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What is the best way to become a CFI on a budget?

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Flight Instructor

I am a Commercial ASEL AMEL Pilot with instrument privileges.  I have just over 600 hours of PIC time.  I am considering becoming a CFI.  I have already purchased my study material last year, but I held up beginning due to concerns about the cost associated with the training.  At first, I was focused on attending a school such as ATP at a cost of $6500 +/- up front.  Now, due to financial reasons I am considering trying to use a local CFI to simply get my initial CFI rating, then working on my double I, and finally hopefully finding a way to gain the ability to also train in multiengine aircraft. 

Does this sound like a viable plan to those of you on a budget?  How would you proceed if you aren't able to part with several thousand up front?

I appreciate your time and help!

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4 Answers

  1. Matthew Waugh on Dec 08, 2012

    Prepare for the oral, prepare some more, and then go back and so some more preparation. Use the materials referenced by the FAA as the basis for the CFI Practical Test (included in the Practical Test standards).

    Preparation is pretty cheap.

    The flying part is not complicated. All ATP is expensive because they are based the multi ratings first and doing the single as an add-on. If you want to bang out all the ratings at once I would imagine it’s the cheapest way to do it – but rare is the green multi CFI who actually gets to instruct in a multi – so it’s not clear of it’s immediate value.

    The cheapest way is to do an accelerated flying course – come prepared for the oral, and prep for the checkride with 2-3 days of flying and then the checkride – that’s efficient because you don’t forget anything between flights. If you can setup that up with a local CFI all to the good – but if you have to travel to a more formal program it’s probably worth it in terms of overall cost.

    Based on your question “How would you proceed if you aren’t able to part with several thousand up front” it seems that you’re thinking of dragging this out over several months – but that is not the CHEAPEST way to do it. Save up for the “several thousand” up front – and while it feels like a lot of money at the time – it’s the cheapest option long term (IMO).

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  2. Heather McNevin on Dec 09, 2012

    The biggest part of the CFI isnt the flying, its the oral. None of the maneuvers should be new to you, just a different perspective to get used to flying the plane from the other side. Spend your time reading lots of books, studying manuals, and making all your lesson plans. Practice giving your lesson plans to anyone who will listen. Get comfortable with all your material. Only then, get your maneuvers up to par in the plane and make it happen.
    I did the prep work on my own and attended an accelerated course. I did my initial CFI first, instructed for awhile and gained experience and confidence. Then I went back and prepared for my CFII/MEI and did that one as a combined checkride.
    Preparation doesnt cost you any money, and saves you money in the long run. Read everything, do online courses for Wings, attend seminars. Save your money. When you are prepared with all your material, hit the flying hard and get it done. Good luck!

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  3. Bill Trussell on Dec 09, 2012

    One of the keys is to do well on the FOI knowledge test. Given that it is the most “abstract” part of the CFI training it is often found to be the hardest to do well on. As recommended by Heather and Matthew, self study is a good start. I have found that this is not enough though, so attending a weekend prep course is a good investment in time and dollars. Once you have the knowledge tests ( there are two required for initial CFI) find an aircraft and an instructor who has a good track record of passing initial CFIs in your area. As mentioned, the flying is the easy part for most, but initial CFIs have trouble making the grade with the FAA examiners on at least a part of the flying. I know of one CFI candidate who could not hold altitude during steep turns as just one example. Be ready to practice what you preach and you will be fine. The Oral is a long one but very statisfying when it is done and the flying can be a great learning experience if done correctly.

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  4. LTCTerry on Dec 13, 2012


    It’s too late in this case, but here’s how I would suggest someone who’s really committed to a flying career start out to save money.

    Get a Private PIlot Glider certificate. Get a Commercial Pilot Glider certificate. Give rides for pay at a glider facility. You are now a working commercial pilot. Get a CFIG ticket and instruct. You are now a working instructor.

    Add on a Private Pilot ASEL. No tax credits here. Add on Commercial ASEL. Because you are already a working commercial pilot, this is an expansion of something you are already doing and it’s tax deductible. Add on a CFI (A). Because you are already a working flight instructor, the add-on training is deductible. If you do the commercial and CFI training “simultaneously” you can do all the flying in the right seat, take the commercial check ride one day and the CFI (A) add-on a day or two later.

    Much of the experience/flight time required by the FARs can be gained in an “aircraft” rather than in an “airplane.”

    I know it sounds crazy, but you can be a working flight instructor with 25 hours of glider time and 100 flights. Someone else is paying for almost all of your time building.

    If you were to join the CAP as a Cadet, there are opportunities for subsidized glider flying (essentially trading time for cheaper flying). There are several week-long glider camps each year, too. Senior Members are also eligible for flight instruction in CAP gliders.

    Solo a glider at 14. Glider Private at 16. Glider Commercial at 18, CFIG right after that. Add on power ratings during the first couple years in college. Work as a CFI (A) the last couple years. You’d be well ahead of any competition in terms of experience and years as a pilot.

    A CFIG can also be a light sport instructor with whatever conversion training is required – without a power commercial ticket.

    Do you really want to fly as cheaply as possible and have someone else pickup the tab as soon as possible? I know it’s a crazy idea, but for people in the many parts of the country I think it would work well.


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