What It Takes to Become A Certified Flight Instructor

What It Takes to Become A Certified Flight Instructor

By Jordan Bullock CFI, Boeing 737 Pilot

The first experience most people have in a small airplane is a discovery flight with a flight instructor. Oftentimes, it includes a thorough walk around of the aircraft with the flight instructor showing the prospective student detailed intricacies of the plane. Next, the student receives a safety briefing and then they hit the skies! Most instructors let the newbie control the aircraft once at altitude while showing them how an airplane flies. This can be a thrilling experience and is designed to capture the attention of the customer and turn them into a flight student. I still remember my first discovery flight, as a student and as an certified flight instructor!

While going on a discovery flight is surely the beginning of your aviation journey, becoming a Certified Flight Instructor, or CFI, is typically the first job for pilots. Being a CFI can be extremely rewarding, but also challenging. You’re teaching people who, in most cases, have little to no experience in an aircraft. However, obtaining your CFI and teaching is the fastest way to build flight hours. Let's take a look at what it takes to become a Certified Flight Instructor!

Commercial Pilot License

Being a CFI means you’re going to be paid for a service. Thus, you need your commercial ticket. To be paid for any services rendered as a pilot, one needs to have their Commercial license. As with any other license, it involves taking a written, an oral and a practical checkride. Outside of these, the biggest requirement to getting your commercial license is the 250 hours of flight time. 

Written Exams

Unlike other pilot ratings, the CFI license has two separate written exams required. The Flight Instructor Airplane and the Fundamentals of Instructing, or FOI exam. The Flight Instructor Airplane, or FIA exam, is an in-depth look at aerodynamics and aircraft systems. The Fundamentals of Instructing exam is more geared to the psychology of teaching. Each exam requires a sign off from a certified flight instructor. 

Spin Endorsement 

Probably one of the most fun requirements in any license is the spin endorsement. The FAA requires that a prospective CFI candidate be signed off on performing and recovering from spins by a current CFI. A spin is essentially an upset stall which causes the airplane to spin wing over wing towards the ground. This maneuver is easy to get into while practicing stalls, and has been the cause of many deaths within the aviation community. By making this a requirement, the FAA is ensuring that the first time a CFI experiences this is during their training, and not an accidental upset with an inexperienced student. 

During spin training, your instructor will put you in a stall and kick the rudder over to induce the spin. After a few rotations, they should kick the opposite rudder and push the nose down, essentially ending the spin. Its crucial as a CFI to experience and master this maneuver so that when a student inevitably puts you in or near one, you can get out safely and perhaps save your life. 

Practical Checkride

After all your training and passing your written exams, you will take your checkride. The CFI checkride is notorious for being the most difficult and time consuming of all. The examiner will ensure your level of knowledge through an extensive oral, usually over 5 hours long. After successfully demonstrating your level of knowledge, you will head out to the aircraft. Following the PTS (Practical Test Standards), you will complete an array of maneuvers and landings, demonstrating your proficiency in teaching and maneuvering the aircraft to CFI standards. 

Right Seat Time

While it’s not required, it is crucial to ensure that you can perform and teach from the right seat. The CFI always sits in the right seat, and the checkride will be performed from the right seat. There isn't a specific amount of time, and each pilot is different, but building a skillset from the right seat is essential to becoming a CFI. Oftentimes, doing the maneuvers with the seat change is overlooked. Taking an extra lesson or two to ensure you’re comfortable with all the maneuvers could be the difference between a failure and a pass. 

Endorsements From A Qualified CFI

One thing to mention, is the FAA rule to endorse students for their CFI checkride. Not every CFI is eligible to sign off a student for their CFI checkride, even if the student meets all the requirements. To be eligible to teach a CFI student, you must have held your CFI license for 2 years and given a minimum of 40 hours of dual training. 


Becoming a Certified Flight Instructor is no easy task. The pass rate of CFI candidates is much lower than other ratings due to the incredible amount of knowledge and skill required. However, being a Certified Flight Instructor allows you to build your skillset and offers a rewarding job that you can use for the rest of your life. 

 By Jordan Bullock CFI, Boeing 737 Pilot

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