Become a Flight Instructor (At Any Age!)

Aviation needs more dedicated educators, especially mid-life professionals with a personal passion for teaching. Mid-life professionals with some history in aviation, are a perfect fit for GA flight instruction (and the transition to CFI is quicker and easier than most people think). People in this demographic group are usually financially stable and have already acquired the essential “people/life skills” to become effective educators. Some years of experience and diverse flying experience are great backgrounds to share with future students – don’t let the youngsters have all the fun. Mid-life CFIs most often stay in GA and become Master Instructors and DPEs since they are not building hours toward a corporate or an airline piloting career. Many”FAA CFIs of the Year” are in this group too, since they are also experienced “corporate climbers.”

FAA statistics reveal that 2/3 of flight instructors have taught for less than a year and frequently have very little broad aviation knowledge. Many were trained entirely in the limited “hot-house environment” of a flight academy acquiring the minimum number of hours to move on and acquire ratings. When I ran a flight school, I regularly hired young CFIs from academy programs who did not know how to tie down a plane and had never even fueled one; pretty “green!” Though most of these “hour-builders” do a great job teaching and bring great energy into their daily flying, this continual industry flow-through has a damaging effect on our GA flying community. There is often little senior pilot supervision and mentoring in local clubs and flight training operations. Young CFIs disappear at a regular rate into their professional careers. If you are an experienced pilot, financially stable and committed to the GA aviation community, please consider acquiring your CFI certificate. (MCFI Greg Brown wrote a great article in a similar vein here) If you are a CFI already, mentor your experienced aviator friends along the path to aviation educator.

SAFE members are the “movers and shakers of the aviation education community” – Former FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt 

SAFE CFI-PRO™ was created to enable and encourage new and potential CFIs to grow their CFI professionalism. This program provides resources and mentoring, stand-up seminars and on-site training for flight schools and college aviation programs. SAFE has a  long history of mentoring CFIs (Recently reinvigorated with modern online technology). Though getting the CFI certificate is easier than most people think, becoming a really effective aviation educator is a lifetime pursuit (I am a 12X Master Instructor and still learning every day). If you are in this group of hopeful new mid-life CFIs, join our online CFI-PRO community. If you are already well-experienced and want to help mentor, sign up here as a mentor (we need more). SAFE is all about sharing and growing educator professionalism. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Thanks to everyone that was able to attend #OSH21 and visit our SAFE booth – or attend our amazing “SAFE Gathering!” What a wonderful experience after a year of quarantine. Tune-up your flying chops and join SAFE for more resources and savings. Our SAFE Toolkit app is free and brings ideas and tools to your daily flying: “Mastery not Minimums!”


Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

4 thoughts on “Become a Flight Instructor (At Any Age!)”

  1. I’ve been giving it a bit of thought. I have gone over all the courses again from the various providers like King Schools, Sporty’s, ASA, etc… It is odd going back and flying with instructors again where they want to milk you for everything you have. I have my commercial rotorcraft and private fixed wing ratings (single multi, land / sea). I was going to local flight schools only to find instructors that wouldn’t instruct (even when I tried to get them to instruct making intentional errors and asking questions I knew the answers to, just to see if they would teach me) I found one school charging me for ground school / instruction that didn’t happen (boarder line criminal fraud)… to great instructors that were a bad fit because of the available aircraft for training ( I’m 200 he puts the aircraft right at the weight limits … maybe a little over, with full fuel )
    I really want to teach the lessons I’ve learned over the last more than 40 years of flying. It also seems much more expensive than I want to spend. I didn’t want to have to pay tens of thousands of dollars, because I didn’t plan on charging for instruction, and really wanted to teach for free. I’ve always thought about aircraft safety and have made it my life’s mission to make all aviation safer, even drones / RC aircraft that I have also been flying for several decades. As a DOD / FAA radar tech and airway systems specialist I came up with what is now ADS-B while flying around doing volunteer SAR work for the Civil Air Patrol in 1991, because I knew it would make tracking planes easier and safer.
    I’ve lately been working on the IIMC vertigo problem. I understand the issues and have been successful at giving pilots inverse vertigo inside of VR, to train pilots how to overcome it and keep the plane flying. Few take me seriously because I’m not a 20 something instructor building hours so some day I might get a job with an airline…
    I even joined SAFE, as well as a half dozen other aviation organizations, because of this interest in educating pilots. It seems like I will be fighting to keep my medical by the time I’m certified as an instructor.

    1. For many people in various parts of the country, becoming a CFI can be a torturous path (for all the reasons you mentioned; lack of facilities and professional educators). Even when I ran a busy, well-staffed flight school, lack of time often prevented me from creating our own CFIs “in-house.” I recommend starting with a ground instructor certificate (all you need to do is pass a knowledge test) You are then on the road, performing the duties as an instructor, and also signing logbooks. Then transition to the right seat (fly there for all your flights) and build your skills while simultaneously verbalizing maneuvers.
      For many, specialists like CFIbootcamp in Miami (a SAFE member/supporter offering a member discount), is a very desirable option. This is a very well-organized, efficient pathway to immediately transition to CFI while respecting and leveraging your past experience. Bootcamp is an accelerated (but high-quality) program with an extensive preload of studying. The course content is derived directly from FAA Handbooks and they have a very good pass rate with a variety of DPEs.

  2. Richard G’s comments resonate with me. Like Richard, I’ve accumulated a lot of learning – some from experience, some from the many courses I’ve both attended or taught, some from other pilots, and some from the bad experiences of others. Teaching, particularly young people preparing to launch into adulthood gives me great hope for the future. Yes, I have the resources to finish a CFI… but. A large factor looming over my decision not to proceed is liability. Offer a very affordable, high dollar limit liability policy and the decision becomes a no brainer.

    1. Liability is an important and legitimate concern for every flight instructor. This is also the reason one of SAFE’s first important missions was creating a dedicated insurance program available to members (through STARR insurance and administered by AIR-PROs). The SAFE insurance is very reasonable and covers you in all the categories you are rated to fly in. Additionally, it provides legal power to fight lawsuits that people might enter against you (and none of the cost comes out of your liability limits) Excellent insurance: https://www.safepilots.org/programs/cfi-liability-insurance/

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