One of the career prospects that often gets overlooked by budding pilots is becoming a flight instructor themselves. It’s an incredibly rewarding and exciting job, but it’s not without its pitfalls, and once you hit that 1500 hour threshold, a well paid airline job is tough to pass up.
One of the biggest downsides of choosing to remain a teacher rather than to work in another professional capacity, is that the salary won’t be quite as beefy.
By no means does that mean CFIs struggle to make ends meet. If they’re experienced, good at their job, and in demand, they can earn $60,000+ a year, which is an objectively large salary.
However, that bulky paycheck isn’t exactly a sure thing. Work for certified flight instructors isn’t as well-structured as your average job. Vastly affected by weather and location, you can kiss that stable rota goodbye.
Then we have to consider what life’s going to be like before you reach such notoriety in your field. You’ll have to get by on roughly $30,000 a year, which isn’t bad, but compared to the starting salary of an airline pilot, it’s mere pennies.
Furthermore, the same variables that affect a $60,000 CFI wage also affect a $30,000 CFI wage, meaning total earnings are somewhat uncertain.
These figures are average estimations, so it’s important to remember there will be full certified flight instructors out there living beyond both ends of this pay spectrum. Some CFIs that work for hourly pay may be on minimum wage. On the other hand, they may also earn as much as $50 an hour.
What a lot of people don’t know is that a CFI on an hourly wage will only be paid for the hours they spend in the air. That means that any preflight discussion or planning is done for free, doing a walk around of or parking the planes is done for free, and any post flight briefings are done completely for free.
This paints a pretty grim picture, but there are ways in which CFIs can supplement their flight hour wage…
- Opting for Extra Hours or a Sixth Work Day - As a CFI, you can opt to work more airborne hours; however, FAR 61.195 of federal aviation regulations stipulates you can only instruct for a maximum of 8 hours in a 24-hour period.
On top of all the unpaid labor, 8 hours of in-air tutoring is challenging enough over a traditional five-day work week. Adding an extra full day of work while losing a day off is a sure way to burn yourself out.
- Taking on Ground or Sim Instruction - This is a solid way to bulk up your earnings.
- Chasing Bonuses - Some flight schools offer bonuses for encouraging yearly contracts, bringing more CFIs into the fold, or if your students improve quickly.
CFIs working for a salary tend to earn more in the grand scheme of things, but they can also be expected to work an ungodly amount of hours to pull that paycheck in. We’re talking 60+ backbreaking, mind-numbing hours. The same overtime options are also available for salaried positions should a CFI wish to build up wages for a particular month or two.
Whether a salary or hourly pay is best depends entirely on your situation and preferences. Hourly flight instruction is far more flexible. If you’re quite a busy person, you can work your professional life around your complex schedule.
The downside is that you might be rained off for a week and earn nothing. Salaried CFIs, on the other hand, will earn a more consistent paycheck, but it requires steadfast dedication and tons of drive.
How Much Does a PPL Instructor Earn?
In the advent of flight school partnerships and industry sponsorship, students are being headhunted straight out of class into profitable roles in commercial airlines.
Without the need to put in the standard 1500 hours of airtime often achieved by becoming a CFI, there’s currently a rather drastic shortage of PPL instructors.
You’d assume that offering more money would make becoming a PPL CFI at least for a while more of an enticing prospect, but wages remain at the same level, which is around 25 - 35K.
The truth is that the wage of any sort of flight instruction is subject to the whims of the weather, location, flight hours, and the success of the school that employs you, so you can expect to earn the same amount as a standard CFI.
The fact that your students wish to be able to run a small, private airplane as opposed to students who want a career as a pilot flying large commercial aircraft, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get paid any more than usual. As a CFI, you may even end up splitting your airborne work hours between PPL and career path students.