Week of November 9, 1998

Years ago I remember looking through the records at the airport where I was working my way up throrugh my licenses. I came across a pilot whose card was noted "PVT CFI." The notation seemed to say that this person had a private pilot license with a flight instructor rating, and I was confused. I asked one of the older instructors, and he replied that the instructor rating can indeed be attached to a private license.

He granted that it is an uncommon and almost unusable combination, because such a person could only instruct for free. Its primary application would be in the case of someone who wished to instruct a spouse, child, or other family member. Remember that the class of a pilot's license only denotes his privileges, not his abilities. There are lots of skilled, effective, and experienced private pilots flying around.

Those were the old days, All flight instructors now must possess a commercial license and an instrument rating. Back then, most flight instructor ratings were first appended to a brand new commercial pilot license, which could be obtained without an instrument rating. Flight instructing is aviation's entry level job, and nowadays the climb to that first job is longer and more expensive. I don't know if aviation's best interests were served by requiring that instructors go through so much training which is of speculative value to the job of primary flight training.

Is it a fair guess that there are fewer flight instructors now than there were years ago? Yes, but the explanation goes beyond the number of new instructors licensed each year. Flight instruction is a high risk occupation, not to life and limb, but to a pilot's license. In this day and age of social responsibility, the instructor loses his license if his student does something which draws the scrutiny of the FAA.

It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to obtain the necessary licenses to become a professional pilot. $20,000 is not an unreasonable amount, and that just lets you in the door and gives you a chance or two to spin the wheel of fate. Most pilots, as soon as they get a "real" job, curtail instructing because they could lose their career over a student's mistake.

I know some pilots with real flying jobs who also instruct, and I know some old gray gulls who have always instructed, and will instruct until their last molt. There are enough pilots that generalizations are difficult, but by and large, the flight instructor population is young and transient. Just passin' through, you might say. Aviation needs more instructors, local people, who could each teach a few students at their nearby country airports.

Several months ago, I was at an airport gathering when I met a woman who talked to me about her young son taking flying lessons. We talked of how quickly kids learn, and what a positive experience it is for kids to learn to fly. As I talked with her, I came to realize that she was a woman of natural and understated beauty. As our conversation ended, she shrugged and looked past me with Princess Diana eyes and said that she didn't "have a boyfriend who was a flight instructor anymore."

It was at that moment that I completely understood the full dimensions of the flight instructor shortage.