I am a Certificated Flight Instructor. I’m proud of that fact.
The CFI ticket is a highly sought after indication of capability that opens the door for many of us to our first professional gig as a pilot. It takes considerable study and focus to earn a CFI ticket, or the instrument instructor (CFII), or the multi-engine instructor (MEI) certification.
Oddly enough, for all the effort that goes into earning a CFI certificate, the position of flight instructor is often derided as an entry-level job held almost entirely by a collection of selfish, self-absorbed weasels who have minimal interest in their clients.
It’s mischaracterized as the domain of low-quality, unskilled, often disinterested pilots who want nothing more than to log enough hours to move on to the airlines.
To some extent that belief is bolstered by the actions of a fraction of those who hold the ticket. Many of my flight school classmates earned their CFI, but few held onto it after they found their way to the cockpit of some big iron bird with an actual company name emblazoned on the side. The paychecks got bigger, the time spent away from home got longer, life intervened and — before you know it — the CFI ticket they’d worked so hard to earn had lapsed. It happens.
I’ll propose this: A professional pilot allowing their CFI certificate to expire is not much different than the average GA pilot falling into Rusty Pilot status.
It’s not a planned event. It’s not intended to shrug off a workload or an obligation the individual no longer has an interest in.
Rather, it’s a perfectly understandable phenomenon that occurs simply because the act of flying, or instructing, has become a low enough priority on the individual’s to-do list that it falls away entirely.
What’s almost universal about both conditions is the longing to get back to flying or instructing. Few of us give up what we’ve worked so hard for without a pang of regret now and then. For some of us, that twinge of remorse festers and bothers us until we actually find a way to get back in the game.
Perhaps if we reconsidered the value of the CFI, like the ability to fly at all, fewer of us would let it lapse. And if that were the case, perhaps the image of the CFI could be reborn as a brighter, more uplifting position filled by men and women with a real passion for flying, and teaching, and inspiring others.
Holding a CFI is far more valuable than simply providing a stepping stone into the world of the professional pilot. It’s also your hedge against unemployment.
The airline industry has always been a shaky proposition. Many of the big name airlines of my youth are gone now. They’ve gone bankrupt, or been bought up by other airlines. Or the market shifted and they simply died off.
Their pilots found themselves moving up, or moving laterally, moving down, or in many cases moving out. For those with an active CFI certificate, work was and will continue to be available no matter what. There’s always a need for CFIs. Yes, there is.
CFIs have the ability to move from the transport environment to the training environment and back again, almost at will. That extra ticket in your wallet can mean the difference between being on the unemployment line and being in the pilot’s lounge. There may be a pay-cut involved, or their may not be. It all depends on the deal you fall into, or make for yourself.
Having a CFI is better than not having one. Enhanced employment opportunities are only one good reason to earn it and keep it. The ability to mentor others is a pretty darned good reason to hang onto your CFI, too.
I was fortunate enough to fly for a horrible flight school owner at one point in my career, who taught me a lot of what you shouldn’t do if you want to be successful.
Later, I flew for a man named Frank Gallagher who became a lifelong friend. Frank taught me how to be a CFI. Not just how to hold the ticket and punch the clock, he taught me how to find clients, how to treat them with respect, how to encourage them to improve their performance, and even how to help them overcome their fears and financial concerns.
Holding the ticket is one thing. Doing the job is another. Thanks to Frank, and a handful of other mentors I’ve met along the way, I got good at being a CFI. I’m proud of that. Certainly I’m not the best or the bravest pilot in the world, but I’m a darned good teacher. It’s gratifying work.
Like so many others, I let my CFI expire once upon a time. I did it out of annoyance, to be honest. So many people were asking me to sign their logbook off for a flight review, without actually flying together, I just gave up.
I hated the frustration factor of having to explain that a flight review means something. If you want my signature in your book, we’re going to spend some time on the ground talking, and planning, and quizzing. We’re going to go fly for at least an hour, too. Maybe more, depending on your ability to control the airplane and make good decisions about what you’ll do with it. So in a snit of exasperation I let my CFI expire. Oops.
Like so many others, I regretted it almost immediately. The solution was to add on a seaplane rating, then jump in the instructor’s seat for another hour of dual, followed by a CFI reinstatement check-ride. One white sheet of paper later, I was back in the CFI saddle, and I intend to stay here for a good long time.
I’m not looking for an airline gig. I’m not holding myself out as Bob Hoover Jr. I’m just a reasonably capable pilot with a commercial ticket and a CFI ticket who is proud of what he does.
Is that really so bad?