Many flight school managers have opposed the use of graduated charges for flight instruction. “I don’t want to give my customers the message that some of our CFIs aren’t as good as others,” they say. That’s a legitimate concern; those offering multiple CFI rates must clearly differentiate instructors by title or capability so that customers can understand the differences.
A conversation identified for me the first CFI group who will likely command higher fees than rank-and-file instructors, whether flight school operators like it or not.
“You’ve been warning me for a long time about the CFI shortage,” said my friend, a longtime flight school owner, “and up ’til now I thought I was immune to it. But the shortage has finally hit me. I’ve just lost three flight instructors in one week!”
“That’s a rough way to buy in,” I said, “and unfortunately I don’t know any available CFIs in the area to refer at this moment.”
“Oh, that’s not why I’m calling,” said my friend. “I’ve got several students already lined up to earn their flight instructor certificates and go right to work. All I need is a good ‘super-CFI’ to train them over the next couple weeks. Who can you recommend?” The fact is that my buddy may have a rough time finding that special instructor anytime soon.
“Super-CFI,” as you may know, is aviation slang for instructors who have held their certificates for at least two years and have given appropriate dual instruction to qualify under the regs for training new flight instructors.
When you consider that today’s airline-bound CFIs rarely stick around the flight school for even a year before moving on, it’s easy to see why finding super-CFIs to train their replacements is becoming more difficult than spotting Clark Kent in a phone booth.
This problem is aggravated by the fact that initial flight instructor training requires a disproportionate amount of ground instruction compared to other certificates, meaning time-builders don’t like to do it. And with the pass rate for initial flight instructor applicants much lower than for other ratings, only a certain breed of instructor enjoys the challenges of doing such training. No wonder CFI-instructors are increasingly difficult to find.
When you think about it, there are still plenty of super-CFIs around who qualify under the regulations. The problem is that they’re either gainfully employed elsewhere, or they’re inactive and hard to identify. As supply tightens, those folks will find increasing demand for their services, to the degree that a thriving freelance market may well spring up, almost like that for independent designated pilot examiners. A business opportunity is developing for ambitious super-CFIs to offer group CFI ground schools and market their flight training services to all takers around any given locality.
If that’s what it takes to keep our CFI pool intact, great, but think of the business benefits to offering such programs in-house. Supply and demand dictates that we treat talented super-CFIs like the special people they are if we want to keep them flying on our payrolls and staffing us with instructors. That likely means recognizing their status by paying them a premium. Whether it comes out of overhead or we charge more for their services, we’re going to have to make it worthwhile for super-CFIs to keep instructing instead of moving on, to instruct on days off from other jobs, or to return to instructing from inactive status.
In short, if you’ve been considering establishing more than one instructional rate, “flight instructor dual” may be the first place to do it. Charge more for those super-CFIs so you can pay them well enough to attract them and then keep them around.
After all, there are only so many Clark Kents and so many phone booths. And we need all the flight training superheroes that we can get.
Greg Brown is a former national CFI of the year. This story originally appeared in a previous edition of Flight School Business.