How “Masterful” is *Your* CFI?

GA pilots tend to regard *all* CFIs with godlike respect – which is gratifying (as a CFI) but often undeserved – and sometimes even dangerous. When the Corey Lidel accident happened in the East River Corridor, many people were incredulous this accident was even possible “with a CFI on board” – sometimes misplaced trust. The FAA has no standard for CFI excellence, just minimum standards for initial certification and a 16-hour online course every two years! A brand new CFI may only have only 5 hours of total solo time under their belt and may never have even fueled an airplane. (Other blogs have enumerated the horrors of FAA minimum training.) New CFIs (in the US) have no required mentoring or supervision when they start teaching. They are essentially “student teaching” on the job. Other flight instructors may have been teaching for years and unfortunately never improved past this entry-level of skill and knowledge. Professionalism in aviation is only defined by voluntary industry accreditation standards; that is why Master Instructor Certification was created. Instructor professionalism was one of the critical necessary safety pillars emphasized for aviation improvement in the SAFE Pilot Reform report– professional CFIs “raise all boats” (planes)!

It is not uncommon for new academy CFI graduates to lack even the most basic “real life” skills like aircraft fueling or tie down knots (it is not in the “shake and bake” syllabus). Some new CFIs have been pilots for less than a year. Think of what else they might not know. Current FAA statistics reveal that 2/3 of active FAA CFIs have taught less than a year. And this is a steady-state condition in our aviation industry as new CFIs continually build hours and move on to professional careers. And it is a bigger mistake to assume that age is an indicator of quality since many people retire young and get all their ratings “while senior” (they may be gray-haired and brand new!) There are only about 2,500 professional continuously full-time CFIs. How does a flight student or pilot seeking an excellent instructor determine the “masters” of flight education?

One way to find a veteran aviation educator and access that valuable wealth of experience is to select a “Master Instructor.”  The original Master Instructor Program was created by Sandy and JoAnn Hill of Colorado in 1997. Both lifelong professional educators and CFIs, they saw the need for a voluntary industry accreditation program to raise the professional standards for aviation educators. The flight instructor’s Model Code of Conduct lays out the aspirational goals for every flight instructor seeking to become better. This AeroNews podcast from 2011 explains industry problems and solutions.

Now celebrating 24 years and thousands of designations, the Master Instructors accreditation program represents what former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey called “the best the right seat has to offer” in aviation. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt called the assembled Master Instructors at the GAS “the movers and shakers of the flight training community.” The Master Instructor Continuing Education ProgramTM (MICEP) is now part of SAFE with a new website and simpler online accreditation form created and maintained by Submittable going live on Monday.

Earning a Master designation is not easy (though for most veteran CFIs the major challenge is organizing their experience into the required categories). Less than half of 1% of all educators earn this honor. But not surprisingly, this illustrious group is remarkably overrepresented in professional activities and also in earning FAA honors – 43% of National GA Award Winners are Master Instructors. Though voluntary industry improvement is the heart of this program, the vast majority of Master educators acknowledge that the program not only improved them by challenging them to become better educators, it dramatically increased their earnings from surveyed 10-40%. Several reported more than a 100% hike in their sustainable hourly rates. Additionally, several flight schools provide incentive packages to their Masters worth more than $8,000 annually. Some premier training facilities like Aviation Performance Solutions, require all their instructors to earn Master qualifications.MasterInstructorLogo

We are very pleased to now have the original Master Instructor Program as part of SAFE. The core values are entirely consistent with our SAFE mission of professionalism. Fly SAFE out there (and often) and get started on that Master certification!


Join SAFE and receive great benefits while supporting the mission of safety. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight immediately and a try new discounted CFI Bootcamp Resources.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI Insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


%d bloggers like this: