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Career CFI questions

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Don Henry

New member
Feb 24, 2002
I am a 49 yo former high tech industry exec, and am seriously looking into a career change into flying as a profession. (I flew 25 years ago - stopped just short of my PPL check ride). I am also a new member to this site.

Obviously, I do not wish to plunk down $30K+ in training costs, if there is no chance for a reasonable ROI.

After considerable research, I have concluded the following:

* My age, and the fact that I would be just now starting my PPL training, precludes me from any chance of flying for the regionals/majors, and probably rules out corporate as well (okay with me, since I think I would find flying smaller aircraft more enjoyable anyway!)

* I will need to do some sort of "fast track" approach to training - whether through a school like FSI or American Flyers - or a "serious" FBO. I would be doing this on a full time basis. I also recognize that to earn CFII/MEI will take me at least one year if everything goes very well.

* Thusly, my career path would be that of "career" CFI (with perhaps some slight possibility that I would get REAL lucky and get a small commuter/charter job, or could supplement income with flying skydivers, sightseeing, etc.)

* Since I would NOT be instructing simply to log hours, but as a career, I could be highly attractive to a flight school, inasmuch as I would be sticking around for a long time, if not "forever".

MY QUESTIONS - (based on a presumption that, by the time I have the necessary ratings, the economy will have started to come back, and GA will be hiring once again at "normal" rates):

1) Does anyone with any firsthand knowledge see any "flaw" in the above conclusions?

2) What could I expect for income as a "career" CFI?

(I have heard many comments of "you'll be lucky to make $20K a year" - however, I have also been told ((most recently, by a local CFI)) that if I treated instructing as a career (i.e., instruct full days, 6 or 7 days a week, be willing and flexible to meet the students' scheduling needs, etc.) that I could reasonably expect to make $45-50K per year)

3) Could I get hired by schools of the FSI, American Flyers, etc. ilk - or do they prefer to utilize the "going on to the majors" students as short term instructors?

4) I have been told that if instructing for an FSI type of school, that the school "does the marketing" to bring in students - but that if one instructs for an FBO, the instructor has to bring in the students. Is this true?

5) Is it true that most CFIs are independent contractors?

6) Is it true then that an independent contractor CFI must carry their own liability insurance? What is the cost for insurance?

My apologies for the lengthiness of this message - and thanks in advance for any input any of you could provide.

If anyone chooses to reply directly, my email address is:

[email protected]
Career CFI

Hi, Don, very good post. I generally agree with every one of your conclusions. It's refreshing to see someone on the board my age who has realistic expectations for a career change.

I had decided on a change about fifteen years ago when I was 36, at the peak of an alleged "pilot shortage." My career objective was to fly for a commuter airline. Nothing more. I knew I stood no chance for the majors. A recession, war, two airline shutdowns and age discrimination prompted me to look at other professional flying opportunities. I continued with flight instructing and would have been happy to instruct as a career, but I hit some bad chuckholes that essentially derailed my aviation career. That's the perspective from which I speak.

It is true that for a while you may be making $20K a year, but there are schools which hire career instructors that pay great money, and with great benies, in desirable parts of the country. I'll elaborate on a few of them below.

Your career path would be very much the same as any other professional pilot. You have the right idea to train with one of the schools. You can finish in less than a year at FlightSafety. I worked there and I know it well. I'm sure All-ATPs and Pan Am have similar programs. Be sure that you would be considered for an instructing job after you graduate before you sign up.

After you earn your ratings and get hired, it becomes a matter of building hours, just as with any other professional pilot. You do want to build multi PIC time, instrument time, night time and IFR system time, just as with any other professional pilot. Getting experience teaching ground school and/or working in administration would be a plus. Your experience in industry would be an asset there and can open doors.

After you build about the same experience as a commuter airline requires, which these days would be at least 1500 total and 500 multi, with 1000 instructing, more or less, and a good pass-fail record, you would be about ripe for flight schools that train foreign airline pilots. These schools are located in desirable parts of the country because of they need to have a year-round training environment. Examples include the Lufthansa school, Airline Training Center Arizona, near Phoenix; the All Nippon Air School, International Flight Training Academy in Bakersfield, California (I realize that many people may not regard Bakersfield as "desirable" or "upscale," but it does have a warm climate); and the Japan Airlines School, IASCO, in Napa, California. These schools pay in the $40K-$60K range and want career flight instructors. I know all three of these places, and I can tell you that their facilities and equipment are first-rate.

Another idea is to set your sights on a college flight program. Most hire only their graduates, but are also interested in senior instructors who are willing to put down roots. ERAU has run ads in pilot magazines for instructors, though 9/11 may have stopped hiring for the short term. Pay may not be as good as the above airline schools. Your career background would be desirable in a college flight program because many of them have an administrative chain of command.

The schools advertise heavily for students, so marketing would not be an issue. You probably would have to hustle for work if you instruct at an FBO. That depends on if the FBO provides instructing as an adjunct to its aircraft rentall, fuel, hangar, tiedown and maintenance operations or operates a school.

Finally, a word of warning. You may find yourself putting up with a lot of nonsense for a time in your first job or two until you can get on with a better school. Flight schools are revolving doors. They are accustomed to people, who are primarily young people who are faces in the crowd, who just stay long enough to build time to move on. Management regards these folks as young punks and only as time-builders who are not worthy of respect or consideration. You'll be one of those faces and may suffer that lack of respect and not care for it, being an older person and coming from industry. Management won't care that you want to be a career instructor. You'll just be another body and revenue-generating instrument. In addition, you will have students young enough to be your children who will come at you with an attitude. You might find this frustrating. On the other hand, you will also meet some great young people and a few older than them who will take seriously everything you say and try as hard as possible to please you. Either way, you will get a great education about people as well as flying.

Hope that helps. Best of luck with your plans.
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There are a lot of other jobs out there that dont have an age 60 rule. If you get down the road and decide instructing is not for you, you can always go fly cargo part 135, or try to find a part 91 corporate job.

Good luck.
As a furloughed regional pilot, ex-charter pilot and instructor, I will try to help.

I would agree with the above post, I have read many of his post and they are right on. Get your ratings through a reputable location (FSI, ALL ATPS).

However, I have had many people happy with smaller FBOs. The larger operations are under the Part 141 (less hour requirements, more strict lessons) and they tend the "push" pilots through. It is a gamble if you get good instruction under the "push" mode. I was lucky and was very pleased with my ratings. It is also a gamble at the smaller operations too, generally there is more flexibility. One student of mine received his PPL in one summer at a small FBO.

The only thing I will say about career instructing is that when you start applying at locations, you will be competing against some very qualified individuals (lots of furloughed folks looking for work). But I bet you won't let that stop you and you will do fine.

One thing I found to help. Have a list of "rules to fly by" for your customers. Let them know you expect them to study and not have to remind them on hour ten what an aileron is and how to spell it, or what the pitot tube is. Their time is valuable and so is yours.

I am off my soap box now and I hope that helped a little.


I highly recommend that you read the book "The Savvy Flight Instructor," by Greg Brown.
Something to think about:

Low pay initially
Age 60 limitations

Prioritize what is important to you.

A) Fly just to fly till age 60
B) Fly past age 60

You could very easily get your ratings and be working at a company like Airnet or one of the other 135 operators that fly Lears. People tend to look down on 135 operations, and with more and more regionals starting their pilots in the jets, their won’t be as many people going after these jobs.

Why is a freight company like Airnet good? Well you will get in the right seat of a Lear jet, and many people move from this position to companies like Executive Jet (EJA). If you haven’t figured it out yet EJA is the “sweet spot” in aviation now; good aircraft, good pay, and most importantly for many people FUN flying. BONUS for you, you don’t have to retire at 60.

Your road is a short one, and you obviously know it won’t be easy. See what you goal is, and find the quickest way to get there.

Good Luck,

I would suggest that you complete the following items (i had a student start from scratch at age 50 and two and half years later he is happy where he is at):

1. Get your Private License: Do not rush, remember this will be the knowledge that you will base the rest of your training on. Spend about 4-6 months completing the requirements.

2. Go to ATP (Airline Transport Professionals): I have never worked for them, but completed the Professional Pilot course and was a rated multi-engine instructor in less than 90-days. It is expensive, but you will spend more money doing it over a longer period of time.

3. After completing ATP, enroll with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and take classes through one of their extended campuses or over the internet. Work towards a B.S. degree in Professional Aeronautics and a minor in Aviation Safety.

4. While completing the required courses, you will have ample time to increase your hours.

5. After completing degree and a respectable amount of logged hours, apply with Embry-Riddle to be a flight instructor with them. You can eventually earn a professors wage and most importantly decent money.

Good luck.
I think you've made a couple of incorrect assumptions.

1. Your age will not be a detriment. You'll never make it to a major, but you could be in the right seat of a jet regional/national in three years from today. My experience has been that employers love us older dogs. They know that when they invest the $15K to train you they will get an 8 year return on their money. Typically a young guy will move on in 3-5 years.

2. It won't take you a year to do your flight training. You can complete all of your ratings through CFII/MEI in about 6-7 months. I started with a PPL and finished everything else in 5 months. I worked hard but I wasn't killing myself. There was even time for golf. There are plenty of 141 schools out there that should be able to do this for you. Send me a private message and I'll recommend the one that worked for me.

3. I can't tell you how many folks I know that started out saying "I wouldn't mind being a career flight instructor", including me. Only one of them still is and that person went off and did the charter/corporate bit before coming back to instructing. About the only real limitation I see is that it's unlikely you'll make it to a major. Other than that the sky's the limit. Corporate, charter, flight instructing, regional/national, fractional, whatever. Only 121 flying will make you quit at 60, everything else is between you and your employer. Good luck.
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I will tell you the stories about a couple of the instructors in my flying club.

1) Instructor #1 - He was an executive for a large construction firm in Florida which was bought out. He made the transition to flight instructor, and then FAA examiner. As a flight instructor, I paid him $30 an hour back in 1993. All of this went into his pocket. Later, he was hired by a large flight school as their full time designated FAA examiner. I don't know how much he made, but it must have been better for him to leave. Following that stint, he was hired by the local Flight Standards District Office working for the FAA.

2) Instructor #2 - Managed to retire in his mid 30s and started instructing. Later he became an FAA designated examiner. After he became an examiner, he started charging $50 an hour for instruction, because that's what he made as an FAA examiner. He had no shortage of students and turned people away. $50 an hour is not a lot of money for many who can afford flying. Many of these people are used to paying more than that for their tennis/golf lessons or piano/ballet for their children.

Would you be willing to pay an extra $20 an hour to receive instruction from a career CFI with thousands of flight and instruction hours? Over the course of the PPL, that may amount to an extra $800 to $1000.

These two instructors were both independent contractors.

As in independent instructor, one of the best ways to meet potential students is to get involved with the local FAA FSDO. Help them present their safety seminars.

Personally, I hope to instruct full time myself when I can afford the drop in income.

You might want to check out Flight Safety in Vero Beach. Its a great place to live. Also, if you train with them, they may hire you as an instructor once you are out of their program. The pay would be low, but you could build a solid base of hours before moving on.
I'm just now working on my CFI so my perspective is limited but I do have quite a bit of business experience so I'll give you my $.02.

It seems to me that the key to doing well as an instructor is specializing, finding a niche that people will pay a premium for and that you enjoy. For example, there is a guy in Wisconsin who specializes in Instrument training. During his course you circle through the western US honing your instrument skills and also get to see some great places. He's booked months in advance even though his rates are far from cheap. He makes a good living by flying over some of the most beautiful places in the world. I've read about instructors who specialize in Bonanza training, Commander training, MU-2 training. People who buy these planes are willing to pay for expertise and quality. Aerobatics is another good example.

As far as your age, some of the best instructors I have had were mature guys who retired from other fields. They all loved instructing and flying in general.

If being an instructor doesn't appeal to you, you might find other options when the industry picks up. While a career with a major is unlikely, the bizjet industry is expected to grow significantly. Driving a Citation X seems like a cool gig to me.


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