Today, a bit of a rant — for which I will apologize in advance, my friends.
Flying is just about the only avocation I can think of where people can be found spending their free time at work by choice.
Think about that. In an office environment, folks typically get to work no earlier than necessary. Likewise, they leave as soon as possible when their work day is over and would never even entertain the idea of hanging out at the office on their day off.
But in aviation? It’s the polar opposite. At the end of a long week spent at the airport, they’ll spend their day off… at the airport. This is a major shift in motivation from the average workplace, and it contributes to a positive attitude and happy demeanor there.
Imagine an office building where everyone inside couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning. It would be a much different place, wouldn’t it?
Perhaps that’s why I don’t understand the disparaging attitude many people harbor toward instructing. It is widely viewed within the aviation industry as a bottom-rung starter job which must be endured in order to get to a “real” flying gig. And I suppose if that’s all you make of it, if that’s all you put into it, then that’s what it’ll be.
Here’s one instructor’s take on it:
Here’s the way a flying career works.
1) A person wants to become a captain of a big airliner and make lots of money
2) To do that, s/he need to be the first officer of a big airliner
3) To be hired into a major airline, s/he needs to build a bunch of jet time, so s/he works for a regional airline for a painfully low salary
4) To be hired at the regional airline, s/he needs a bunch of flying hours
5) To get those flying hours without paying for them, s/he becomes a flight instructor – that way the student pays for the hours
6a) Because the purpose is to build hours and not to make real money, flight instructors, in general, don’t get paid much at all (e.g. $11/hr in many places)
6b) Because most flight instructors actually want to work for an airline, they leave instruction as quickly as possible, so there are very few truly experienced flight instructors around
6c) Because these flight instructors don’t care what they make, they depress the entire instruction industry – it’s hard for anyone to charge more
Keep in mind this was written by a CFI. He goes on to wonder if the change in Part 121 mandatory retirement age will “destroy the short-lived increase in pay that I’ve seen for CFIs, now that the existing CFIs won’t be able to find airline jobs and will probably be stuck being instructors”.
Stuck? Please. Life is what you make of it. Just because instructing is a low-cost way to build hours doesn’t mean that’s all you can get out of it. There are float planes, glass panels, helicopters, turboprops, and a hundred other specialties out there to be mastered. If you want to be just another guy teaching primary students in a beat up Skyhawk, be my guest. But there’s so much more out there if you just have the vision, work ethic, and patience to pursue it.
I’ve got news for you, buddy: some of us actually enjoy instructing. Some instructors specialize in high performance aerobatics, formation flying, experimentals, warbird transitions, antiques, biplanes, tailwheels, and other such interesting airplanes. That’s what I do. I might fly a Pitts one day, a Columbia 400 the next, then a 1928 TravelAir, then an Extra 300, then an RV-6 or a Harmon Rocket. I coach aerobatic competitors, ferry aircraft, fly formation, and get paid for all of it.
I get to be home at night. I set my own schedule. And I charge whatever I want. There are very few instructors with the hours and credentials to gain insurance approval on these aircraft, so for the most part I’m in the driver’s seat.
It’s really a shame that those who teach primary students (poorly) for a couple hundred hours and simply look at their CFI time as some trial they must endure to get a “real job” are considered to be in the same category as CFIs who’ve spent many years honing their craft.
I’ve cleaned up the messes left by countless CFIs whose instruction was criminally poor, unprofessional, and incomplete. I say good riddance to those CFIs. As far as I’m concerned, the airlines can have them.
The ironic thing is that aviators with that attitude aren’t going to be happy when they reach that Part 121 job. They’ll decry the pay, the hours, the equipment, and look ahead to the next thing. The next plane, the upgrade to the left seat, the move to a “major” airline. We’ve all met people like that. The challenges of instructing don’t sit well with these types.
Make no mistake about it. The starting pay can be poor, the conditions rough, the hours long. In many ways instructing is like flying for a regional, come to think of it. The difference is that instruction allows you to play a pivotal role in a life-changing event for a person; you get to shepherd them toward the fulfillment of a dream which probably hearkens back to their childhood. How many jobs let you do that?
One final note about primary instructors, as they are probably the least respected of the CFI ilk. The longer I instruct, the more I’m convinced that primary instruction is one of the most difficult (and potentially rewarding) jobs a CFI can pursue. It’s a major undertaking to transform a civilian who doesn’t even know how to open the door of an aircraft into a pilot with sufficient knowledge of aerodynamics, navigation, aircraft systems, emergency procedures, airspace, meteorology, aviation law, aeromedical factors, etc. to safely operate that aircraft with passengers aboard.
I think it’s high time that CFIs — especially the career instructors — got the respect and recognition they deserve.