I am a flight instructor at a flight school at Canada’s busiest training airport. The job involves being at the school almost 7 days a week with a wide variety of students from various backgrounds. Some are full-time international students who fly once to twice a day while others are part time high school students or people with full time jobs who may fly once every week or two and then disappear for a month before returning.
A typical path for an instructor would include 1-2 years as a VFR instructor providing training for private and commercial licences before moving on to IFR training and also multi-engine training. By then end of this cycle the instructor typically has enough experience to qualify for an ATPL licence and would be attractive to commuter airlines as a first officer on a turboprop such as a Beech 1900 or King Air. Some commuter airlines will get their new hires almost exclusively from instructors at the nearby training airport so do maintain a professional reputation as you instruct.
Instructing can vary greatly between schools: some are part of college programs where the students are full-time and are extremely devoted to their flying as this is school for them; others cater more to students learning for recreational purposes and generally include more part time private licence students. Some schools may have strictly single engine Cessna’s in their fleet. Others may have twin engine trainers, high performance singles, tail-draggers and maybe even seaplanes.
One major advantage to instructing is being able to stay in a major city while building up your experience flying vs. having to move to a remote community. However, instructing does not provide a very significant salary at first so meeting the urban cost of living can be a challenge during quieter times at the school.
An interesting aspect of instructing is the number of people you meet. I can list off the top of my head at least 15 countries that our students have come from. They all have very interesting stories about aviation in their home countries and often have useful information for future jobs once you have decided to move on to a new aspect of flying. As well through seminars, checkouts and IFR training you will get the opportunity to meet professional pilots who are at the school to upgrade their skills. They often provide valuable information on future job hunting and can give you insight into flying in the commercial environment.
The single most important skill as an instructor is having a great deal of patience and realizing that the student is being confronted with a number of new experiences at once. It would be impossible to expect them to pick everything up at once. Further patience is also needed if teaching at a school that includes international students in their program as English ends up being a topic to overcome as well as the flying.
As an instructor you will not be doing a great deal of flying. You are primarily there to help your students flying. That being said you do provide enough demonstrations, etc that your flying definitely stays sharp. If you do become an instructor don’t be afraid to fly a demonstration even if the student is well into their commercial. A single visual demonstration often does more good than half an hour of verbal critiquing. Additionally, you will not get much experience in cross country flight (until you start teaching mountain checks or IFR). Until then your flying will mainly be in the practice area and the circuit at the base airport.
Instructing is not a job to choose simply because you want to build hours. Your students (and boss) will pick up on this very quickly and you will not be very popular at the school. This does not mean you have to devote your life to instructing but you have to want to be doing your job. When you first start and especially during the winter the hours can be slow coming and there is a lot of non-flying work involved as well. That being said, instructing provides you with a great opportunity to learn more about flying. I have learned more as an instructor than I during any other phase in my flight training. There’s no better way to learn from other peoples mistakes and I’ve had a lot to learn from as I’ve instructed.
To become a flight instructor you first need to choose a flight school that you feel you would be comfortable teaching in as the vast majority of instructors start teaching where they did their initial rating. The rating itself takes between 3 months to a year depending on whether it is full time or part time. The bulk of the rating is classroom work and teaching ground briefings but there is 30 hours of flight time which can be viewed as PPL part two as you will go back to the basics and work through every exercise again. There is a written examination that is not too different from previous Transport Canada written exams you may have encountered. While doing your rating make sure you get yourself involved in the social environment at the school. Hang out at the school and don’t just be a face who walks in for your bookings and then quietly leaves. I would say this is the single greatest determining factor in which candidates have received jobs at my school upon completing their ratings. Instructing is a very social job and if you come across as timid on the ground there will be doubts as to your ability to interact in a useful manner with your students.
If you do decide to pursue instructing good luck! Remember to have fun: there are lots of ways to create variety in your lessons and your students will appreciate this as well.
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