How to Become a Flight Instructor
After a sizable investment of both time and money you’ve finally become a pilot and obtained your commercial rating and are ready to earn some income as a pilot.
Unfortunately, the number of jobs available to low hour pilots is rather small.
One of the most common however, is that of flight instructor. When I first learned that most flight instructors were rather new pilots themselves I was rather shocked.
Shouldn’t someone with a few thousand hours of flight time be the one to teach me to fly?
But when you step back for a moment, it makes quite a bit of sense. The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “While we teach, we learn.” I’ve found this is absolutely true.
As we take the knowledge we have recently gained and teach it to someone else, it becomes solidified in our own mind. (This has been dubbed the “protege effect,” - students who teach, score higher on tests than students learning only for their own sake)
But becoming a certified flight instructor is no easy task. It takes considerable effort and there’s a few requirements you’ll need to meet before you can become one.
In this article we’ll walk you through the requirements you’ll need to meet along with some tips on working through a certified flight instructor academy and passing your checkride.
Certified Flight Instructor Requirements
Before you pursue your CFI rating make sure you’ve met these requirements:
- Have logged at least 250 hours (or 190 hours Part 141) total time.
- Hold a Commercial Pilot Certificate or ATP (ASEL or AMEL) with Instrument Rating.
- Hold a valid FAA 3rd Class Medical Certificate (or higher).
If you’re pursuing a CFI Sport these are the requirements:
- 100 hours of flight time as PIC of a powered aircraft
- 50 hours of flight time in airplane category
- 25 hours of cross-country flight time
- 10 hours of cross-country flight time in airplane category
- 15 hours of flight time as PIC in airplane category that is Light-Sport aircraft
With these requirements met, you’ll need to then attend a CFI academy. Many flight schools offer these academies on a monthly or bi monthly basis. A good CFI academy will teach you how to teach students and give you a strong teaching foundation for you to build on.
The academy will also prepare you for the FAA checkride.
Now, before we dig into an academy we should note, a CFI academy isn’t required. You can do instruction one-on-one with an instructor but it typically takes longer and costs more because you aren’t splitting the cost of ground instruction with an entire class.
Choosing a CFI Academy
If the school where you’ve done most of your training offers a CFI academy you may want to consider going there, however, it doesn’t hurt to shop around. The best thing to do is talk to different flight instructors.
See where they went and find out if they recommend it. You can also jump on the local aviation Facebook group to see if anyone there has any recommendations.
To help you prepare to become an instructor, look for a reputable school who is know for turning out proficient and effective flight instructors.
Do They Hire Instructors from Their Academies
If you’re going to be looking for a job once your done, you may want to find out if the school hires instructors from the pool of graduating students. If they do, you may be able to land a job as soon as you finish.
As you evaluate CFI academies don’t be afraid to ask to see a syllabus. You may also be able to audit a class for an hour one day to see how you like it.
While this may not seem important to you, I also like academies that are taught by multiple people. Since CFI academies last for 2-4 weeks typically, listening to the same person that entire time can get a little dull.
What to Expect in Your CFI Academy
Most CFI academies are structured such that you spend a portion of the day in class and a portion of the day flying. Depending on the size of the school and the class, you may not fly every day.
On days when you don’t fly you should spend the extra time writing and practicing your lesson plans.
In your CFI academy you’ll learn how to teach various materials, review FAA guidelines, and practice instructing. One thing many CFI students aren’t prepared for, is how much time you spend talking about how people learn.
Consider the academy a crash course in a teaching degree. While this may seem odd, it’s important as a flight instructor to understand how your students learn and how to cater your teaching style to each student.
How to Do Well In Your CFI Academy
Here at Thrust Flight we’ve seen many students pass through our academy. In each class, there's a clear distinction between those who perform well and those who struggle.
Prepare Before You Start
The most successful students start the class prepared. They’ve studied the material and are ready to teach it. Successful students also make the time to create their own lesson plans.
It’s easy to buy pre-made lesson plans, however, if you truly want to succeed as a flight instructor you need to create your own lesson plans. Remember the Senaca quote above?
As you prepare lesson plans to teach a principle, you will gain a stronger understanding of it. This greater understanding will help you become a safer, more capable pilot and instructor.
Study Every Day During the Academy
In addition to creating your own lesson plans, you should also make time to study every single day you are in the academy. We have seen so many students who think they can simply sit through the class and somehow be ready for their checkride without preparing. Don’t be one of those people.
Practice with a Partner
Another great tip for doing will in your CFI academy is to find a partner to practice with. Teach one another from your own lesson plans again and again. Then critique one another and help each other improve and grow.
Few people will do this but the best instructors we have seen do so with great effect.
The FAA Checkride
At the end of your CFI academy you should be ready for the FAA checkride. During this checkride expect the DPE to ask you quite a few questions about learning.
Again, you need to have a strong understanding of these learning principles so that you can effectively communicate them to the DPE and so you can best train your future students.
For a large portion of the checkride you should expect to play the role of teacher with the DPE as your student. They will probably give you a large variety of scenarios which you must then adapt your teaching to fit.
How to Prepare for the CFI Checkride
To prepare for your checkride, you should role play in this manner with your fellow CFI academy students and, if possible, with current instructors. As you practice your teaching on other students and current instructors they can help you identify holes in your teaching.
The only way your teaching will ever improve is if you do it again and again, so get in as much practice as you can before your checkride.
Once you’ve obtained your CFI rating your ready to start instructing and earning those 1,500 hours needed to become an airline pilot. If you’re in the process of choosing a CFI academy right now consider Thrust Flight.