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Asked by: Christopher Goodman
Flight Instructor, General Aviation
I am interested in becoming a Pilot and becoming a Career CFI. I am wondering how much I can expect to bring home. Basically, is it monetarily worth it to completely change careers for this?
Jeff on Apr 24, 2013
Unfortunately, not much. Pay is anywhere from $15-$50 an hour. Generally it’s on the lower end when working for a flight school, and on the higher end when working independently. The benefit of a flight school is that you can generally expect to log more time, as students are usually readily available. As an independent you’ll have to find students on your own, and also find aircraft to train in.
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Donnie on Apr 25, 2013
That pay rate seems about right. And you typically are only paid when you’re instructing. It’s generally not a 40hrs/wk job … except perhaps at the busiest of flight schools.
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Wes Beard on Apr 25, 2013
Some career CFIs specialize in a certain product and can charge much higher rates for that knowledge. One CFI stated he was willing to teach people how go use the airplane for vacations. He would be hired to fly around the United States with a client teaching Jim operational flight knowledge they didn’t get staying at one airport.
Another specialized in a specific airplane Beech Bonanzas and was an expert, when through factory training. Another was an expert with the Garmin G1000 software and maximizing its use.
Come up with a great idea and it could pay you well.
on Apr 25, 2013
As pointed out, it depends. As a new CFI probably on the scale discussed by Jeff. More experienced, better flight school (to include yourself as a “flight school”), the pay can actually be okay. Nothing that will make you the richest person in the grave yard, but enough to pay the bills and retire while doing something you love.
In real estate they talk about “Location, location and location.” As a CFI I would say it is “Reputation, reputation and reputation.” The reputation you get from loving your profession and striving to be the best you can be; giving every student the best instruction you can to include prebriefs and post briefs; learning as much about aviation as you can; publishing… the ways of gaining the reputation are endless, both good and bad.
At first you will want to gain the broad depth of aviation knowledge good instructors are expected to have- aerodynamics, systems, weather, etc. Then as you find something you love, specialize as was written above.
In some locations I got to the point where I flew as much as I wanted as often as I wanted with whom I wanted and charged $50/hour to do so.
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Jim F. on May 05, 2013
Well, let’s apply a bit of basic math here and apply it to reality:
Let’s use $30/hr. which, from my experience, is actually on the higher end. Per FAA regulations, you can only do up to 8 hrs. of flight instruction per day (24 hr. period), but I rarely see that cutoff met.
So, $30 x 8hrs. = $240/day x 365 days = $87,600/yr.
Now, let’s say you want weekends off, so you loose 104 days, or $24,960, bringing your total income down to $62,640/yr.
Now, let’s assume you don’t want to move to Arizona to get great weather, but want to stay in your home on the east coast, for example. Let’s say you average another day every week that you can’t fly, so that’s another 52 days, or $12,480, bringing your salary down to $50,160/yr.
But now, you have to pay income tax (unless, of course, you choose to live in one of the awesome 7 states). Looks like the Feds will take about 25%, so you loose $12,540, bringing your salary down to $37,620/yr.
Now, judging by how much the full-time instructors actually end up flying per day at the busy school I work at, this example is on the high end of both flown hours and per hour pay. Now, you can supplement that with ground instruction for the students. That being said, I don’t believe it’s a very large amount. Let’s say an average of 10 hours of ground per week, at the same rate.
10 hrs. x 52 weeks = 520 hrs. x $30/hr. = $15,600/yr. – 25% income tax = $11,700/yr. Add that to your flight instruction income, and we have a grand total salary of $49,320/yr.
Let’s put that into perspective with the cost of actually becoming a CFI, assuming the minimum number of hours are done. So that’s 250 hours minimum, and let’s say those cost you $130/hr. ($100 for the plane and $30 bucks for the instructor.) That’s gonna cost about $32,500 MINIMUM to become a CFI. And trust me when I stress that. I’d wager that most people will be quite a bit above that 250 hrs, and will be paying more for the plane and CFI.
Now, while this may sound like I’m being negative about you wanting to become a CFI, I’m not. I think it’s extremely admirable, and would be very much liked by students. I have had about 25 instructors just for my private, instrument, and commercial instruction. This high turnover if because many instructors are only there to build time for a while until they can leave for airlines and such. I think having/being a dedicated career CFI would be a huge asset to any flight school, and would greatly help you should you want to go on your own. Just keep in mind that you should probably have a secondary income to help support yourself, at least for the first couple years of this endeavor until you become more established and can broaden your horizons.
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