Becoming a CFI
The certificated flight instructor seems to evoke a love/hate response. Either pilots love the idea of teaching flying, or they dislike it so much that they will go to any length to avoid what they consider to be indentured servitude. I remember contemplating an instructor certificate when I had between 300 and 400 hours. I figured teaching would improve my flying, raise my confidence, and enable me to fly from the right seat, which I knew to be the starting point for most flying jobs in a big airplane with two pilots.
I never planned to teach flying, but I was offered a basic teaching position shortly after beginning instrument instructor training at a large San Francisco Bay-area flight school. So there I was, teaching mostly CFI students with the ink barely dry on my own certificate. I had little or no teaching experience. "Not to worry," said my boss. "You know exactly what's required to pass the CFI checkride because you just took it three weeks ago!"
I tried to act like an old pro and found it wasn't as hard as I thought. Because I had the certificate, I acquired the respect that came with it. No one knew how long I'd had it, and as long as I performed in a professional manner--voilà, instant credibility! One rowdy type didn't seem particularly happy to have me as an instructor. As we began our first lesson, he looked me up and down disapprovingly and said, "So how many students have you taught?" I said, "Well, here, just a few," not wanting to admit that "here" was my first teaching job.
Instructing gave me a good excuse to hang around at the airport, learn more about flying, and network with other pilots. Fortunately, I had several multiengine students and learned to stay alert during takeoff and landing. One memorable moment involved a new multiengine student yelling "You've got it!" as we careened off the runway toward the trees--and me with no right-side brakes! Recovering my composure, I grabbed the controls, steered us back onto the pavement, added takeoff power, and departed the area with my knees still shaking.
All instructors have both wonderful and scary stories to tell, but most agree that the learning experience is invaluable, particularly when dealing with captains in their future airline careers. Similarly, every airline captain I know will readily acknowledge the better job done by first officers who have worked as CFIs and understand the learning process from the inside out. So, if you're thinking about a future as a professional pilot, consider becoming a CFI. You'll be surprised at its many benefits.
Capt. Karen Kahn is the author of Flight Guide for Success: Tips and Tactics for the Aspiring Airline Pilot and a career counselor. A Master CFI and 30-year airline pilot, she flies the Boeing 757 and 767 for a major U.S. carrier.