The career advisor
I am sure that many of your readers are thinking about professional flying careers as either airline or corporate pilots. I am just wondering why you have not addressed CFI careers? It seems to me that teaching folks to fly can be one of the most rewarding careers that a flying enthusiast can pursue.--Edie from Tulsa, Oklahoma
From my perspective, teaching at a school such as Western Michigan University, Kent State, or University of Illinois is one of the best general aviation instructing gigs around. Granted, most schools hire their own graduates for a short period of time to give them that critical initial experience. However, most of those same institutions offer a solid employment track for individuals who seek an instructional career that includes benefits, stability, daily flying, and a very decent pay package.
One of the reasons that campus-based flight programs need tenured staff instructors is Federal Aviation Regulation 61.195, which requires that an instructor who trains an initial CFI must have held an instructor certificate for 24 months and have given 200 hours of flight training. In fact, with the hiring boom of 2007, flight universities, colleges, and some flight academies were in a real bind because they found themselves low on--or without--qualified CFIs to train other flight instructors.
An alternative is hooking up with one of the many fine flight academies that you can read about in this issue. Just thumb through the pages. A steady clientele means CFIs can usually fly as many hours as they want.
Of course, there is the local flight school at the airport down the road. Here, though, is a mixed bag. Some schools are vibrant and bustling with chances for advancement to Part 135 flying, for example. Yet at other schools, you might sit around the coffee pot for hours waiting for the next person to walk in and ask about flying lessons.
Historically, instructor pay has been abysmal. There are some institutions that still pay their CFIs $11 per hour. Yet others will pay $35,000 to $45,000 annually. Until recently, one Arizona school at Deer Valley Airport was offering a $5,000 signing bonus. Those decent salaries and signing bonuses were developed to induce CFIs to join the staff instructor ranks, prompted primarily by the outflow of school graduate instructors into the airlines. With airline furloughs the industry's responses to stratospheric oil prices, their impact will be felt at the schools' levels. You see, the jet carriers were hiring big time last year, so the RJ captains moved up to Continental, JetBlue, and Southwest. The RJ first officer then upgraded to the left seat and the new CFI filled the vacancy in the right seat.
Now that the upward movement has slowed, the new CFI at the college, academy, or local flight school is not quite in demand as in 2007. Hopefully, the pay will not slide back. The wild card is the RJ attrition created by pilots who just got fed up with the lifestyle and pay. One regional airline was said to be losing 60 pilots a month recently. So, there can still be some movement up the career ladder from the CFI rung.
For more information, go online and read "CFI of Higher Learning," January 2000 AOPA Flight Training, and "Big League CFI" (May 2003). The industry can use dedicated, career-oriented instructors. I'm glad you're taking a look. Have at it!
Send us your career question and we'll answer the best ones here. Sorry, but we are not able to provide individual responses. Wayne Phillips is an airline transport pilot with a Boeing 737 type rating. He is a B-737 instructor and operates the Airline Training Orientation Program in association with Continental Airlines. He is an aviation safety consultant in Michigan and speaker for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.