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Creative compensation packages could attract, retain CFIsCreative compensation packages could attract, retain CFIs

As flight schools struggle to hire and retain CFIs, flight instructor compensation packages might have to become more creative, according to the results of a compensation trends survey conducted by the Flight School Association of North America.

The survey queried participants about compensation levels, benefits, how instructors are paid, what environments (fixed-base operators, independent instructors, collegiate/university training) the training was provided in, and whether instructors are considered staff or independent contractors, said Jason Blair, a designated pilot examiner and flight instructor in Michigan who presented the survey findings on Feb. 10 at the Flight School Association of North America’s annual meeting. Surveys were sent to about 1,700 persons, with 104 responses received.

Independent flight instructors made up 43.2 percent of the respondents. Stand-alone academy-style training providers represented 23 percent. Fixed-base operators represented 18.2 percent, college or university programs made up 5.7 percent, and CFIs who provided simulator-based instruction represented 1.9 percent. There were 7.6 percent of respondents who said they represented some other type of operation.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they are having problems finding enough instructors to meet customer demand, or are having difficulty finding experienced, qualified instructors. Just 31 percent said they have no problems hiring enough qualified CFIs.

The majority (40.3 percent) of respondents said flight instructors earn between $21 and $30 per hour. Another 14.4 percent said they earn between $31 and $40 per hour. There were 10.5 percent of respondents who said CFIs earn between $41 and $50 per hour, while another 10.5 percent said instructors earn between $15 and $20 per hour. For 7.6 percent of respondents, $51 to $60 is the hourly rate, and 3.8 percent said they earn between $76 and $100 per hour. One percent of respondents said they earn more than $100 per hour, and another 1 percent said they earn less than $15 per hour. Finally, 6.7 percent of respondents said instructors were paid a salary versus an hourly rate.

Health care benefits were not widely provided to survey participants (just 21 percent), but more than half of survey respondents reported that they receive discounted flight time, while 23.1 percent said they receive reduced rate or free educational coursework. Twenty-one percent said they receive paid vacation time, while 18.9 percent said they receive paid holidays, and 17.8 percent reported paid sick days. There were 36.8 percent of respondents who said they receive some other unspecified type of benefit in addition to compensation.

Meanwhile, a significant percentage of respondents (34.6 percent) said they’re asked to perform ancillary duties (marketing, cleaning facilities, even landscaping) but aren’t compensated for that work. There were 27.8 percent of respondents who said they don’t perform additional services, while 20.1 percent said they do the extra work and are compensated at a lower level than for instruction; 10.5 percent said they perform additional work and are compensated at the same rate as for instruction.

These practices can play a key role in retaining flight instructors, Blair said. “Is your flight instructor the lowest person on your payroll?” he asked the group.

With the regional airlines hiring at a rapid pace, the demand for flight instructors will continue as pilots reach 1,500 hours and move up the career ladder, Blair noted. While Part 141 schools generally have a supply of their own students that they can hire, Part 61 schools might labor to hire flight instructors, he said.

Here’s where creative compensation practices can give a prospective employer an edge, Blair said. Checkride bonuses and different billing structures for different types of instruction are two methods anecdotally cited by survey respondents, he said. Additionally, employers might consider some type of arrangement that helps CFIs remain current and keep their certification, he said. “Some employers are offering interesting compensation benefits, typically with service contracts,” he said. “A few are paying for [employees’] training. A few are paying for the initial CFI.”

The complete survey may be viewed at the association’s website.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Flight School, Pilot Training and Certification

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