How To Make Money As An Independent CFI

Season 1 Episode 1

In this episode we’ll discuss different way to make money as an independent cfi. This includes flying for flight schools, flying for flight clubs, teaching pilots in their aircraft, ground schooling in person, ground schooling virtually, and simulator training.

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Can A CFI Work Independently?

Absolutely! CFI’s who work independently have multiple ways of making income. This includes flight instructing at flight schools as an independent contractor, teaching ground school in person, teaching ground school virtually, instructing at flying clubs, and instructing in other peoples aircraft (aircraft owners).  In this article we’ll learn how to make money as an independent CFI

Flight Instructing For Flight School

Teaching students at an established flight school is a great way to make income as a freelance flight instructor. Often times the school will hire CFI’s as independent instructors. This is also known as a 1099 contractor. Under this arrangement the school can’t legally dictate your schedule or have an employee relationship with you. This opens the door for you to instruct at other flight schools, clubs, or with other people. To be respectful ask the school if this is ok first. 

Pros And Cons Instructing At A Flight School



Being a freelance flight instructor at a flight school is a great revenue stream and should be approached professionally. First interaction with the flight school could be:

“Hello this is (insert your name). I’m an independent flight instructor looking to partner with a flight school to provide flight training. Would this be something you’d be interested in?”

Things to work out with the flight school include:

– Can you be paid as a 1099 contractor and will the school insure you
– Are you able to instruct on the side or with other entities 

Flight Instructor People Skills

Learning how to make money as an independent CFI requires people skills. You can be the best instructor in the world, but if you’re not able to work with people, you’re going to struggle. Do not take this lightly. Instructing is all about helping people accomplish their flight training goal. This isn’t covered we’ll in CFI training. Sure you can perform a maneuver while describing it from the right seat…That’s not people skills.

People skills start with “hello” and end with “we’ll see you at the next lesson” and everything in-between. Let’s talk about good people skills during a typical lesson:

1. Introduction: First, greet the customer with a handshake and introduce yourself (It may sound stupid, but we’ve seen instructors struggle with this). Have a go to intro script. Example: “Hey (insert students name), my name is Michael. Nice to meet you! I’m a flight instructor with (insert company name), and I look forward to helping with your flight training goals”

2. Listen to their needs, process it, and let them know your looking forward to helping them accomplish their goal: It’s important that you listen to the customers needs. If they’re getting a license to fly recreationally it will alter training a bit vs a person training to become an airline pilot. 

Example: Airline pilot will need more adherence to checklist so teaching the student how to fly while running through a checklist is would be valuable. 

3. Be On Time And Ready: You’re setting an example. PERIOD. The student may say it’s ok if you show up late, but let me share a secret with you…. THEIR NOT OK WITH IT! If you want to take instruction seriously then show up on time and be prepared for the lesson. It’s baffling how many instructors fail in this area. 

4. Educate And Encourage: During lesson debriefs their bound to be areas that need improvement. Inform the student of these areas, but let them know that together you guys will conquer. It’s important that you keep moral up. 

5. Have a system for leaving the lesson: Give the student homework or things they can work on at home (area’s of improvement), Schedule the next lesson with the student before they leave. Have a last words script Example: “Thanks for coming in today, I look forward to our next lesson, and we’ll talk to you later” 

Buying An Aircraft For Flight Instruction

Getting an aircraft is an exciting endeavor. It can also be the worst nightmare if not approached properly. Instructing with your own aircraft will require planning. DO THE FOLLOWING BEFORE BUYING AN AIRCRAFT!

1. Put A budget together: This include initial cost and recurring cost. If you’re getting a loan be prepared to put a 10-20% down payment to secure the aircraft. For recurring cost put together a fixed and variable expense spreadsheet. Once you have expenses determine what you’re going to charge. Don’t be the cheap guy! Provide good instruction and charge appropriately. 

*NOTE: Not all expenses are included this is only an example.

Fixed Expenses

Variable Expenses

2. Line up maintenance: This is a major struggle for some instructors. Building a roster of intendent mechanics is best. Then offer them a high hourly wage via 1099 (good rule of thumb is half of whatever your paying a typical shop). Be prepared to talk about insurance. You’ll need to discuss with your insurance provider how your mechanic’s can be covered. Consider using a service like Phalanx Aviation. This company has a network of independent A&P’s that you can connect with.

3. Find your base of operations: Call around and find a place to base your operation. Once you’ve found a base MARKET, MARKET, MARKET. Do this before you get an aircraft. It will not hurt to have people calling you. It will hurt to have an aircraft with no customers.

4. Pick an aircraft that is reliable and has good support: Piper PA-28 or C172’s are good candidates as they were produced in large numbers and have plenty of support for the near future. 

5. Line-Up Insurance: Commercial flight training insurance is more expensive than typical aircraft insurance. Ask the insurance broker to break the premium up into payments. Some will do this and some won’t. This can help with cash flow issues during the start up phase.

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