Of the 117K CFIs on the US registry, the majority are inactive or “frozen CFIs.” Only 8% of FAA CFIs are actually “active” by measurable metrics. Many CFIs on the FAA registry make their living flying airliners or charter jets and their GA experience can get rusty. The FAA defines “inactive” by what they can measure, no sign-offs in a year, and some CFIs stay pretty busy with IPCs and reviews (thank you for your service)!
FAA statistics also reveal that 16K new CFIs are added to the FAA system every year. These are often the “sled dogs CFIs,” actively teaching full time, brand new to the business, and building their flight hours. As a consumer of aviation education – perhaps your daughter is learning to fly or you are shopping for training or a challenging flight review – your options for professional aviation education are pretty depressing. Your choice is either a “frozen” CFI who has not taught in years or a brand new academy graduate (though some are great). How do you find a current, professional aviation educator?
If you are a conscientious pilot seeking challenging training, you should receive more than a WINGS pin because excellence and professionalism are totally voluntary in our current system. The flight training system is pretty broken. While every GA airplane requires an extensive annual inspection (with a couple days in the shop), a pilot can get a quick review every two years flying to lunch with any CFI buddy. This sometimes “perfunctory flight review” is probably the biggest hole in our safety system (see AOPA Focused Flight Review!) And the majority of pilots were taught by the brand new CFIs to the minimum testing standards (and why do we have a problem with continuing accidents?)
Conscientious pilots, who are serious about safety, seek out training to improve every year. The FAA WINGS program and the Focused Flight Review are excellent resources for these pilots, but professional CFIs are almost impossible to find. The few passionate CFIs who continue to teach, despite the lack of financial reward, receive little recognition or visibility. This professionalism and excellence are entirely voluntary in the FAA system since professional instructors have no continuing FAA accreditation.
This is exactly why the Master Instructor Program was created 25 years ago. This accreditation defines the true professionals who are actively teaching and continually improving their knowledge. FInd a professional CFI on the website. For CFIs in the field, this program keeps an educator motivated and learning. Sandy and JoAnn Hill created the MCFI program in 1997 to challenge educators and also to define a standard for continuing educational excellence. Just about every active CFI can qualify for a Master Instructor certification if they document their activity. This process requires some record-keeping since the standards are suitably rigorous. Download the worksheet and start filling in your experience to earn your MCFI designation.
For those senior CFIs who are timing out of the airlines (or COVID escapees) please get back into aviation education and help the “youngsters” – we need you (and even created a great CFI insurance plan)! Fly safely out there (and often).
Join SAFE and get great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight!) Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education. Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).