CFI: The New RTP?

By: Joey Newton

A few years back, the Rotor Transition Program, or RTP for short, was hot off the press. Companies paid for both the fixed wing ratings and the additional time building needed for candidates to meet the requirements of the Restricted ATP, making a transition into the airline industry a very easy decision for service members and helicopter pilots everywhere.  Enter the year 2020, and COVID-19 violently disrupted the entire industry...

The RTPs were suddenly a thing of the past and many transitioning military pilots were forced to activate their secondary Course of Action in planning for their post military flying careers. While the RTPs may return in the future as the pilot shortage looms, there are no guarantees that they will be available. So what is an aspiring pilot to do? How can one build hours without building mountains of corresponding debt? It may be time to consider doing it the good old fashioned way-as a Certificated Flight Instructor.

While a large number of airline and professional pilots do hold a CFI certificate, the certificate is not required to become an airline pilot. Many pilots, in fact, make it through their entire career without it, and are quite successful. To be frank, the initial CFI ticket is not an easy one to get. It requires two FAA written tests, and an arduous practical test. So is it worth it to expose yourself to an extra, unnecessary check ride? After all, we have established that it is not required to become an airline pilot. So why would you want to consider becoming a CFI at all? Here are my top four reasons to consider it:

Build time while earning money. This is, of course, the strongest argument for earning a CFI certificate and why many pilots do so, especially if the RTPs are a thing of the past. Once you earn your CFI, you can start putting money into your ramen noodle fund while also putting hours into your logbook. You can continue to make yourself more employable by adding on other instructor certificates.  With the RTPs of yesteryear going away, your time building to reach your ATP or R-ATP minimums can come along with a sweet paycheck and a cool job that doesn’t usually feel much like work at all. Another added benefit of holding a CFI is that you always have a side hustle to fall back on if another industry change occurs.

Instructing is learning. Any instructor will tell you that they regularly learn something new while teaching. Each student is different and will ask different questions and believe it or not,  some questions you may not know the answers to! The role of the instructor is not to know everything, but to know ALMOST everything and to know where to look for the rest. Looking up answers with students is a great way to get them into the publications as well, so it’s a win-win-and you’ll know that answer next time a student asks. It also keeps you sharp as a pilot, since you are always striving to teach each student the correct way things should be done.

Instructing is satisfying. Watching a student go from having never flown in an airplane before to greasing landing after landing is a very satisfying experience. The joy of watching them pass their check ride based on what you’ve been able to teach them is an incredible feeling. Many flight schools work with tons of veterans and RTAG members, and helping them achieve their dreams is unmatched.

Instruction keeps you competitive . The future is bright right now for pilots and aspiring pilots, but from a professional standpoint, it is, and always has been, a good idea to keep yourself competitive. Remember that other pilots you’ll be in the application pool with will have CFI on their resume, since this is the traditional route for time building after earning the commercial tickets. While a CFI is also not required  to work in the training department of a 121 Carrier (14 CFR Part 61.167), it cannot hurt to have experience instructing already when seeking those roles as an instructor at your future airline. Also, being able to talk shop” with other pilots at your company that have instructed or recount stories from near death experiences with students helps to build rapport with other pilots at an interview or in training, not to mention in the cockpit on long flights with your fellow crew members.

Once you get the hours you need and land that sweet dream job, there are likely other opportunities to use your CFI in the future as well, such as being able to teach your children, family or friends how to fly one day. While every CFI doesn’t work full time as an instructor, there are many opportunities to put the certificate to work in the future if you choose to do so, including as a volunteer with the Boy Scouts, local EAA chapter, or Civil Air Patrol, which by the way, also adds some depth to your resume.

Time as a Flight Instructor is not only great for a pilot’s professional development, but sharing the joy of aviation with others is also just plain fun. If it is something you have been considering, I believe it is well worth your time and investment to better yourself as a pilot and earn an additional rating, whether you’ll need it for time building or not. While the RTPs may make a comeback in the future, becoming a CFI is a great way to take your experience and time building into your own hands and make it happen for yourself on your own timeline, and I highly recommend it.

Joey Newton is a Gold Seal Flight Instructor and holds his CFI, CFII, and MEI ratings. A former Army Aviator and UH-60M pilot, he currently instructs full-time at Fly Corps Aviation in Savannah, Georgia. He begins training with a regional airline in the fall.

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RTAG is a Veteran run 501(c)(3) non profit organization designed to help all veterans, regardless of experience, jumpstart their post military career in the world of aviation.

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