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The Best in Aviation Education: MCFI!

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).


Please complete the Redbird GA Flight Training Survey to accurately assess our current GA activity. See you at Redbird Migration and Sun ‘N Fun!


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).

Author: David St. George

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

4 thoughts on “The Best in Aviation Education: MCFI!”

  1. David:

    Of the 117k CFIs, 92% of whom you label ‘frozen’, how many do quality flight reviews, IPCs, upset training, and other recurrent flight and ground training?

    I just last week completed a very thorough flight review with a highly experienced pilot you catagorized as ‘frozen’. In previous years I’ve flown annually with very competent CFIs who, like the CFI I flew with last week choose not to do primary or add-on training and instead invested themselves in recurrent training or the spectrum of flight reviews… None of which are reported OR otherwise tracked by any State or Federal agency. This being the case, is ‘frozen’ an accurate label, or is it just hyperbole?

    It seems to me there is a huge myth perpetuated by some in the pilot training industry that only cockpit time and ground instruction toward a rating and the requisite checkride ‘counts’ when ranking either the competency of a CFI or the quality of instruction and flight reviews received. Can we think a little more broadly about what it means to be a good, competent, productive CFI?

    1. I probably am always guilty of a little hyperbole (to make a point) – sorry! There certainly notable exceptions. Thank you for the corrective comment (valuable point taken)! Fortunately, not every CFI trains to test minimums either (though we often carp on this) and there are really many exceptional very new CFIs too. The best solution to this weird disconnect would be more of these very experienced CFIs getting “off the bench” and mentor “the youngsters!” That was the historic model that worked. 👍

  2. David,

    I work for FlightSafety. I am surrounded by instructor colleagues. Most don’t hold a medical, nor fly a real airplane. But every work day, they are engaged in delivering flight training to a very high level. I’m curious where these instructors would place in the “frozen” or active line. I’m certain our competitors also have a robust cadre of instructors whose situation is similar.

    That aside, I have tried to secure a training aircraft for friends and acquaintances that I was going to teach. There were none to be found. I actually wanted to teach but short of purchasing an airplane to use, I’m at an impasse. I was gobsmacked there are not really any opportunities to access airplanes for unaffiliated instructors. I would have to become a full time employee of most organizations with aircraft. That is not financially feasible.

    Tim Berridge

    1. FAA data-gathering is improving, but no telling where sim. instructors are counted. Presumably, sign-offs for ratings would count you as “active” since medicals track separately (and instructors can breach w/ Basic Med.) I would think flight schools would welcome your expertise!

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