Where are the instructors?

No matter where in aviation you look, it seems the hot topic is making new pilots. Or that the pilot population is aging. We, as pilots, need to hurry up and make more before our airports all disappear.

I own a small flight school in Massachusetts called FCA Flight Center operating out of Fitchburg (KFIT). For us, the problem surely isn’t new students, it’s getting CFIs to train them. There seems to be a larger hole in CFI ranks than in students. I’ve searched high and low all over the Internet with no luck, including a website designated for CFIs to job search. We currently have six part-time instructors. Nonetheless, we do not have any working three days per week. The planes sit on the ground on beautiful flying days.

As far as I’ve researched, we’re the highest paying flight school in the area for CFIs. The camaraderie here is great. The competition is friendly. When the instructors aren’t flying with students, they fly together out for dinner or currency.

We also have a thriving active pilot’s association on the field with more than 120 members. The Fitchburg Pilots Association EAA chapter 1415 has monthly meetings with anywhere from 50 to 200 attendees. CFIs and pilots here have no trouble making friends.

Once the CFI issue has been solved and flight training is being provided properly, we have two items left I can see to bring GA over the top. First would be to provide help to all airports to have a thriving pilot’s association. We need leaders to bring them together. That’s when pilots fly more and fly safe. Next would be marketing. General aviation fails tremendously in this area. Just try telling someone not in aviation you’re going to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for a week in July and you’ll see what I mean. It’s the best kept secret in the world. Boats, motorcycles, and even gun clubs market themselves better than we do. It’s about time we ask our friends like Harrison Ford and Morgan Freeman to help us market GA to the general public.

Charley Valera, owner FCA Flight Center

20 thoughts on “Where are the instructors?

  1. WOW! I know I want to teach once I get all my ratings, the thrill of flying with new people who are trying to kill you and survive. I’m not trying to be mean, but I know what I did to my instructors.

  2. Wow Mr. Valera. I would be curious to know how much you pay your CFIs because I just earned my CFI certificates. Actually, I just took a CFI position down at KBAF, just a stone’s throw away from KFIT. So far it’s been a very rewarding experience not to mention a real blast, and I still can’t believe that I’m actually getting paid to fly. I do have to mention though, the huge elephant in the room when discussing flight training is the huge cost barrier. $150 to $200 per instruction hour is a huge reason new younger students are not entering the GA community. Until some of the cost issues (avgas, insurance, certification) are addressed, I don’t see any appreciable increase in the CFI ranks.

    • Depends on where you’re located in the US. The school I’m at pays $26 hr for flight and $13 for flight and to my knowledge that’s the highest in the state of Indiana. One school I know of pays minimum wage. Needless to say they have an issue with retention. The issue that I’ve seen is more of quality vs quantity. Instructors are not hard to find around here but a lot struggle with explaining basic airspace.

  3. A couple suggestions from a 40-year Instructor, the first ten years as a flight school-FBO owner with 25 trainers on the line, 12 full-time and several part-time CFIs working longer than they should each day here in Minnesota, the last thirty years as a part-time CFI for a series of flying clubs:
    First, hire CFIs on salary! Second, lower your instruction hourly cost severely. The actual cost per hour doesn’t need to be that high for the student, especially in this recession climate, nobody I know makes forty or fifty dollars an hour these days, so you can’t blame them for not liking to pay that kind of money, especially for ground time. Both you as the operator and the CFIs themselves can offer the lowest rates in the state, while being the busiest and keeping the most money each day of flying. Isn’t that the goal? People around here think $25 an hour for flying time and $15 for ground work is a steal and won’t, on the other hand, even consider paying $50 an hour! Yes, you’ve got a business to run with overhead,etc and planes are downright expensive, but the busier the CFI, the happier the CFI and the students, flying begets more flying and the net is what you’re both after and more hours at less an hour may very well be good pay. Try a salary and expect your CFI to be full-time sales person, he or she will find more students than you can handle and their students will have the luxury of having sufficient time to really feel they can ask a question and have their CFI give them a good and thorough answer. They’ll tell all their buddies, back in the early 1970′s, there were students falling from the trees, but there were so many flight schools, we all drove the price into the ground. Now, there’s little competition, so have at it. Good Luck.

  4. Neil, I’m open to anything that works. Tough to pay a salary. Feel free to call me at 978-345-0373 and we can discuss further. We currently pay $25 an hour. That’s quite good for this area. We have some contract flights that I pay the instructors more.
    Quality CFIs are very difficult to find. Seems to be a current problem these days. A forum like this might help recognize the issues. A face to face meeting would be better. I flew to NJ to attend the AOPA seminar for flight schools and CFI’s. It was a good start of a good idea, but thats it. I get the feeling the issues are easier solved than we are thinking.
    I’ve advertised on climbto350.com and the NAFI site. Not much from either. A couple from Climb.
    Stay tuned as we hunt for two part time CFIs. Or so…
    Charley

    • One thing that seems to be tough in Minnesota is locating instructors and planes: I’m a ~200 hr pilot, and I know there are at least a couple dozen CFIs that work out of my airport (because I hear them on the radio, and see their planes in the pattern working on landing), but have no idea how to get ahold of any of those not members of my flying club or working with the local flight schools. At my initial flight school, instructors ranged from literally word of mouth (“call this guy” with a scribbled phone number), to business cards in the FBO, to CFIs with email addresses and web pages (or at least Facebook).

      I’d be very very happy if there were a clearinghouse of some sort to find CFIs: I’m currently looking for a CFII.

      The schools have planes (which may become available via Rod Rakic’s openairplane.com project), but generally require a recurring checkout, and I -usually- fly my club’s planes, but sometimes need something when ours are busy.

      • Let me also say, that as a student with budget to fly that I will happily pay a premium for a competent, professional instructor who is sufficiently committed to instruction that they will work with a student to find a good way for that student to learn quickly and completely. I tend to learn most quickly through concrete examples or scenarios, and appreciate being able to ask questions as they come up.

        It seems that the best instructors are in such high demand that they don’t need to advertise.

  5. The issue is where are the CHEAP instructors.
    $25/hr is cheap for a trained professional who is directly liable for the life of their client, working in arguably the most strictly regulated industry in the country.
    Please check my math but $46/hr is an 84% markup on your direct labor cost of $25/hr. Are you providing health benefits, retirement, unemployment insurance or some other cost that requires you to mark up the cost of labor so much? I’d bet the answer is a big NO.
    Two suggestions for you. 1. Unload your airplanes on some owners willing to sign a leaseback and maintenance agreement, thereby providing you with capital, zero monthly costs and usually some guaranteed income from their scheduled mx.
    2. Get a light twin to lure low-time CFIs to your school. You can offer them a ‘discount’ rate for the twin that they can pay for with their flight hours.

  6. Hello Charley, I worked part- and full-time for several years at a large school closer to Boston, as a second career/hobby job. I miss it, and would love to do it again. But… I had a few personal reasons for stopping, such as moving further away and hating the commute, but there were some broader issues. Charging by hobbs time and >20 min ground sessions, my effective rate in terms of hours at the airport (including wx cancellations) was probably not half my hourly pay. Add an unpleasant commute and it just wasn’t acceptable after a while. The “Savvy Flight Instructor” book’s block time idea is more appealing. Student pays for time from when they walk in to walk out, and during that time they have my undivided attention unless we agree otherwise. It’s then my job to make that worth it. Good golf pros seem to make about $60/hr, by the way. What’s wrong here? Second, no health benefits. Living in MA helps that, but… the rest of you better vote D, not R. The best thing for small business in the USA would be medicare for all. Third, liability. Most CFIs rely on poverty to avoid that, and I’m not poor. Max liability insurance was $1M/year, and I had students with 8- and 9-figure net worth. And even that cost at least $1000/year, a big chunk of a part-timer’s income. Working for a big-rep school with new aircraft and trying to be way more careful than everyone else helped. But it only goes so far; sooner or later the meteor hits your solo student, it’s your fault, and the lawyers go where the money is. (e.g.: the Sept AOPA Pilot mag p. 76 story about Cirrus). I never found a foolproof defense against dumb juries for my personal circumstances.

  7. Hire an instructor as an independent who will charge their own rate. They do their own advertising and bring in a lot of clients! They keep your airplanes flying. You could charge the instructor an annual fee of $150 to use your facility.
    Treat the instructor as a client, since they put bread on your table everyday. dont make them wear funky uniforms or weired stuff. Comfortable clothing is key! Put the logo of your flight school on an ID that they can wear, but stay away from making them wear company issued shirts/pants!
    Lastly, maybe look at your work rules/ environment. Maybe you should not be too concerned with how much $$ a cfi makes, but to provide safe and clean airplanes, clean and modern facilities, have a multi trainer, an AATD, and clean bathrooms. That kind of thing attracts cfi’s like honey atteacts bees!
    I am an independant instructor and that is what i look for. Good luck
    Matthias

  8. Well I don’t buy the Flight Instructor shortage or for that matter the Pilot shortage for one second, I been hearing about this “Shortage” for the close to forty years I have been flying. Almost all Flight Instructor jobs will pretty much qualify you for food stamps. And that is a fact. I got over 3000 dual instruction logged, but I am not young anymore either. With A CFI with airplanes and helicopters instruments for both two, and with 3.50 I can buy a cup of coffee at dunkin.

  9. . When I learned to fly, 50 years ago, anyone with an decent job could not only learn to fly, but could afford to own a decent used airplane. Those days are gone, never to come back. Only people with above average financial resources can do it today. I am an independent instructor that get $60.00 per hrs air or ground. It is honorable to see someone that is willing to teach for less, but they are not really helping the industry.

  10. I am a CFI,II.MEI as well as a retired Airline and Military instructor. I have my own medical and retirement accounts. $60/hour including ground instruction is a bargain for an FBO however that is the going rate. My email is ralennen@yahoo.com.

  11. Thanks for all the input. But since I’ve written this, I’ve interviewed two CFI’s that couldn’t land a 152 better than a student. I’m not being sarcastic. I had them fly with my instructors and that was their report.
    I’m all open to using a new pay scale or new ideas. But the cost of flying, between fuel, insurance and maintenance is the majority of our costs.
    We need more help in these areas to stay healthy and keep flying affordable.
    Or doing much more business than we are currently doing. Bu tough with a lack of quality instructors that have the time to teach. We have great CFIs! But busy with other jobs and life.
    Check out the Facebook page for flight school owners from AOPA.

    Charley

  12. Here’s my 0.02: The flight school I went to, most of the CFI’s are either a referral from a CFI that already worked there or were former students themselves. That’s one of the reasons that attracted to go to them. They way I figured, if the CFI pool are made of people that actually want to work with each other–and more importantly–with the school, I should get a good education. However, I’ve also seen a shift in the flight school as of late. Most of the current CFI’s, you cannot trace the referral chain if you will.

    I would suggest starting with asking your existing CFI pool what would it take for them to work for you full time. Make sure that you as the FBO owner make them feel that you want them to bear their heart to you. I think if you get them working full time, they’ll eventually start asking other CFI’s they know to work for you. Then at least you know you’re getting people that have similar skills to your current CFI pool.

  13. I agree with the uniform/company clothing comment. Most of them look like fast food outfits.

    Also, the FAA needs to stop hazing CFI applicants with 16 hour orals. Paradoxically, the quality of the average CFI has not improved. When you make something excessively difficult, you don’t get the most qualified; you get the most desperate.

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