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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Career Flight Instructors!

Success and The Love of Flying

Last week I attended the Palo Alto 99 awards banquet, and as Sue Ballew drove me back to my hotel, she told me about how busy she was as a flight instructor. 40-50 hours of flying a week for the previous two years. And when you're an independent contractor you can charge what you want. I'm thinking this is a great living for those who love to fly. I asked Sue if I could share the details of her career. Below is what she sent me: 

 West Valley Flying Club

"West Valley Flying Club has been in existence since 1972, over 40 years. It was the largest flying club in the US until recently. Way back in the beginning the members/CFIs decided to have the CFIs become independent contractors. The rest of the “Peninsula” has pretty much confirmed to that format.

What makes this work is that all of the operations are flying clubs. The members pay a monthly fee, usually between about $40 and $50. (WVFC has 850 members). This gives them access to all of the airplanes that are online. The majority of the airplanes are on leaseback from individual members. If the member needs training then they hire the CFI as an independent contractor. We teach with our own methods, are free to work as much or as little as we want, set our own schedules, and teach in whatever aircraft we choose. There is a small amount of oversight, and especially if there is a safety issue. West Valley Flying Club and most clubs monitor safety very closely.

So the clubs make money from the membership dues and aircraft rental – not out of the pocket of the CFI. We keep the entire fee. I, and I assume everyone else, charge from the beginning of the lesson until the end – unlike in the old days of charging for flight time only. (Sheesh – that was giving up our valuable time for nothing). My typical lessons are three hours each.

One of the big differences between our clubs and schools is that most of us generate our own leads. In this respect I have been very busy for close to 5 years, particularly because of my website, Skytrekker Aviation but also because I am active in the industry and now have a reputation. If someone just wants to have leads handed to them then they probably want to work at a school. But now that the economy has picked up, (we are in the heart of Silicon Valley also), lots of leads just come to the clubs. But the other thing is, the clubs have all of the CFIs out there generating business for them. So there is tons of online presence and networking.

There are four major clubs at Palo Alto airport with about 80 – 100 airplanes online. I teach at Advanced Flyers, San Carlos (which has three major clubs with maybe 50 airplanes online) and West Valley Flying ClubAdvantage Aviation  is also a large club in the area.

There are about 36 instructors at West Valley, with some teaching at other clubs. In total I would say there are probably about 80 active instructors on the Peninsula. (With a big caveat --- These are just my estimates)

There has been a big push by AOPA for flying clubs recently. Everyone thinks this is a way to reduce costs. I don’t know. I do know that this is a way to have really good instructors – career instructors, that can make a living and that stay. Many of the instructors in the Bay Area have been doing this for 10 – 20 – 30 years.

The instructor fees range from about $60 up to $90- $100 per/hour."

Enjoy the Journey! 
XOX Karlene


  1. 50 hours a week is 2500 hours a year. Did you mean 50 hrs per month?

    1. Good Point Ron, I better confirm! I was taking that for how many hours she put in. Not necessarily flown. As you know... one hour means perhaps three working. I will double check. Thank you!!!

    2. The 40 - 50 hours per week is what I actually work. Flight time is about 1:.75. Hope that makes sense.

    3. Thanks Sue, that's what I suspected!!

  2. Fun to hear you talk about WVFC and Sue :-) I flew out of here and PAO is a neat little airport in the Bay Area and the SCV99s a fun group of women pilots. I did one of my checkouts with Sue at WVFC and she is composed and easy to fly with. I miss those California flying day :(

    1. Oh...this is so nice to hear! I know Sue will appreciate the comment. Thank you!

  3. I must also add, that this was an eye opener for me. Until then I paid half the price for instruction. I felt cheated when I was charged a flat price for the time I blocked my instructor. I realize instructors have to live... but at what cost? My instructors at SBP were fun, exciting and worthy by all means. Sue was an exception at WVFC. I enjoyed flying with her and she never over charged!

    1. Instructors do have to live. And the stories I've heard of people making $10 and hour after the FOB gets their cut are gone. I suppose it's which side of the coin. I was shocked to hear the price of a designated examiner! $800? Is that for real?


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