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How do I become a CFI?

Posted by on October 8, 2008 15 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog Tags :

Steve from New York just sent me a question about how to become an flight instructor:

I want to train to be a CFI as a second career and I’m perplexed about the steps to take. I want thorough training so that I can be a professional CFI and be able train with confidence. I’m currently hold a Private with Instrument but I am not current for IFR. What should I do? I live in NYC area cost and time are important.

Well, first of all Steve, you have made a great choice to be a flight instructor.  General aviation right now is really hurting for CFIs, especially those who might make flight instruction their profession and treat the position with respect instead of just a stepping stone in a career.

If I were to meet with you and give you a career coaching path that would take you from where you are today to a CFI, here are the steps that I would recommend.  This is assuming that you have the commercial pilot time requirements met, and your goal is to instruct primary (private) students in airplane single-engine land only.

1) Find a good, experienced professional flight instructor.  Ask at your local FBO, pilot club, and airport for someone who has a few gray hairs and very flexible hours.  You’ll want someone who comes highly recommended. In order to train potential CFIs, they need to make sure they meet the requirements of 14 CFR 61.195 (h).

2) Start work on your commercial certificate ASAP.  Sit down with your instructor and go over the commercial pilot experience requirements and then set a realistic goal and the steps for completion. If your goal is to get into the right seat quickly as an instructor, just focus on your single-engine commercial license for now.  Reference 61.121 thru 61.133 for more information about the commercial pilot requirements.

3) Immediately begin work on your CFI. The requirements to be a CFI is that you are 18 yrs. old, a commercial pilot’s license and a third-class medical (for airplanes).  You’ll have to complete TWO knowledge tests.  One on FOI (fundamentals of instruction) AND an addtional flight / ground instructor knowledge test.  You can see the rest of the requirements by visiting 14 CFR 61.181 thru 61.199.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention anything about becomming instrument current or getting a multi-engine rating.  That’s because neither of those things are necessary to become a CFI.  As long as you have a instrument rating, you will be able to get both a commercial and flight instructor certificate.  Of course, at some point you will still need to become instrument current to act as a PIC on a instrument flight plan but you can probably work your instrument recency requirements during either your commercial or instructor training.

You’re also not required to have a multi-engine rating to instruct either.  You won’t be able to instruct or fly a multi-engine airplane, but if your goal is just to instruct in a single-engine airplane, all you need is a commercial and instructor certificate (they are seperate) and a third class medical.

Once you have your CFI, you’re ready to start teaching!  A flight school will make sure you get checked out in their airplane.  Once your employed (even part-time) you may also find that the flight school will help you with your multi-engine ratings and additional instructor instrument rating so you can give instrument training.

If you goal is to become a successful and in-demand CFI, there is a great book written titled “The Savvy Flight Instructor” by Gregory N. Brown.  Great book about the business aspect of being a flight instructor.  Highly recommended read if you want to know about how to treat student pilots as customers and clients, instead of just “students”.  (I wish more schools required their CFIs to read this book)

Again, I appalaud the steps you are willing to take to become a CFI.  If you have any questions, you can comment on this post and I’ll be happy to address them.

Like always…

Fly Safe


  1. Bret on Oct 09, 2008

    Dont forget to mention the Lesson plans!!!

    That’s the part Im completely puzzled about, I have a few big bingers of previous students lessons plans, but even that, im completely lost and overwhelemd where to begin there are hundreds!!


  2. Mark on May 22, 2009

    Thank you very much for posting your well thought out response to Steve of NY. For reasons I can’t explain I’ve always been enthusiastic as a teacher (of other fields) and now that I’m flying it seems the CFI bug as bitten deep. It’s a lofty goal since I’m only a student… but one can dream, right?

    – Mark

  3. roger richardson on Nov 15, 2009

    I am a 2100 hour private, instrument, sel,mel pilot. I am color blind and have a limitation for night flight on my class III medical and cannot qualify for a class II medical. Can I still go for a commercial rating and CFI and instruct? Please advise.

  4. yusef alsaeed on Jan 10, 2011

    @roger richardson yes you can , my CFI is color blind , he instructed me all the way to my CPL with the exception that my night training was done by another CFI. but he still did night flights with me after my private because i was PIC

  5. Leslie H on Jul 16, 2011

    I’m a 43 yo retired homeshool mom 🙂 I’ve been interested in flying since I was 12 when I had my first discovery flight. The idea of learning to fly always seemed out of reach so I just put in on the farthest back burner (really took it off the stove). When I began to realize that homeshooling would really end, I thought I might be able to put flying “back on the stove”. I’m still unsure at the point because flying does cost though I have a pilot friend willing to get me started. Thanks for your info. If CFIs are in demand, perhaps female ones are even more. I just wanna get in the sky, no career stepping, & instructing seems the best way.

  6. Brad on Oct 09, 2011

    Very informative!! Thanks for the info.

  7. Venus Savage on Aug 26, 2012

    The other side of the coin: CFIs may be in demand (which is perhaps overly optimistic assertion), but it costs a lot to become one, and the pay is abysmal.

    And since there aren’t that many locations to choose from, relocation is a very real possibility.

    It’s also, for the most part, seasonal, which means the pay varies from just above poverty level to nearly nothing (although focusing on instrument ratings can help, depending on the climate, i.e. freezing level).

    And, any time that a dream is turned into a job, it takes on a different feeling.

    Get into it with realistic expectations and you won’t be disappointed. But, no matter how much you like flying and teaching, it’s difficult when your car is breaking down and the bills are due and you don’t quite know how you’ll pay them. Or, in another scenario, you’re slowly drawing down your retirement fund to meet the deficit, and you find yourself thinking that you should have stayed in your previous profession, purchased an airplane with the money it costs to get your CFI and other advanced ratings, and just gone flying.

    Even for those who have what it takes, it can be most demanding sometimes.

  8. JOE on Dec 29, 2012

    Great forum. After 20 years of wanting to go to instruction, I have decided to starting my training. I dont have and instrument rating but have logged countless hours tying to complete that goal. But as the world turns other things have come up in life that were more important but that goal has always been with me and now is the time. Im 55 years old and work full time. My goal is to instruct when I retire. I have found an instructor that I have been in touch with for almost 3 years regarding the rating. Let me make sense of this. It has taken me close to 4 years to save the funds to do so and I told my flight instructor 4 years ago that this was my goal, and since then we have kept in touch. Getting the instrument rating is tough but well worth every penny I have spent. Im training in a Piper Arrow because even though I have 15 hours logged years ago in that plane but I know that eventually I will be on a IFR trip in that plane or even instruct in that plane some day and want to get anything I can out of learning in high proformance plane.

    I asked and old flight instructor one time how he afforded to get his ratings. He told me he had to beg , borrow and steal to get the funds. He really didn’t steal , but that stuck in my head since 2002. I have lived cheaply through the years to safe the funds. I have not gone to movies , I do have cable tv, I dont eat a fancy places , the word is SACRAFICE. If you want it bad enough you will do anything you can to get it. EAT,READ,BREATH IT. If you are lazy YOU will not get it. Always ,Always no matter how distant the dream is remind your self of it. Write it down, paint it on your bedroom wall. And no matter what dont ever let anyone take that dream way. IF IT MEANS SOMETHING TO YOU WORK AT IT. Also surround yourself with possitive people , go to the airport and hang out there and ask questions. I visit a hanger that has jets and props and just walk around . I dong get in them , but I touch them, that keeps the dream alive. DO IT>

  9. Bill on Feb 07, 2013

    I’m nearing retirement and have been bitten by the bug to get my commercial & CFI so I can help others achieve their goal to fly. I have no aspirations for flying career advancement and sufficient retirement resources so I don’t need pay for instructing so my intention is to teach for free. So many are struggling financially and flying is becoming ever more an unaffordable activity, especially for the young. I love flying and being in the company of pilots and I love seeing others’ discover their potential.

  10. Matthew on Apr 22, 2013

    @Bill – can you let me know when you get your CFI??? 😉 I too am hoping to get my CFI so I can help people realize their dream of flying. I am currently finishing my commercial license and am going to start training for my CFI soon after that. I always wanted to go to the airlines, but ever since I got my license I’ve found that the thing I enjoy most about flying is sharing it with others and seeing future pilots get excited at the magic of flight. I’ve decided to finish my college education in elementary education, because I have found I really enjoy teaching. I hope to be able to instruct during my summers and free time throughout the year.

  11. Umar on Apr 30, 2013

    Hey everyone, i belong in pakistan and myself am a cplIR, here in pakistan you only get hired by your flag carrier as a cadet, where as private airlines require a minimum of 1000 hours as a first officer. I wish to somehow gain al these hours as i’ve earned only 200 so far. A friend of mine told me that i can take over as a flight instructor but my country (drowned in poverty) is deficient of these as well. Do i stand any chances to magnatise these remaining hours to myself if i migrate elsewhere? Specialy to the states?

  12. Haley on Jul 27, 2013

    I’m only 14 years young. And I am very interested to become a Flight Instructor and to get my CFI in the near future. 🙂

  13. Karan on Feb 17, 2014

    How many hours do u need after you’ve taken ur instructing course in order to get a good job as a flight instructor ?

  14. Badger Fishinaki on Oct 05, 2016

    I hold a cfi certificate. I haven’t flown in over 5 years, but have remained recent on taking the FIRC refresher course and test. 1.) What is required for me to become an active CFI again (I hold CFII and MEII). 2.) What if I just want to become current so I can simply rent a Cessna and fly just VFR for my own personal use? What do I need to do in both scenarios?

  15. Leon Monnier on Dec 02, 2017

    A few hours with a flight instructor will do it.

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