Last time we left off with you having recently become a Commercial, Multi-Engine, Instrument-rated pilot. If you haven’t read the article, From Intro Flight to Your First Paycheck, it is a good starting point. Your freshly minted pilot certificate is burning a hole in your pocket! But what jobs can you realistically hope to land now? Can you go hop into the left seat of a Boeing 767 flying to London? Not quite. Like most things, aviation requires that you build empirical knowledge and experience to move forward.
Wait, I’m a commercial pilot, right?
While you are able to earn money flying aircraft with a commercial pilot certification, there is yet another, higher, level of certification known as the “ATP.” The Airline Transport Pilot Certificate provides another level of certification which is attainable at 1500 hours. Most jet jobs require the ATP certificate, so first jobs often allow pilots to gain experience, or “build-time,” as a pathway to a better paying job, flying turbofan jets.
There are many jobs you might be able to land after earning your Commercial Pilot Certificate, and we will discuss several of them here at GoEightOh. First, this article will discuss the pros and cons of earning your Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) and providing flight instruction, which is one of many paths in an aviation career.
Overview of Certificated Flight Instructor or “CFI”
A CFI provides flight and ground instruction to students for a variety of ratings and certifications, as well as for currency requirements and aircraft rental “check-outs.” Private, Instrument, Commercial, Multi-Engine, CFI, and even ATP training are commonly provided at many flight schools. More specialized forms of flight instruction might include seaplane training, mountain-flying, or aerobatic instruction. Flight Instructing is often a natural choice for many budding professional pilots, as a new commercial pilot typically has been immersed in the training world and likely has ties to a flight school. It’s not uncommon for a new commercial pilot to quickly earn his Flight Instructor Ratings (Certificated Flight Instructor, CFII (CFI-Instrument), and/or CFIME (CFI-Multi-Engine)) and begin working alongside his old instructor only weeks later. In fact, many schools offer preferential hiring to former students as an incentive to train there.
What are the Pros of Flight Instruction?
Flight instruction can be a great avenue for both time-building and forming a solid foundational base for a pilot career. Regarding time-building, however, it’s important to remember that a rising tide raises all ships. It is hard to log flight experience if the flight school does not support much business. Carefully consider the school where you choose to work. If you previously trained there, you will likely have a sense of how busy the school is. However, here are some key considerations:
Does the schedule look full? Are there often students and instructors present when you show up? Are there multiple aircraft in the fleet that allow you to keep flying during maintenance events? Are there connections to flying clubs, ROTC programs, or colleges that create a steady stream of business? Within reason, does the management support your development as a pilot? Are there opportunities for advanced training or experience such as instructing in a multi-engine aircraft?
These considerations are all secondary to safety and legality. It goes without saying that if you have knowledge of unsafe operations, or corner-cutting of any kind, it’s best to keep looking.
Regarding knowledge, flight instructing helps solidify the fundamentals. It is difficult to teach any subject unless one knows the material very well. This forces a CFI to review the material again and again. Whether reviewing aerodynamics, regulations, weather, or maneuvers, the sheer repetition of flight instruction helps the instructor master the material herself. Often, CFIs discover that their weak areas improve through the act of teaching. A solid foundation built in the training environment will pay dividends as you progress into more advanced aircraft and more complex environments.
What are the Cons of Flight Instruction?
Not everyone is a teacher. For many, the thought of spending more time in the south practice area practicing stall series ad nauseam makes their skin crawl. “I just spend so much time and money training, let’s get this show on the road!” The desire to move on to the next level of flying can be all-consuming. To this group, it can be extremely frustrating if flight instructing is the only available opportunity. To these “do-ers,” they see little value in “flight training 2.0.” They want to move into bigger, more complex aircraft that fly in an operational environment (these types of jobs will be discussed in following articles.) This is where you build real experience, they argue. Flying freight in a Beech Baron, for example, exposes the new commercial pilot to major international airports and true cross-country experience where one must make critical decisions based on weather and countless other variables. Real flying!
This exposes a con of flight instructing. It can be boring. Monotonous even. While it fortifies the pilot’s theoretical knowledge, sometimes it fails to provide robust, real-world experience. Fuel planning? Flights rarely last more than an hour, so planning for max endurance is often only a book exercise. Weather rolling in? We won’t go. we’ll do ground instead. Again, the invaluable experience of an enroute weather diversion is just a theoretical ground lesson. The “density” of the line pilot’s flight hours can often exceed those of a CFI without real-world commercial flying experience.
Finally, another drawback to getting your CFI can be the cost. For the new commercial pilot, there is light at the end of the tunnel! You can legally make money now flying airplanes. Hallelujah! But wait, I need to spend more money on ratings just to get a job?! This can be very aggravating, if not a deal-breaker entirely. Perhaps the line of credit or loan is tapped out, or the bank account is empty. Coughing up another $10,000.00 for the initial CFI rating only may not be an option. Also, consider the cost of maintaining it in the future. A CFI renewal course every two years costs even more money. The requirement of a CFI rating can certainly be an impediment to a flight instructing job.
The bottom line is that flight instruction as a first flying job is dependent on two fundamental things:
1. your personality, desire and aptitude for flight instruction, and
2. your external circumstances (e.g. finances, jobs available, etc.)
Is being a CFI a good first flying job, or not? This question has as many correct answers as new commercial pilots who have asked it. It ultimately comes down to you. There are 1,000 ways to get to the top of the mountain, or in this case, into the flight deck. Flight instructing is just one of many great options to a fulfilling career in aviation.
Good luck and Go Eight Oh.