90 degrees off course. The student actually kept his head and declared an emergency, and got radar vectors back home.

 

I always give my students training in downwind takeoffs and landings. For two reasons, one some airports are one way only. Second is to show them how big a performance change there is by taking off and landing down wind. It is quite significant.

 

For instrument students, they will do at least one of every approach that we can do in the aircraft downwind. The reason is simply, that approach may be the only option. Plus my instrument students will have some flight time during training in actual conditions. While training helicopters are not IFR certified, I will put them in a Cessna 172 or the like, get a block altitude that allows me to descend to VFR conditions and put them in the clouds. The experience is quite different than flying under the hood. And I feel that I would be short changing the student, if I didn't do this.

 

As I look back on how the training has changed over the years, I see many very good improvements. But I also see places where we are starting to possibly fail the students. The training industry is becoming so standardized and regimented that things we did 20 years ago are frowned upon. Things like popping a door open on a student and showing them how you can control the airport with just the doors. And now we have people crashing after a cabin door pops open and they panic and try to close the door instead of flying the aircraft. More so now than 20 to 30 years ago. We are seeing pilots that did all their instrument training in an aircraft with a glass cockpit like the G1000 and GPS. Their first real flying job after being an instructor is flying an old 210 or Baron with steam gauges and they have to shoot a fixed card ADF approach. Did we really serve this student's needs and goals by doing it this way.

 

Over the years my grading standard has become more refined. I ask myself this question. 'Can I put my family and loved ones on his aircraft and then go home and go to bed and sleep?'. If the answer is no, then he doesn't pass. I like to be able to sleep at night.

 

This turned into a longer reply than I had intended. I hope it help answer some questions.

Edited by rick1128
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This is one of the best and most useful topics I've seen in a long time. For those of us near the end of our training and hoping to get that first CFI job, this is a great look at some things to expect.

 

Please keep the replies coming. Thanks for all the useful insight.

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... but there were things that could grate on you if the operator wasn't careful. Things like the expectation that you be in the office everyday, no matter the weather or be there 7 days a week. If the weather was good, you really didn't mind being at the airport, because it increased your chances of flying, but it was easy to become burned out if you were not careful.

 

This is SO true.. Pay very close attention to what your body is telling you. It's very easy to get burnt out and to not instruct or fly to your best abilities. Remember sometimes you just have to take a break.

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I ask myself this question. 'Can I put my family and loved ones on his aircraft and then go home and go to bed and sleep?'. If the answer is no, then he doesn't pass. I like to be able to sleep at night.

 

 

That is probably the best yard-stick I have ever heard for measuring the check-ride readiness of a student.

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I see the need to add a couple of points.

 

One complaint I often hear from Instructors is that they don't make enough money. I start seeing what they do and ask a few questions and I see where they are having problems. They are not charging for the ground time they are spending with the student. You are a professional. Charge for your time. I have found very few students that will complain about being charged. If they were not getting value for money, I could see a problem. But if they are getting value for money, there shouldn't be an issue. When I was instructing, I found that charging for my ground time increased my income by 20 to 25%.

 

DO NOT knock the other flight schools or training helicopters out there. I have seen way too many instructors knock a competitor's school or helicopters. And when you ask them, the instructor doesn't have any experience at that school or in the particular model of helicopter. Be professional.

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DO NOT knock the other flight schools or training helicopters out there. I have seen way too many instructors knock a competitor's school or helicopters. And when you ask them, the instructor doesn't have any experience at that school or in the particular model of helicopter. Be professional.

 

This is for sure. It will only make you look unprofessional. Instead, point out the reasons a potential student SHOULD attend your flight school.

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What were your qualifications (hours, certificates, and prior experience) when you got this job?

 

Got hired shortly after I completed my CFI, ~250 hours. Remained at the school and completed my CFII while I was teaching.

 

 

 

What was your pay and other considerations (vacation, insurance, 401k matching, etc).

 

Ended up being $24 per flight hour (pvt/inst/comm/cfii) $28 per flight hour CFI instruction. $18 per hour ground instruction

 

 

 

How long did you work in this area? How many hours per year did you log?

 

16 Months, logged just under 1000 hours in that time span. Was around 800 in the first year then it slowed a bit.

 

 

 

What were your primary job responsibilities?

 

Providing flight and ground instruction to students. Giving intro flights, giving tours of the school and answering questions with potential students when the chief flight instructor was out of the office.

 

 

 

What was best about the job?

 

Got to be a part of helping people learn how to fly. Helped to make well rounded professional pilots. Also it was a great learning environment as you got to practice and supervise emergency procedures on a daily basis. Also makes you a paranoid pilot, which helps to keep you alive.

 

 

 

What was worst about the job?

 

Giving ground instruction (Gets boring eventually) Teaching students who didn't really want to learn and having to watch them piss away thousands of dollars knowing they probably wouldn't make it.

 

 

Where did you go afterward, and how did this job help you get into your next one?

 

Went to the grand canyon to fly tours. Working as a CFI gave me the flight hours and the references I needed to get here. Get in good with the folks you work with who are solid, professional pilots and use them as a reference to get your foot in the door when you're ready.

 

 

Was this your dream job or a rung in the ladder? Was it what you expected it to be?

 

Rung in the ladder. It'd be nice to do it on a temp basis every now and then and thats exactly what I intend to do. It really was everything I expected it to be. It made me a much better pilot.

 

 

 

If it's in the past, would you go back? if you did return, what would you do differently now?

 

I wouldn't do anything different. I was lucky to get in so early and at a good school. I got my hours relatively quickly and I was paid pretty well for the work I was doing.

 

 

 

What advice would you impart on folks wanting to follow this career path?

 

Take a careful look at the school you sign up with to get your ratings as thats your best bet to actually get hired on with for your first CFI gig. Make sure it's a place you'd want to work, and a place that will actually stay busy. Really though, keep your head in the game and be professional if you DO end up working as a CFI. People who look at a CFI job as nothing but a stepping stone tend to not do it well, and not learn as much from it. Remember to always be professional, remember the student is always trying to kill you, and try to not get too complacent.

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