Flight training is a business
“My boyfriend said he would be my instructor for free.” This sentence is the aeronautical version of “I will call you”.
A CFI who hears this knows the pedagogical relationship is over – and you might be surprised to learn how much of a relief that can be. Often, when someone asks for free training, it’s because the customer’s mindset is that ground talks and air demonstrations aren’t worth much, and because the CFI records hours is paid enough. In short, the learner does not perceive his instructor as a professional. This lack of respect can make it difficult to teach that person.
There are CFIs who teach for free to build their hours. There are CFIs that don’t charge for ground instruction – nor do they record it in the learner’s logbook – but that’s a topic for another day.
For most CFIs, however, flight instruction is how they make a living and they expect to be paid.
Why should you pay
Your CFI has spent a lot of time, maybe years, learning to fly, and more time learning to teach flying. Your CFI probably spent a lot of money learning to fly. They may have student debt, and if they work as an instructor, they probably have a side job or they get help from mom and dad. This is because most instructor jobs are considered entry-level positions with entry-level salaries, and it can be difficult to make ends meet.
If the CFI works at a flight school, expect the school to take a large chunk of whatever you pay per hour. For example, if you pay $55 an hour for lessons, CFI is probably making less than half that. This is the nature of the industry in many places, as many flight schools are small businesses operating on very thin margins. They cannot afford to pay their employees more and as a result they usually experience rapid employee turnover, especially of instructors when airlines hire.
The CFI is there to be your teacher and, in some cases, your mentor. Don’t expect discounts or anything free from flight time to pilot supplies. Don’t be surprised if your CFI is hesitant to lend you a book or some riding gear, like a helmet. Very often, these elements do not come back, and CFIs find out the hard way.
If you have your own aircraft, you may have difficulty finding a CFI who can work with you, as many flight schools have rules prohibiting their instructors from flying in non-school aircraft. Some cite insurance costs, arguing that if something happens on a non-school plane, the school could potentially be held liable because it employs CFI. Others simply state that they don’t make money from a customer-owned plane, so they consider it moonlighting and cause for termination.
No-show and late cancellation
Most CFIs only get paid when they work with a client, so the time they spend waiting around the FBO for clients to show up is unpaid. It is very daunting for the FCI to spend time and money going to the airport expecting to fly out and be landed. If this happens too often, the CFI may refuse to schedule you, as they may be flying with someone more reliable.
Most flight schools require their customers to sign a no-show agreement which states that the person who does not show up will pay a fraction of the aircraft rental and CFI time. Your CFI could work with someone else, the plane could be used by someone else – it’s a waste of income everywhere when you don’t show up.
There are similar rules for last minute cancellations. There is always an exception. “I didn’t make it because my car broke down on the freeway” is likely to be better received than “I wanted to play video games with my buddies.” Some FBOs often have the 15 minute window rule, where if you are more than 15 minutes late – unless you call and let them know – they will release both the plane and the CFI. If you’re usually late or absent, don’t be surprised if the CFI or FBO is hesitant to work with you.
Is it OK to tip your CFI?
Most CFIs will say yes. The father of a 16 year old boy once tipped me $50 after an introductory flight. The teenager was in the ‘rebellious goth phase’ and her father feared she was making the wrong choices. After the flight, she wanted to take flying lessons and attend high school with an aviation program. She did both and continued her career in the Air Force.
Some CFIs appreciate tips in kind or barter. I know of CFIs who have received tips in the form of kitchen cabinets, dental cleanings, fresh vegetables, baby clothes, car repairs, bags of cat litter, pet food, and food. an occasional load of firewood.
The moral of this story is that flight instruction is a business. You pay the CFI for services rendered based on the time you have spent with them. Yes, the CFI accumulates hours of experience, but they also need that money to survive, just like the piano teacher, the gardener, the carpet cleaner, the car mechanic, etc.
And remember, you do get what you pay for.