An often-posed question at regional fly-ins and other events concerns the shortage of Certified Flight Instructors (CFI). Along with “How can we attract new members to our club?” (see the April 2019 Question of the Month: "Beyond the Honeymoon"), the CFI question is high on the collective minds of many flying clubs, and we hear of situations where clubs struggle to find instructors for such fundamental needs such as flight reviews and insurance check-outs. With that in mind, this Question of the Month digs into the issue of the CFI shortage and what clubs can do about it.
To be perfectly honest, the question is most often asked as: “What is the AOPA doing about the CFI shortage?”, so we’ve taken some license to steer it towards flying clubs, and what they can do to help control their own destiny.
Before we suggest a few things that clubs may try to help solve the CFI shortage, we must also remind ourselves of the fundamental rules and requirements for flying clubs regarding flight instruction. A comprehensive discussion of this can be found in an earlier Club Connector article, but in summary, based on FAA definitions and rules, a flying club is a non-profit entity, it is not a commercial operator, and it cannot provide an aircraft for purposes of flight instruction, nor may it provide a CFI be used by its members. Of course, clubs can, and many do allow members to use club aircraft for purposes of individual flight training, currency and proficiency, and clubs and can and do allow members to train with a CFI of the member's choice. But it is the member that decides to use the plane for a training mission, and it is the member who selects (and directly pays) the CFI.
Here are a few suggestions for clubs to consider regarding CFIs:
Retiring airline pilots: We hear about the imminent retirement of many airline pilots who are approaching 65 years of age. From earlier AOPA “Back to your Roots” seminars, we know that many such pilots are interested in returning to general aviation—whether for recreational flying or to “give back” as mentors and instructors. Also, from anecdotal data, many are interested in joining flying clubs for three well-known reasons: access to airplanes, affordable flying, and camaraderie. The advantage back to a club is also clear; access to years of aviation experience and wisdom. So, use your networks to identify professional pilots who are thinking this way. Try posting a flier at larger FBOs in your area, stating that the club is looking for new members from non-pilots to experienced pilots, but please do avoid “holding-out” which is explained in the earlier article.
Help find CFIs: If you are lucky enough to have an aviation college nearby, contact the careers office to determine if any of the students with CFI qualifications might be interested in working as an airport CFI. You absolutely must talk with your airport operator about this, as they ultimately determine who can provide flight training at their airport. Note that we say “as an airport CFI” and not “as a club CFI”. Indeed, there is really no such thing as a “club CFI” as the club cannot mandate the use of any particular instructor, although it is quite usual, and acceptable for insurance reasons, for a club to maintain a list of approved CFIs. Now, a club member who is also a CFI may, with approval from the club and the airport operator, act as CFI for other club members, but it is the member who decides which CFI to use. Again, this is getting a bit deep into the rules, so please do refer to the earlier Club Connector article for the full story and the fundamental FAA references for flying clubs regarding flight training.
Grow your own CFI: Clubs naturally have pilots with varying levels of experience, but what if you have a member who is interested in working towards an instructor certificate? A club cannot legally subsidize a club member to become a CFI, either by paying for their training, or by using club aircraft at lower rates, as to do so would advantage that member over overs, with actual or in-kind benefits.
We spoke to one flying club that was having a difficult time finding CFIs for flight reviews and so on. So, in 2015, they created a scheme that effectively loans money for commercial and CFI training to a successful member-applicant. Let’s be quite clear here. This is not a free-ride and successful candidates are bound to repay the full cost of training, including use of aircraft at the standard club rates. The club essentially loans the money, in order for training to be started and completed in a timely—and so cost effective—manner, which is a win-win for all.
The president of this flying club who is also a club CFI explained their process to Steve Bateman, Director of AOPA’s Flying Clubs Initiative, himself a CFI:
Please do let us know if you adopt any of these ideas, and if you have other thoughts. We’d love to share your ideas with other Club Connector readers.