There are some skills some flight instructors have that set them apart from other flight instructors. You have seen them, they are the instructor that everyone wants to fly with. Something about their confidence and personality makes them a magnet in aviation. Those are the career flight instructors that can actually make a decent living as an instructor.
Today not nearly as many people are staying in aviation to teach our next generation of pilots. Instead you have a bunch of pilots that get their flight instructor rating as a tool to build more time so that can move on to another flying job. While that is an effective way of moving up the ladder of your career, some pilots are not great instructors.
So what makes a great flight instructor? Probably the biggest factor is a pilot that wants to be a flight instructor as his/her final destination. Someone who enjoys the teaching experience tends to make a better learning experience for their students.
What everyone else does
Most pilots have their eye on either a corporate career or an airline career. The money that can be made in these fields is a definite draw in the industry. However there is a catch to those higher salaries and that is the time that those industries demand.
Time away from home is a big concern for airline pilots today as airlines finely hone schedules to extract the most productivity out of a pilot to the companies advantage. This is becoming the norm and the easy life of flying once a week for two hundred thousand dollars are year are vanishing. A little planning can take the lower paying flight instructor jobs and make them more desirable. But with a little planning and some thinking outside the box a flight instructor could easily earn 100,000 or more and be home every night.
Think through it
Most aspiring pilots do not take the time to think carefully about which direction they should take in aviation. A lot of career directions are taken as here-say or with someone else’s perspective. Aviation is different now, even in the last twenty years it has changed significantly.
An aspiring pilot really should sit down and do some serious research in what avenue of aviation interests them most. The challenge is that most aspiring pilots have no idea what all the choices are and how they could think outside the box as well. The reason they do not know these things is because they have no experience yet.
Sure anyone can look back and say how they would change things, but emphasis needs to be placed on just how you can do this kind of research even if you have very little aviation background. The key is to put aside your emotions and even the desire to make millions of dollars in order to figure this out. Below are some key questions you should ask yourself before you choose a direction. Just like a doctor chooses a specialty, a pilot should choose one too but based on other things besides money.
So this is really the starting point if you want to be an effective and desired flight instructor. The key word is desired, Certified Flight Instructors that are in demand are the instructors that can make a good living.
So ask yourself these questions.
Can you achieve your goals on $50,000- $75,000 a year?
Do you live in an affordable part of the country?
Is the weather good enough so that you are not losing potential work days to bad weather days?
Are you married and will your spouse earn an income?
Do you have a supplemental income plan figured out?
Have you talked to enough commercial pilots to gather the information you need to determine if their lifestyle is attractive or not.
This could take some time.
Once you worked through these questions its time to take some thought into the skills you must posses to be effective. Effective flight instructors are flight instructors that work consistently and that consistent work means more money.
List of Skills
What is your personality like? Do you make friends easily? Is it fun to be around you? People are attracted to personality and the likable flight instructors are going to get more work. Plus students are going to want to become a pilot when they enjoy working with someone likable.
Back in the earlier days of aviation training, training could be very stressful. I can remember more than one event where I felt like you could cut the tension with a knife. I also can say that I have been yelled at, and even swatted with a pointer stick by instructors with their own unique teaching style. This is not effective and will not earn you a steady living. You have to develop your own teaching style that is based on a calm demeanor that makes learning fun. This teaching style will set you apart as an effective flight instructor.
Sense of humor
Just like any other job a good sense of humor can go a long way. Who cares that your student bounced the plane or landed hard during their flight training. Having a good sense of humor disarms people and allows them to focus on learning instead of wondering how you think of them as a pilot.
An flight instructor who is generous with his time and sometimes money is one who builds a great reputation. Teaching is about helping someone move to the next level of understanding. No one enjoys someone who is watching the clock.
Being generous with your time and giving yourself to your students understanding is what makes a great flight instructor. I also encourage flight instructors to celebrate a rating or an accomplishment (like first solo) with a small gift. This makes it special and word gets around fast that you go above and beyond.
Granted, most students do not have more skills than their own instructors, so there is no jeopardy in giving out compliments and encouraging their students. People that understand how to encourage others in any field are generally more successful than most. Even if it was a rough lesson with not much progress, always give some sort of encouragement to keep your students motivated.
Read body language
Knowing what your student is feeling is an important part of their learning process. Reading their body language is essential in helping them in the lesson. If you can see that someone is genuinely nervous about something (lets say landings) then you can access some of your tools such as encouragement to help them with their confidence.
Not convey time building
There is nothing worse than a flight instructor who is a clock watcher or someone who is just at the instructor point to build time. Not everyone is a good instructor and you can convey that information by disclosing it from the beginning as you get to know your students. Older students are turned off by time builders, they want to hire someone who has some mileage and experience to help them learn as much as possible.
Have a life
There is a lot to do outside of aviation. Having interesting hobbies and interests rounds you out more than the guy who’s whole life is the airport. Instructing is about building relationships. Being interesting is part of that process.
Take some time to gather resources that you can use to help your students along the way. If they are having difficulty with cross wind landings, book mark and save some You Tube videos that help explain that. Read and make copies of articles that are informative and helpful. Purchase courses and go to refresher classes that help you hone your craft as an instructor. Lots of material is much better than none at all and over time you will have the chance to gather some really great stuff.
Understand your market
Understanding your market is how you can tactically offer instruction in an area that someone is looking for. For example give glass time because all airlines have glass cockpits and its a real need right now. Write a blog or sell a book or product. Develop yourself as the expert, they guy that knows a little about everything. There are multiple ways to generate income and establish yourself as an expert.
There are also out of the box type of scenarios that you could explore such as buying your own multi engine plane to give instruction in. Pilots are always screaming for multi time and if you have your own plane and are going somewhere you could easily get paid to take someone along. Learn how to identify niche opportunities, they are everywhere if you look for them.
Confidence is the biggest skill that you can posses. Lets face it, flying is not hard. I had an flight instructor once tell me that you could teach a monkey to fly if you have enough bananas. While that is humorous it is more or less true. Everyone likes to fly and its fun, but confidence takes you to the next level.
I hope this article has helped you in your aviation career. These kind of list items are seldom talked about but always accumulated over time. Looking at them in the beginning stages will hopefully be more helpful in your career.
Being a flight instructor is not always about small aircraft or general aviation. You can make a comfortable living and a career goal from working in commercial aviation as advanced simulator instructors. These jobs are always in high demand due to flight instructors wanting to move on to other things.
The first step to earning a salary as a flight instructor is to become a pilot.