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Life as a CFI

Ten years ago, aspiring pilots could go to flight school, get their commercial pilot license, and be eligible to go to an airline. In 2013 that all changed when US Congress passed a law requiring all Airline Transport Pilot License (ATP) candidates to have a minimum of 1,500 total flight hours. This shook the industry and created a gap in the market that would eventually contribute to today's pilot shortage.

Before 2013 pilots could go to an airline with only 250 flight hours, presuming they had their commercial pilot license. From there, they would undergo rigorous airline pilot training. However, most did not go straight to the airlines because they were not competitive candidates with only 250 flight hours. Many would find other flying jobs towing banners, flying charter operations, etc. Perhaps the most popular route was to become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI).

After building a few hundred hours, many pilots would head off to the airlines to fulfill their dreams. Since the 1,500-hour rule was implemented, low-time pilot jobs have been in high demand as pilots work to acquire these hours. Flight instructing is the most popular avenue pilots take to procure flight hours in 2023. The majority of flight schools that offer programs designed to get a pilot to the airlines provide a CFI course.

Axiom Aviation offers a CFI course for initial CFI, Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII), and Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI). These courses are available to Axiom students going through the entire program and outside candidates. Students who go through Axiom's Zero to Hero or Private Credit programs are guaranteed an interview as a CFI at Axiom upon completion of the CFI course.

How long do I have to be a CFI?

Time as a CFI varies between pilots. Some pilots choose to be CFI's as a career. Others only teach until they go to the airlines. Some pilots only teach until they have enough hours to get another flying job, such as being a survey pilot or flying charter. Select pilots return to instructing after years of being airline pilots. The point is that time spent as a CFI depends on your flying goals.

For those wondering how long it takes to acquire sufficient hours to go to an airline, the answer is it depends. There are a lot of variables involved with acquiring flight hours as a CFI. Factors such as student availability, weather, airplane maintenance, and many more can all play a part in determining how many hours a CFI gets in a month.

Here at Axiom, our CFIs average 70-80 flight hours a month. However, this can vary depending on the aforementioned factors. At this rate, pilots can expect to reach the airlines after approximately 16 months of instructing. A common goal for flight instructors is to get 100 flight hours monthly. This goal is commonly met during periods of nice weather here at Axiom. At this rate, a pilot can go to the airlines after only 12 months of instructing.

Keep in mind that the only time that may be counted towards flight time is from engine startup to shutdown. Meaning that every flight hour will require one to two hours of preflight, postflight, and ground instruction.


It is no small secret that CFIs and airline pilots receive different salaries. CFI pay can vary significantly from one location to the next. CFIs may work in two different ways. Option one is that they operate as a freelancer. Option two is that they work for a flight school.

As freelancers, CFIs may charge what they want but must stay competitive to receive students. The student generally pays for this instruction out of pocket as no financing options exist. CFIs working as freelancers get the total amount paid, as no one else can take a cut. Aside from airplane rental fees, CFIs typically charge between $40-70 per flight hour. The rate can vary by instructor and level of instruction. They usually charge similar rates for ground training, although select flight schools offer limited free ground school.

At a flight school, CFI rates also vary. Some schools pay per flight hour. Some pay per hour of total time, including pre-flighting the aircraft and other things. Some pay hourly for ground training; some pay for ground training in bonuses. On the low end, instructors can make as little as $15 per hour. They can earn between $30-40 per hour on the high end. It all depends on the school and how they pay.

CFI Schedule

CFIs' schedules primarily depend on student schedules, meaning they can be sporadic. Flight cancelations are also common due to varying factors. Due to the uncertain nature of the job, many CFIs have second jobs that help guarantee a set income. CFIs are typically required to have pretty flexible schedules within a set time block.

For example, one instructor may work Monday through Friday from 0500 to 0900 at another job. But from 1030 till 1900, they are available to instruct. This does not mean they will work this entire time, but they will likely be busy for five to seven hours of this time block.

Bottom Line

Being a CFI is not a high-paying job; although career CFIs can make a little more, it is still not a lot. The schedule is sporadic and can be unpredictable. Many CFIs work long hours for little pay and only a few flight hours. However, being a CFI can be extremely rewarding, help you further your career goals, and allow you to live your dream of flying every day.

If you have any questions about flight training or being a CFI, reach out to us at (262)AX-PILOT. Or email us at

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