Flight Instructor Career: What You Need to Know

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A flight instructor is a certified individual who specializes in teaching people to fly aircraft, whether it be airplanes or helicopters. Some flight instructors will specialize in a particular category. 

These can be things such as propeller, light aircraft, jet, or commercial aircraft.

Pilots may choose to become a flight instructor for a multitude of reasons. It may be a job long dreamed of. It may be a means of getting hours in the process of becoming a commercial pilot or airline pilot.

It may be the chance to make some money from a much-loved hobby.

A forecasted shortage of pilots in the industry has made the job of an instructor in high demand.

So what do you need to know?

Flight Instructor Certifications

Flight instructor certifications issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are made of the Certified Flight Instructor Certificate (CFI) and the secondary add-on qualification, Certified Flight Instructor - Instrument (CFII or CFI-I). 

The primary CFI certification requires a check ride with a FAA examiner. The secondary add-on certification can be issued by any designated examiner.

Eligibility Criteria

The basic requirements for applying to become certified as an instructor by the FAA are as follows:

  • A minimum age of 18 years
  • Ability to speak, read, write, and understand the English language
  • Currently hold a commercial pilot certificate or an airline transport pilot (ATP) certification

Hold A Valid Medical Certificate

If you already hold a commercial pilot certificate you will already have an aviation medical certificate.

A flight instructor is not required to hold a medical certificate if they will not be acting as pilot in command or as a required crewmember.

However, if you choose not to act as pilot in command, you are only able to accept students who have that designation. It makes sense to obtain the necessary 3rd class medical or higher certification.

Character Attributes

It pays to keep in mind that a flight instructor is first and foremost a teacher. You will be required to work with students of all personality types. 

An instructor needs patience, good communication skills, and the ability to guide others on their learning journey.

Be aware that you made be required to adjust your teaching technique to fit the needs of individual students.

Written Exams

You also have to complete two written exams in the process of becoming certified as an instructor. The first is the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) Exam. The second is the FAA Certified Flight Instructor Knowledge Exam.

The FOI Exam focuses on the teaching process. It covers such subjects as learning, effective teaching, and training techniques.

Note: If you already hold a 7th grade or higher teacher's certificate, or you teach at an accredited college or university, it is not necessary to sit the FOI Exam.

The Knowledge Exam will test your overall knowledge of aircraft and flying. It could include recreational, commercial, and private aircraft topics. Questions may also cover instrument, multi-engine, and high-performance categories.

Lesson Plans

All good teachers know the importance of a lesson plan. The lesson plan outlines topics to be covered and the course of instruction for the lesson period. 

Resources which can be useful include printed drawings, charts, and diagrams, as well as advisory circulars and FAA safety briefings.

Your lesson plan should include all requirements in the FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) for each topic covered.

Be prepared. A kit of pre-printed or gathered materials will save you time in the long run.

Practice Makes Perfect

The initial part of your CFI training will involve review. You'll be given the opportunity to practice to ensure you meet PTS standards. You will also need to be current with operations and FARS (Fatal Accident Reporting Systems) within your local area.

A large percentage of your CFI training will have you sitting in the seat and acting as an instructor to an experienced instructor.

This training will ensure you have the necessary experience to work with students.

You will be expected to evaluate your "student." You will need to give helpful guidance and explain methods and reasoning. The instruction will include ground training such as briefing and debriefing.

You will be required to demonstrate all maneuvers in line with regulations. It is helpful to take these practice flights with different instructors. You may be able to utilize these techniques with your own students.

These practice training flights are an essential lead up to your check flight with an examiner. Make sure to take your lesson plans and conduct the lesson as if you were already "on the job".

The Check Ride

The end of the process is, of course, the check ride. Once you've completed all the steps and your instructor believes you are ready for the examination, you will be signed off for your check ride.

The check ride will follow much the same guidelines as your practice flights. However, this time your examiner will be in the instructor's seat. You will be assessed on everything you were teaching during the practice runs.

Be aware - the check ride can be grueling and challenging. Some instructors have been required to complete multi-day check rides. This means they fly for of 16 hours or more before passing.

Your examiner will want to cover all details. Some choose to spend a significant amount of time on the ground before moving on to the flight portion of the exam.

This is a very real test.

Act professionally, dress appropriately, and demonstrate to your instructor what kind of instructor you'll be once you are certified.

Industry Information

The internet offers a wealth of knowledge for pilots and instructors. The more you know, the more you can share.

The Find A Pilot blog is an excellent source of information about the airline industry and covers topics ranging from Can Judgement Be Taught? to Lessons Learned in a Bad Situation.

A flight instructor has an important role in making the skies a safe and enjoyable place to be. And for the person who loves to be airborne, it is the ideal career path.