Part of the “Positive Rate” Series
image via OziFlyer
PPOT’s “Positive Rate” series focuses on ways to continuously improve our careers as aviators. “Positive Rate” is the callout used by most airline crews to indicate the aircraft is moving in the correct direction and the gear can be raised for flight. As such, the series focuses on ways to ensure our careers are continuously moving in the best direction, or in a ‘positive rate’.
A common fork in the road for many pilots-in-training comes after they finish their Commercial Certificate. From this point, a pilot pursuing a career in aviation theoretically has several options. Assuming someone received a Commercial Certificate with a Single-Engine Rating – which is many pilots’ situation – they could try to jump right into professional flying in a “low-time” opportunity such as aerial mapping, flying skydivers, or banner towing. Another option is to quickly add a Multi-Engine Rating to their newly minted Commercial Certificate and pursue a similarly low-time opportunity with a twin-engine operator doing charter SIC, night cargo, or corporate flying. Lastly, but certainly not least, is the option to keep the training mindset and begin working on a Flight Instructor Certificate.
All of these are perfectly viable options, and each has its advantages and disadvantages, but I believe one of them to be the definite best choice. And while I don’t know every pilot’s individual situation, I offer this advice to anybody who might be currently making this decision, or is coming up on it in the future. That being said, I believe – all things being equal – that earning your Flight Instructor Certificate is one of the best decisions you can make in your flight training and aviation career.
Before I break down a few reasons why I think this, let me speak to the people who are already arguing with me in their head, and address a few reasons why it might make sense to pass up grabbing your Instructor Certificate at this point in your career. First, and maybe most obvious, is if you have a great job opportunity waiting. I would never discourage anybody from pursuing an awesome opportunity that will gain them valuable experience and broaden their career horizons. Now, notice how I said “great” opportunity. I probably wouldn’t settle for an average position at this point in your career that isn’t going to give you significant resume and logbook building opportunities. Another unfortunate reason pilots may stray from an Instructor Certificate at this point is for personal or financial reasons. Flight training is ridiculously expensive, and at this point most people have likely shelled out the cash for about 250 hours of flying. If this is the case, and money is tight for flight training, then by all means grab a job that’ll get you in a pilot’s seat and get the money flowing in your direction.
Now, even if you fall into one of the situations just discussed, I’d still encourage you to not stop reading now. Because even if becoming an instructor doesn’t make sense at this exact moment, the reasons we’re about to discuss will apply to you for the rest of your career. So that being said, let me explain why a Flight Instructor Certificate is one of the most valuable tools in your aviation toolbox.
Personally, my favorite reason for becoming a flight instructor is because it strengthens your abilities as a pilot in a way that nothing else can. Teaching a skill demonstrates one of the deepest levels of learning and understanding, and flight instructing does exactly that. Throughout your training as a flight instructor, you’ll realize that you still have a lot to learn about flying and find areas that need work, and then subsequently become a professional in those areas you were once deficient. Further, sitting in the right seat of a training plane while observing and coaching the person to your left gives you a whole new outlook on the way you fly. You’ll notice many mistakes that you often make yourself, observe different styles of accomplishing many tasks, and have to walk students through the various maneuvers of flight training. Eventually, you’ll be the one responsible for taking a student from their discovery flight, all the way through checkride day. During all these experiences, you’re constantly also critiquing yourself, and working to improve your own aviation skillset. All of these different factors, and many more than I have the room to list here, contribute to an incredible development of us as pilots and instructors.
Another great reason to add Flight Instructor to your resume is that companies in the aviation industry love to hire people who are experienced flight instructors. Even the airlines often award points on applications for having spent time as one. Many people wonder why this matters and especially question why airlines prefer this. The answer is a good one, and relates to what we discussed above. In pretty much every flying job in the aviation industry, pilots can heavily leverage skills they learned as a flight instructor. Just because someone is going to fly for an airline for 30 years doesn’t mean they’ll never use and rely on the experiences they gained while instructing. In fact, many positions such as Airline Captains and Line Check Pilots are essentially flight instructors in a way. Captains, while working as a part of the crew, are often mentoring and helping both new and experienced First Officers as they grow as pilots. An even better example, Line Check Pilots are tasked with teaching brand new First Officers the ways of the airline, and developing their skills to a point where they can fly the line on their own. When thought about this way, it seems pretty clear why airlines – and other companies for that matter – might want a person who not only has a proven track record as a pilot, but also as a teacher and mentor.
A final, but equally important reason an Instructor Certificate can prove valuable is that the aviation industry will always need instructors. Even if in 100 years (or however long it might be) we get to a point where airliners are flying themselves, people will still want to learn how to fly. The numbers might vary and the industry might ebb and flow, but I feel pretty confident in saying that flight instructors will be needed for many decades to come. And even if you plan on camping out at your dream airline for several decades, you never know when a job as a flight instructor might be your best or only choice. Furloughs happen, pilots lose First Class Medicals, and many other situations could get you to a point where all of the sudden flight instructing is your go-to option. Many people enjoy long and prosperous careers as full-time flight instructors. Regardless of if your full-time job will always be flying for an airline, you might find great enjoyment in flight instructing friends or family occasionally on your days off. The bottom line is it opens the door to many opportunities you might not otherwise have.
These are just a few of the reasons I consider earning your Flight Instructor Certificate a great decision you can make at any point in your career. These points may or may not apply to you, and there might even be other reasons it does or doesn’t make sense. But regardless of where you are in your aviation journey, I strongly encourage you to consider taking this path. Training to become an instructor can be long and challenging, without an immediate reward in sight. However, it’s one of many times in aviation where the long term benefits outweigh the substantial effort it takes to get there. Keep this in mind, and remember it every time the skills and experience you gain as an instructor pay off down the road.