Flight Instructor Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for flight instructors. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Flight Instructor Do?

Flight instructors train students to operate aircraft safely. They teach their students safety rules and the basic principles of flight and aircraft operation. Material they cover with their students includes flight conditions, instruments in the cockpit, landings, taking off and how to check all systems on the plane. They take students through several levels of instruction until they have met all requirements to obtain their pilot's license. They must adhere to FAA safety and instructor regulations, follow the approved curriculum, and must also assess student performance and document their progress through the levels of training.

Education Required High school diploma; Airline Transport Pilot certificate
Licensure/Certification FAA-approved commercial pilot's license and special ratings certifications required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5% (for all airline and commercial pilots)*
Median Salary (2017) $97,234**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

What is a Flight Instructor?

A flight instructor is in charge of teaching others to fly a variety of aircraft, from airplanes to helicopters to blimps. As a flight instructor, you'll be the educator that enables students to get the training they need to gain pilot licensure or certification. You'll be responsible for providing, enhancing and finally evaluating the knowledge and skills of aspiring pilots.

What Education Do I Need?

You'll need to gain some training as a pilot before becoming a flight instructor. One way to receive this training is to enter the U.S. Armed Forces, in particular the U.S. Air Force. If you have a high school diploma or a GED, another way is to enroll in an associate's degree program in aviation, aviation science or a related field. You can expect a typical aviation program to provide you with hands-on training in different aircraft as well as classroom-based coursework.

Once you're trained as a pilot, the next step is to earn your license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). You'll determine which type of aircraft you want to be licensed to pilot and then take written, oral and hands-on exams. After earning your pilot's license, you can pursue the FAA's flight instructor certificate; this requires successful completion of an exam. You may need to enroll in a flight instructor certificate program in order to gain the knowledge necessary to pass this exam. Flight instructors also need to hold special ratings credentials offered by the FAA, including the MEI-Instrument, Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), CFI-Instrument and Multi-Engine Instructor.

What is the Job Market Like?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that between 2014 and 2024, the number of jobs available for airline and commercial pilots would grow by 5% (www.bls.gov). The BLS also stated that employment of pilots, copilots and flight engineers would be affected by plane size, while airlines try to maximize the number of passengers per flight, thus reducing demand for pilots, copilots and flight engineers.

What Kind of Salary Can I Expect?

In May 2015, the BLS stated that the median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $117,290, with the lowest ten percent making $60,770 and the upper 75% making more than $163,130 (www.bls.gov). In 2017, Salary.com estimated that the median annual wage for flight instructors was $97,234.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that flight instructors do is similar to the work that high school teachers and career and technical education teachers do. Flight instructors must complete extensive training to become a pilot and then an approved flight instructor, and depending on the type of pilot they are they may also need a bachelor's degree. High school teachers and career and technical education teachers also need a bachelor's degree. They must also have a teaching license. Like flight instructors, they must follow approved curriculums, instruct students and assess their progress

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