How to Keep a Steady Pool of Flight Instructors

Becoming a certified flight instructor traditionally has been thought of as a mandatory stop on the career path for a hopeful ATP or commercial pilot. Sure, instructing is a good way to build time, but not everyone’s goal is to become an ATP or a pilot of a commercial jetliner. Reason being, we are not all motivated by the same things. Then why isn’t flight instruction considered a more viable professional option for students coming out of flight school? Without flight instructors, there is no aviation industry much like without elementary school teachers there is no finance, medical, real estate…really any industry. Yet, when it comes to teaching, it is difficult to point to a time when teachers were in short supply. So why is it so challenging to find CFI’s?

It comes down to two things: perception and pay, and frankly, the two are intertwined. To recent graduates, flight instructing is considered a part time, low pay, low benefit position. It is something THEY HAVE to do in order to become a pilot if they want to build hours at any kind of meaningful pace.  But what if we challenged that viewpoint by changing the pay structure of a CFI?  Charley Valera, Owner of FCA Flight Center recently posted an article where he stated that he has part time flight instructors that barely fly 3 days a week, not because of a shortage of students but because of a shortage of “available” CFI’s. Why are they unavailable? Like many part-time employees, CFIs have other jobs to subsidize part time wages that require commitment to a dedicated schedule. To keep intructors at the airport, what if flight schools demanded full time commitment with full time salary employment? 

At first thought that sounds like an expensive proposition considering flight school revenue is tied directly to the number of hours aircraft are flown. Truth be told, if you’re a flight school that isn’t flying at least 50 hours per month/aircraft you’ve either got to many aircraft or need to reconsider your recruitment efforts. If that is the case then finding CFI’s should not be on the top of your list of concerns.

Even still, full salary and benefits may be too expensive of a proposition, but what about a commission-based pay structure much like that of a sales rep? In addition to some baseline salary, CFI’s would be paid a commission for every flight hour they book. This not only changes the pay structure and perception of the position but it also acts as an additional motivator to get instructors to recruit more students (which could address your 50 hours per month problem). 

There is a certain level of status that comes with having a salary versus that hourly pay. In aviation, many are motivated by their passion for flight but never consider flight training as an option because the perceived value is much lower than that of someone who is a commercial pilot. If that is the case then let’s enable pilots to feed their passion for aviation through teaching the next generation and offer a pay structure that keeps them motivated to continue on in their role as an instructor. 

Passionate people make the best teachers because they tend to care about the longevity of the industry. As one CFI put it, “As a flight instructor you do more than just teach others to fly, you are directly responsible for promoting and advancing civilian aviation. By transforming ordinary people into pilots, you are insuring the continuation of one of our nation’s greatest freedoms, flight!”