CFI - the Certificate to Keep

Whether you’re actively teaching or not, make sure you renew your flight instructor certificate.

Part of my Thanksgiving weekend was spent renewing my CFI certificate. While it is a bit of a hassle to go through this hoop every couple of years, it is an important task for me regardless of the fact that I don’t do much instructing anymore. I have met several pilots who have let their CFI certificates go and genuinely regretted it. I won't let that happen to me. And besides not wanting to lose my flight instructing privileges, during the renewal process I always learn something new and get reminded of things I’ve forgotten.

Unlike a private pilot certificate that doesn’t expire (and allows you to fly as long as you have completed a biennial flight review), the failure to renew a CFI certificate before its expiry date results in the revocation of the privileges of teaching people to fly. The only way to regain this privilege is to take a CFI reinstatement check ride with an FAA designated pilot examiner or FAA inspector. This test is very challenging and requires a lot of preparation, particularly if you haven’t been teaching for a while. The preparation process and test could also be quite costly as it includes a flight test with a complex airplane requirement.

But whether you're actively teaching or not, it's easy to prevent having to go through the CFI reinstatement process. If you are an active flight instructor who has signed off at least 5 students in the past two years or if your work involves the evaluation of pilots (jobs such as a company check airman or chief flight instructor) you simply need to bring a record showing your qualifications to the local Flight Standards District Office, and your CFI certificate will be renewed automatically. You just have to make sure you visit the FSDO before the certificate’s expiry date.

If you don’t qualify for the automatic renewal, you have to complete a flight instructor renewal course (FIRC). There are several weekend clinics available around the country and you can sign up as early as four months prior to the expiry date. If you can’t find the time to attend a weekend class, there are online classes through companies such as Sporty's, Gleim, AOPA’s Air Safety Institute, Jeppesen and American Flyers that you can study at your convenience. Yeah, an online FIRC requires some work, but you can do it an hour at a time and spread it out over several weeks, if that’s what works best for you.

And just as the lack of scheduling can't be used as an excuse to lose the CFI certificate, neither can cost. In fact, I have not paid anything to renew my CFI certificate since 2005. I signed up for American Flyers’ online FIRC for which there is a one-time fee of $125. Now I can renew my CFI certificate for free for the rest of my life.

You may be one of many pilots who obtained the flight instructor certificate only as a time builder to move up to other flying jobs. Once you are hired, you may not see the value in renewing the CFI certificate. If you’re a pilot who feels that you won’t ever use your teaching privileges again, I have one piece of advice – keep renewing your CFI certificate! You may change your mind and find the time and desire to teach someone to fly during the course of your career. And there is an even better chance that you will have many healthy years after you retire from your other flying job. At that point you may have a strong desire to share your experiences through flight instructing. The biennial CFI renewal is much easier than having to study for and retake the exam with the FAA at a later date. It may seem as a hassle while you're going through the course every couple of years, but I'm sure you won't regret it.

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