CFI Requirements: What You'll Need To Become One

CFI Requirements: What You'll Need To Become One

By Josh Page, CFI

Being a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) is an excellent way to build flight time and grow as a professional aviator. When you teach something, you really get to know and understand the subject on a much deeper level. What I thought I knew about flying when I first passed my CFI checkride is so much less than what I understand today after being a CFI for almost two years. Instructing has provided me a valuable opportunity to deepen my knowledge and be better prepared to fly professionally for the airlines. In this article, let’s talk about what you’ll need to become a CFI.

Legal Requirements

In order to jump into instructing, you’ll need to have your commercial pilot certificate (or your airline transport pilot certificate) and an instrument rating and at least 250 hours of flight time. Medically, you’ll need to hold at least a third-class medical certificate. You’ll also need to get your spin endorsement which is a ton of fun! If you’ve gotten these, let’s talk about what you’ll need to learn and prepare in order to officially become a CFI.

CFI Ground Training

Because every student learns differently and there isn’t a universal teaching method that works for everyone, it’s important for new instructors to learn the fundamentals of instructing (FOI). This is a big part of the CFI training. It helps future instructors to understand how to teach in a way that is effective and helpful for various types of students. You will quickly understand the difference between an “okay” instructor and an excellent one. We’re all striving for excellence — especially in training up the next generation of aviators! By the way, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a whole knowledge test (aka written test) on just this subject of fundamentals of instructing!

Another major part of the CFI ground training is the knowledge area. Flight instructors have to be familiar with all of the knowledge areas and be able to teach them clearly. It’s one thing to understand what density altitude is, but it’s another to be able to explain it in a way that a student can understand and apply correctly. Throughout your CFI ground training, you will be creating lesson plans for all kinds of different subjects — from weight and balance, to cross country flight planning, to aircraft systems, to airspace and cloud/visibility requirements, and more. Sounds intimidating, right? The great thing is that as you’re preparing lesson plans on these areas, you’ll be studying a lot, and they will become much more understandable to you. I grew so much in my knowledge and understanding of all things aviation as I prepared for my CFI checkride. Light bulbs were going off left and right! I am a much better pilot for it. In addition to the knowledge test on the FOI material, there is also a knowledge test that will cover all the knowledge areas. This is a tough one because it’s such a wide range of subjects.

CFI Flight Training — Flying From the Right Seat

Now let’s talk about flight training for the CFI rating! You’ll now be moving on over to the right seat. No big deal, right? You’d be surprised. It’s a big adjustment at first. By this time, you’ll have gotten so used to seeing all the instruments directly in front of you from the left seat. Now you’ll be moving over to where your instruments are no longer right in front of you. Not only that, but your sight picture will be different from the right seat. With a little bit of practice, you’ll quickly grow accustomed to the right seat! You’ll be demonstrating all of the private pilot and commercial pilot maneuvers, but you’ll also be teaching them. For example, on some of the maneuvers the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) will ask you to fly while simultaneously teaching the maneuvers to him or her. For other maneuvers, the DPE will fly while you teach them. The DPE is especially looking to see that you are assertive, clear, situationally aware, and prompt in providing correction or intervention as needed. They have to ensure that you are able to discern unsafe situations with students and able to take the controls immediately, preventing a bad situation from happening. You will go through lots of practice with an instructor before you get to the big day.

Best Path Forward 

If you’ve got the hours and the required ratings, and if teaching is something you’d like to do, I can’t encourage you enough to embark on becoming a CFI! It’s such a great experience and it only makes you a safer pilot. While this isn’t the best path for everyone, I’ve genuinely loved being a flight instructor. I have good friendships with all of my students. It’s been so special to see them step into a single engine cockpit for the first time in their lives and then watch them months later pass their checkride and fly as a certified pilot! Some of my students have become dear friends to my family and me. I wouldn’t have chosen any other path toward the airlines than being a CFI! If you take this path, I wish you the best for you and your students! 

By Josh Page, CFI

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