But relegating the job of flight instructor to mere steppingstone status—a means to an end—does a disservice to the profession, not to mention the aviation industry. Flight instructors are integral components in the machine. They introduce people to thrilling first-time experiences in small airplanes. They shape, mold, and influence generations of pilots.
Not everyone is meant to be a teacher. The day-in, day-out routine of flying right seat can become drudgery, at least when it’s not punctuated by moments of sheer terror. But if you enjoy what you do—if you find yourself cheering for those moments when a student grasps a difficult aeronautical concept or touches down like a butterfly after slamming the airplane onto the ground in successive attempts to land—then consider becoming a CFI for life.
You’ll be in good company. Rod Machado, Bruce Williams, Max Trescott: Each of these well-known aviators has tapped into his own reserve of knowledge to leverage a successful career teaching.
“But flight instructors don’t make enough money,” you say. That may be true if you’re working for a flight school where you’re not getting enough hours, or you’re simply not earning enough on an hourly basis to sustain a living. In that case, you might have to supplement your flight instructing with a side hustle, and that can range from Uber to professional consulting on a topic of your choice.
But what if you’re working for yourself, and yourself only? That’s what Machado, Williams, and Trescott do. In Machado’s case, he leveraged a comedic personality and a love of flying into a popular series of books, online courses, YouTube videos, and public speaking gigs that pilots adore because Machado is unmatched at breaking down what can seem to be bewildering aeronautical concepts into digestible and relatable lessons. Machado no longer has time in his busy schedule to do one-on-one flight instruction, but it can be argued that he’s serving the greater good by spreading his gospel of fun flying to thousands of pilots.
Williams divides his time between flying for his own business and flight instructing at Galvin Flying at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington. He specializes in technically advanced aircraft familiarization, instrument training, and Beechcraft Bonanzas. Like Machado and Trescott, Williams is keenly interested in a certain segment of aviation—in his case, it’s the application of simulators to flight instruction—and he has written two books on the subject. He also manages a YouTube channel.
Trescott is an expert in Garmin glass cockpit technology, and he has written two books with a third on the way. “I’m a strong believer in specialization,” he told AOPA Pilot in 2020. He has a roster of clients for Cirrus SR22 and SF50 Vision Jet instruction, and even though he had to pay for his own type rating in the jet, it was a good investment as his client base continues to grow. When he’s not flight instructing, Trescott produces a podcast, Aviation News Talk.
You’ll likely have picked up a thread of commonality among the three instructors: They’re all good at self-promotion. That’s an important part of working as an independent flight instructor, because nobody else is going to do it for you. Social media provides more platforms than ever to get your name and specialization out there, so that’s not a hurdle.
If I’ve not convinced you to flight instruct for its own rewards rather than using it as a stepladder to a regional airline, then at least keep your flight instructor certificate current as you progress in your aviation career. Many airline pilots flight instruct in their spare time, and many more are happy to flight instruct after they’ve retired from flying big iron. You worked hard for that certificate, so why let it get rusty?