Econ 101: A Flight Instructor Shortage Is The Best Thing For Aviation

Guest Post By, Stephen Lewis, aka "The Write Flier." A pilot since 1998, Steve holds two degrees in aviation and has worked as both a flight instructor and a regional airline pilot. Steve can be reached through his website, Writeflier.com.

In the cyclical nature that is the aviation industry, followers are generally accustomed to hearing about two recurring scenarios: 1. an airline hiring boom, or 2. a widespread industry layoff. Not surprisingly, such events spawn lesser-lamented developments; these being a flight instructor shortage or super saturation of the CFI community. While talk of a flight instructor shortage generates complaints from time to time, such occurrences are probably the best thing for the overall viability of the aviation industry.

Unless you’re brand new to aviation, you’re probably well aware that flight instructors for the most part are atrociously underpaid. True, there are the Rod Machados and John & Martha Kings of the world who seem to do okay, but such is not the case for the vast majority of practicing CFIs. Whether a given instructor teaches as a labor of love or as a means to an end on his/her way to the right seat of a regional, many CFIs need a second job just to keep the lights on.

A Personal Example

I’ve personally worked two CFI jobs; one under Part 61 for an FBO and the other at a Part 141 school. Neither offered any type of base pay, health insurance, or general assistance in helping me survive financially. At one company, the owners even tried to avoid paying us for our mandatory office hours (when a CFI needed to be present to answer any instruction-related questions from prospective clients). Their justification was that we should be thankful just to have the job and that, by some rite of passage; it was our duty as CFIs to allow ourselves to be financially exploited.

And Again

Sadly, my other CFI position was little better. This company charged customers a respectable $37.50 per hour of flight or ground instruction, of which the instructors were offered a paltry $13. I was able to dicker my way up to $14/hour, but not without serious resistance from the boss. Bear in mind I was not a green instructor. All full-time CFIs at our company were CFIIs/MEIs with prior instructional experience. However, due to the economic effects on the aviation industry, loads of qualified applicants were waiting in the wings to work for peanuts.

Econ 101

In both cases, my tenure as a CFI coincided with industry-wide furloughs and airline hiring stagnation. As a result, the nation’s supply of CFIs seeking employment skyrocketed. If you have even the slightest notion of the Law of Supply and Demand, you’re aware that an influx of prospective employees into the market works to drive down the wages flight schools can get by paying their CFIs. By contrast, a serious flight instructor shortage would provide practicing instructors a degree of bargaining power to demand adequate compensation.

A Perfect World

Try to imagine an aviation industry subject to a severe, persistent flight instructor shortage with no end in sight. Envision throngs of eager student pilots beating down the doors for someone to teach them to fly. With only a select group of able and willing CFIs, flight training firms would be forced to raise the rates they paid to instructors. Who knows? Perhaps a few companies might even offer benefits to entice their teachers to stick around.

Taking it a step further, imagine if CFIs were able to leverage their shameful $12,000/year compensation to the neighborhood of $30,000-35,000. Think what that would do to the regionals! With CFIs netting their due, many airline-bound pilots would take a serious look before pursuing a $19,000/year position in the right seat of an RJ. To fill their ranks, the airlines would then have to at least match what CFIs were earning. See where this is going? A severe flight instructor shortage would mean an industry-wide raise for pilots. While aviation managers might scoff at such a notion, it’s well past time CFIs and regional pilots were paid their worth.

If you follow my logic, present and future pro aviators should rejoice when they hear of a possible flight instructor shortage. Fewer CFIs, Econ 101, an industry-wide pay raise, what’s not to like? As the backbone of the entire industry, we owe it to our instructors to see they’re adequately compensated for their efforts.