Once you’ve qualified for your commercial pilots license you may find yourself wondering what to do next.
The obvious career progression is to become a commercial airline pilot. However, many airlines only hire those with a great deal of experience. For a newcomer, that’s a long way off.
A certified flight instructor, or CFI, is an option few are turning to. Becoming a flight instructor may require extra training, but it comes with unique rewards.
Not only do you log flight time, you gain hours of experience. All while getting paid to do so! The need for flight instructors isn’t being matched by demand.
If you train as a flight instructor you may find yourself hired on completing the course. Allowing you to earn money, and get flying, right away.
If you’re curious about becoming a certified flight instructor, we’ve got the basics of what might lie ahead.
The risks, the rewards, and how many exams you might need to pass.
How do I become a flight instructor?
There are several key components required to become a CFI (certified flight instructor), including two written exams and a check ride.
Firstly, you must be at least 18 years of age, and be able to read, speak, write, and understand English.
Secondly, you must have either a commercial pilot certificate, or an airline transport pilot certificate and an instrument rating. You’ll also need to have logged at least 250 hours of flight time.
Next, you’ll be required to hold a valid FAA 3rd Class Medical Certificate, or higher. This allows you to act as pilot in-command. To qualify for a commercial pilot’s license, you likely already have a medical certificate.
There are two written exams required to become a flight instructor. These are the FOI (Fundamentals of Instruction) Exam and the FAA Certified Flight Instructor Knowledge Exam.
The FOI Exam covers topics related to teaching. This will ensure you can act as a competent instructor to students.
The FAA Exam is focused on flight. It tests you on everything related to flight that you’ve learned so far. Both exams require a high level of study.
During the training to become a CFI, you will be asked to instruct a previously qualified CFI as though they are a student learning for the first time.
To do this you need to prepare lesson plans, be comfortable answering questions, and show a great deal of knowledge about flight. While you won’t be graded on your training, it will affect how well you perform in the check ride.
Finally, there’s a check ride. The CFI check ride is considered to be one of the most difficult, and can take over multiple days to complete.
The examiner will want to see that you know all the safety procedures, and the correct way of behaving. Before doing this you must be prepared for everything that may come up. Study hard, act professional, and watch the instructor closely.
To become a certified flight instructor you need to show competence in both teaching and flying.
How long does it take to become a certified flight instructor?
Not including the time required to gain a commercial pilot's license, it can take around 2 to three months to become a certified flight instructor.
Prior to this, you need to have logged 250 hours of flight time. After studying, you need to complete 2 written exams and a check ride.
The check ride will likely take several hours, and may stretch across multiple days.
How many hours do you need to be a CFI?
To become a certified CFI, you need to have logged at least 250 hours of flight time. Many of the initial requirements will have been covered when getting a commercial pilot's license.
The training for the course may take upwards of 2 months. Training requires a large time commitment, as you need to prove yourself capable and responsible.
Many CFIs are new pilots. Becoming a flight instructor is a good way to gain experience, and flying time.
As many commercial airlines require over 1000 hours of flight time before hiring, becoming a certified flight instructor is an opportunity to be paid to gain experience.
Is it hard to become a flight instructor?
Becoming a flight instructor is a hard task, but a rewarding one.
Once you have your commercial pilot’s license, becoming a flight instructor is a good next step. While many consider it most logical to apply for work as a commercial pilot, there are many benefits to pursuing instruction.
For a start, it allows you to gain experience and log flight time. Both of these are necessary if you wish to be hired as a commercial pilot, so becoming a CFI moves you closer to that goal.
There is a need for certified flight instructors, so if you choose to go down this route you can gain experience and a good salary.
It is difficult to become a flight instructor, as it can be a large time commitment. However, if you’re passionate about flying and enjoyed getting your commercial pilots license, it’s a small sacrifice.
Both written exams will require studying to pass. Especially the Fundamentals of Instruction Exam, if you’ve never taught before.
Furthermore, the check ride is considered by many to be one of the most grueling out there.
A flight instructor may find the job a challenge, but that’s true of all teaching roles. You have to respond to students who are just starting out, and ensure their safety.
To do this, you have to prove your own competence. Flying is dangerous, so an instructor must be alert and engaged at all times.
What is required to be a CFI?
To become a certified flight instructor you must hold either a commercial pilots license, or an airline transport pilot certificate.
You need to be in possession of a valid 3rd Class Aviation Medical Certificate, or better. You also need to have logged at least 250 hours of flight time.
From there, a student is required to pass two written exams.
These are the FOI (Fundamentals of Instruction) Exam, and the FAA Certified Flight Instructor Knowledge Exam. You need to demonstrate an understanding of both flight and teaching.
During the training a student will need to show that they can give clear orders and advice. This will involve instructing an already certified CFI as if they were a new learner.
To do well you need to construct lesson plans, respond to questioning, and show calm and patience.
Finally, there is a CFI check ride. When this has been completed to standard, an authorized instructor will endorse you.
Other than this, you must be at least 18 years of age. You must be able to read, speak, write, and understand English.
What makes a good flight instructor?
A good flight instructor not only needs to be a knowledgeable pilot, they also need to have strong teaching skills.
The best flight instructors are passionate about flying, strong communicators, patient, and enthusiastic.
A flight instructor is passing on their own knowledge about flying while gaining experience and perspective. They should be willing to learn as they teach.
Many see the job as a flight instructor as a waiting period, between getting your pilot's license and logging enough hours to fly commercial.
If you think of it only this way, you won’t make a good instructor. A CFI will always be learning, even as they teach. New experiences will teach them things about flying they were unaware of.
If a CFI wants to transition into a commercial pilot, they won’t have just gained hours flying. They’ll have learned to a greater degree the mechanics of flight, learned patience, and learned to respond quickly to new situations.
If you only see becoming a flight instructor as a way to kill time and get hours flying, then it isn’t the right role for you.
Who can train a CFI?
A certified flight instructor can be trained by another CFI, with 2 years experience teaching.
The trainer will need to have logged an additional 200 hours plus in flight, instructing students.
They also need to have trained at least 5 applicants, with a pass rate of 80%. If you train to become a certified flight instructor, you’ll be taught by previously qualified CFIs.
The CFI check ride will need to be endorsed by an authorized instructor.