A flight instructor is a person who teaches others to fly aircraft. Specific privileges granted to holders of a flight instructor qualification vary from country to country, but very generally, a flight instructor serves to enhance or evaluate the knowledge and skill level of an aviator in pursuit of a higher pilot's license, certificate or rating.
A person who holds a flight instructor certificate (called a "certificated flight instructor" or CFI) is authorized to give training and endorsements required for and relating to:
- a student, private, commercial or other pilot certificate;
- the three hours of training with reference only to instruments in preparation for a private pilot certificate, note that this does not need to be a CFII.
- an instrument rating, only if the CFI has an instrument instructor rating (CFII); This cannot be given by a "safety pilot". A safety pilot can only be used to help maintain instrument proficiency with an instrument-rated pilot by flying the required six instrument approaches-holding-intercepting and tracking courses, within the preceding six calendar months.
- a flight instructor certificate is only given if the experience requirements have been met (detailed below);
- a flight review, endorsement (previously called BFR) (currently referred to as flight review see 14 CFR part 61.56), or recency of experience requirement;
- preparation for a practical test (typically three hours within the preceding 60 days in preparation for a certificate or rating); or
- endorsement for a knowledge test (written examination)
Certain limitations are placed on the instruction a flight instructor may give. For example, flight instructors wishing to train applicants for a flight instructor certificate must have held their own flight instructor certificate for at least 24 months and must have given at least 200 hours of instruction. Specific training programs have additional requirements or limitations.
Flight instructors in the United States must hold at least a commercial pilot certificate or ATP (airline transport pilot) certificate. Individuals wishing to give instruction in airplanes or powered-lift aircraft are additionally required to hold an instrument rating in the desired category and class. Holders of a sport pilot certificate may obtain a flight instructor certificate with sport pilot rating, allowing them to give instruction for the sport pilot certificate in light-sport aircraft.
All individuals desiring flight instructor privileges must pass two additional written exams (fundamentals of instruction, or FOI; and a knowledge test specific to the category of aircraft in which instructional privileges are desired, such as fixed-wing) as well as a practical test. Flight instructors must be at least 18 years of age to be eligible. Those airmen who hold commercial privileges in lighter-than-air aircraft (balloons and airships) have flight instructor privileges in those category and classes they have on their pilot certificate. Lighter-than-air flight instructor privileges do not get placed on a flight instructor certificate.
In the United States, two professional organizations represent flight instructors nationally: The National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), and Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE)
Certified or Certificated?
In the September/October, 2012 issue of FAA Safety Brief, the following is offered to clear up the matter once and for all.
What does the “C” in CFI really stand for? Since 14 CFR part 61 usually frames references in terms of entities or aircraft “certificated” by the FAA, the term “certificated” flight instructor is most accurate.
As Gustave Schwartz writes, the following are some excerpts from the FAR’s supporting “certificated”:
61.1(18)(i) to exercise student pilot privileges from a “certificated” flight instructor  61.41 flight training received from flight instructors not “certificated” by the FAA 91.307(d)(2)(i) spins and other flight maneuvers required by the regulations for any certificate or rating when given by a “certificated” flight instructor  141.35(b)(2) primary flight training experience, acquired as either a “certificated” flight instructor  141.79(a) no person other than a “certificated” flight instructor 
There is, however, a situation detailed in SFAR No.73 to Part 61 where you must be both a “certificated” flight instructor and a “certified” flight instructor in order to give flight training in the Robinson R22/R44 helicopters.
To give that specialized helicopter flight training you must be “certified” to do so. That certification comes from attending the Robinson factory school.
So there is the evidence. Are you a “certified” flight instructor? No. Are you a “certificated” flight instructor? Yes. Are you giving flight instruction in Robinson helicopters? Then you are both “certificated (FAA)” and “certified (Robinson)”.
At the end of the day, when someone asks you to prove that its Certificated, ask them to locate "Certified Flight Instructor" in part 61 where the FAA creates them. It isn't there. Certificated is.
In India there are 3 grades of flight instructors namely API (Assistant Pilot Instructor), PI (Pilot Instructor) and CFI (Chief Flying Instructor). A PII (Pilot Instructor In-Charge) and Dep.CFI (Deputy CFI) are both variations of the PI and CFI ranks respectively but they essentially hold the same certificate / rating issued by DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation). Typically, an API, PI and PII wear 3 bar epaulets and a Dep. CFI and CFI wear 4 bar epaulets.
This section currently covers only the aeroplane flight instructor ratings.
In Canada, the holder of a commercial pilot licence or airline transport pilot licence may have their licence endorsed with a flight instructor rating - aeroplane. Initially, the pilot is endorsed as a "Class 4" flight instructor. This allows the pilot to deliver flight training towards the issuance of a recreational pilot permit, private pilot licence, commercial pilot licence, night rating, and VFR over-the-top rating. The "Class 4" flight instructor may only conduct training while under the supervision of bya "Class 2" or "Class 1" flight instructor.
After satisfying certain requirements (satisfactory flight test records, experience requirements, written exams, and flight tests), an instructor can upgrade their rating to a Class 3, Class 2, and Class 1 instructor rating. The Class 3 flight instructor does not require the supervision of a Class 2 or Class 1 flight instructor. The Class 2 flight instructor may supervise Class 4 flight instructors and act as the chief flight instructor (CFI) of a flight training unit. The Class 1 flight instructor may give ground school and flight training towards the endorsement of a flight instructor rating.
In order to give instruction towards the instrument rating, multi rating, type ratings, and class conversions (for example, land plane to sea plane), an instructor rating is not necessarily required. The requirements may be limited to holding a commercial or airline transport license and having met certain experience levels (such as time on type and in class). In the case of an instrument rating, the holder of a flight instructor rating can teach it even if they do not have the experience level required for non-flight instructors. Details are contained in the Canadian Aviation Regulations, parts 401 and 421.
Flight instructors in New Zealand must have a Category A, B, C, D or E flight instructor rating.
The Category E rating is specifically for conducting agricultural (top dressing, etc.) flying instruction. Category D flight instructor may conduct type ratings for any aircraft for which they hold a type rating. Category C flight instructors cannot send students on their first solo, and must operate under the supervision of a Category A or B flight instructor.
The chief flying instructor (CFI) is the flying instructor responsible for all flight training at an organization.
In South Africa, Grade I, II and III instructor ratings exist. Ratings for aeroplanes and helicopters are obtained and revalidated separately.
A Grade III instructor rating is an entry-level qualification, allowed to provide basic instruction toward the issue of a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) under supervision of a Grade I or Grade II flight instructor. A Grade III instructor must hold at least a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) in the same category.
A Grade II instructor requires at least 200 hours of instruction experience, and can function without supervision in most types of training (instrument, night, commercial, multi-engine etc.). Grade II instructors have some examiner privileges, specifically for PPL initial and revalidation tests and can be appointed as Chief Flight Instructors.
A Grade I instructor requires at least 1500 hours of instruction experience, and can provide any type of training on classes and types of aircraft on which the instructor is rated. A Grade I instructor is also eligible for appointment as a Class 1 Designated Flight Examiner (DFE-I).
A DFE-I can issue and renew any licences and ratings that he or she is rated for. The appointment is renewed annually. Most DFE-Is are employed by major airlines.
There is also a parallel system, not in compliance with ICAO guidelines, for recreational pilots. This training takes place under Part 62 of the Civil Aviation Regulations. Such instructor ratings come in Category A, B and C, with A being the most senior.
- 14 CFR 61.193
- 14 CFR 61.195
- 14 CFR 61.183
- 14 CFR 61.405
- "FAA-H-8083-9A, AVIATION INSTRUCTOR'S HANDBOOK" (PDF). Federal Aviation Agency. 2008.
- Canadian Aviation Regulations 401.61 - Flight Instructor Ratings
- Canadian Aviation Regulations 401.69 - Privilges
- Canadian Aviation Regulations 421.62 - Flight Instructor Rating Standards
- Canadian Aviation Regulations 421.69 - Flight Instructor Rating Requirements
- Requirements to become a CFI
- Computer Testing Supplement for Flight and Ground Instructor FAA 2001
- Derek W Beck's Flight Instructor Resources - Lesson Plans, Tutorials, and Explanations of Maneuvers
- Flight Instructor Directory