When the Other Shoe Drops

Several friends and I got some bad news last week. The school that we went to contacted the 8 of us that finished our CFIs over a year ago to tell us that they would not be hiring any of us, and would only be considering more recent CFI graduates. The news hit us pretty hard, but I knew this was coming. The market is flooded with CFIs and schools are still training new ones up. At the same time, Sallie Mae has pretty much stopped lending to flight students. This has been a 1-2 punch to the CFI market. As the supply of CFIs has increased, the supply of students with financing–and therefore the demand for CFIs–has collapsed. This isn’t even considering the trouble 1000-hr CFIs are having finding jobs. Some schools have resorted to firing 1000-hr CFIs to artificially inflate the demand for their low-time CFIs. Other schools are keeping their CFIs on longer. Somebody loses in either scenario.

Even though the school I went to routinely hired guys who had been out for >6 months, I think they’ve reach the point where they have so many CFIs looking for work that they had to start cutting some of us off. They laid off two 1000-hr instructors and didn’t replace them, and the school is still having trouble filling their schedule. There just aren’t enough students out there who can get the money to start training. This is an industry-wide problem, and contraction in the flight instruction market is going to continue for a while.

For those of us who didn’t get a job right out of school, this is probably where our aviation careers will end. Even though I’ve spent the time furthering my education in other ways (like taking HAI courses), our cockpit skills have been slowly degrading. A good student and pilot who hasn’t flown much in the last year stands no chance against even a marginal student who just got his certificate and whose skills are sharp. That’s what it means when an old timer tells you that timing is everything in this industry.The tragedy for 2 of my friends is that both had 6-month breaks in their training (one for an instructor he wasn’t progressing with, and the other to take a job to save up for her Commercial and CFI tickets). In all probability, they’d at least be at 1000 hrs now.

This is also a harbinger for the future. Everybody that I’ve talked to in the industry has been saying that Sallie Mae is very reluctant to start lending again. As long as that’s the case, the flight instruction industry is going to be reliant on money from the VA and GI Bill, and from foreign students or students who have saved up enough on their own. This is a small slice of the student pie compared to what flight schools were getting from Sallie Mae and other lenders several years ago. Schools that can’t tap those other student pools are going to fail, and they’ll be dumping their medium-time CFIs onto the market. When schools start hiring again, their CFIs that just recently finished will be first in line, and those medium-time CFIs from failed schools are going to be the next most attractive candidates. You can see this in the few advertised CFI jobs–the ones that are out there are asking for a minimum of 500 hrs TT.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do. At the Vegas career seminar 2 years ago, I talked to BoatPix but didn’t follow up on it thinking that I’d make the cut and get hired at my school. My timing couldn’t be worse: Silverstate had just failed, and I graduated right after 6 other students; 2 of them had just gotten hired. It was months before any of the other instructors got jobs and left, and 2 that left weren’t replaced. Especially in this economy, getting hired by another school is an improbable event, and last year at HAI half the schools I talked to wouldn’t even take a resume from me (I’m sure the others pitched my resumes before they left the building). BoatPix is now also swamped with CFIs who got on before the economy crashed. That leaves me with approximately zero options for now.