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Instructing, Work

Hour Building

When I was researching the career change into aviation one of my biggest questions was, “How much will I fly as a CFI?”  This is a very difficult question for schools to answer and I never had one give me any kind of number, not even an estimate.  Now that I’ve had some first hand experience building time as a CFI I can see that there are so many variables it is no wonder that schools do not want to make any type of assertion about how quickly you could build time.  I’d like to share my numbers, but I share them stressing that with the unpredictable nature of the business they don’t really mean that much.  I imagine that if a survey of 100 CFI’s from various schools was taken it would yield a variety of interesting results.  To bad we don’t have the data!

At some point I learned that Mauna Loa’s guideline for CFI’s is that it takes two years to reach the 1,000 hour mark.  If a student graduates from the program with 200 hours (the requirement to become an instructor in Robinson helicopters) that leaves 800 hours to build over 24 months.  That gives an average of 33.3 hours a month, which is not too lofty a goal, and I imagine it would be easily achievable over a two year period.  That probably explains why they use these numbers as the guideline!  In fact I would be surprised if hour building actually went that slowly for the average instructor at MLH, it certainly didn’t seem to from my perspective.  And it should be no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog that I wanted to do a bit better than 400 hours of flight instruction a year.  So I cast off into my short stint as a flight instructor with high hopes and the desire to work, work, work.

How much did I imagine I would be flying a month?  Well, I guess I thought that if I had a full load of students, which is generally around 3, that I could fly 50 hours a month on average.  To show the math: one 2 hour block for ground and one 2 hour block for flight gives 4 hours of work a day per student and 12 hours a day total.  The 3 flight blocks per day would yield about 1 hour of flight time each or 3 hours per day.  Working 5 days a week would give 15 hours a week and 60 hours a month.  Simple math, right?  Obviously flight and ground are not so evenly spaced, or so predictable, but I thought that over the course of a month (or months) it would work out.  And besides, my goal was 10 hours less than my simple math example.  In addition I was hoping to work 6 or 7 days a week, which was fairly common for instructors who wanted it during my time at MLH.  Okay, enough about my expectations, what actually happened?

Here is a chart that shows my flight hour totals per month and the monthly average over my 8 months of work as an instructor.


As expected we see a lot of variation in the hours flown from one month to the next.  We also see that 50 hours a month average ended up being optimistic for me, although I definitely did better than the 2 year average of 33.3 hours.  As I was hired toward the end of May I didn’t do much flying that month.  You will recall from previous posts I was busy doing my 141 training and most of my flight hours during May and June came from this training.  In July I shot up like a rocket and I had high hopes I could maintain something close to that intensity. But as you can see it ended up being the best month I had for flight instruction.  So just how busy was I overall?  Lets look at a chart comparing my flight instruction hours to my ground instruction hours.


Here we can see that the idea of one ground hour to one flight hour was not even close to reality.  The three months that I would call “good months” for me (July, August, and November) my flight hours were respectably close to my ground hours.  The other months I was teaching just over 2 hours of ground for every hour of flight.  To be clear I am throwing out the data from May and June when I was completing my 141 training and only teaching ground.  The fact that I was teaching so many ground hours, and therefore spending most of my time at work, without the flight hours I was hoping to show for it proved to be a point of frustration for me during my time as an instructor.  I did work, work, work exactly as I had hoped, but unfortunately the numbers just didn’t seem to add up for me.

I’d like to share one last chart I’ve made from my time with MLH.  This one shows the monthly totals across the bottom and my total time plotted across the upper portion.


Looking at this chart the monthly fluctuations appear less severe and it can be seen that the growth of total time follows a steady trend.  There is no doubt that if we followed this trend line out into the future I would have exceeded 1,000 hours before two years went by.  I was curious how the other three guys who were hired with me fared during their time instructing.  I was only able to get some numbers from one of them.  I was interested to learn that during the 8 month period that I was at MLH my friend averaged almost the same as me, 41.1 hours per month.  By the time we talked I had already moved on from instructing and he was able to share that over the entire year since we had been hired he did quite a bit better averaging 58.3 hours per month.  He was getting quite close to the 1,000 hour mark after 12 months of instruction and would no doubt be there before long.

In closing I want to reiterate that any particular instructor’s progress will probably vary greatly from mine.  The hours a student flies compared to the ground hours they need change with the phase of training they are in and the individual’s personality and drive.  These two factors make predicting the number of flight hours an instructor will get from any given student difficult.  After my experience I still believe that it should have been possible to average 50 hours a month working 6 to 7 days a week with 3 to 5 students at a time.  I’m disappointed that wasn’t the case, but my frustration gave me the motivation to seek out something new, and perhaps that will prove best for me in the end.  After all, we can’t predict our paths through life any more than our monthly flight hours!


About Orin Bakal-Molnar

Besides aviation my biggest passion is climbing. I love spending my free time on the side of something big! But I'm almost as happy doing anything outside in the wild. Travel, photography, and fly-fishing are a few of my other pursuits. And of course there's nothing like meeting new people and sharing good conversation.


2 thoughts on “Hour Building

  1. My goodness. Do you feel bad that you didn’t stay at MLH and average 58 hours/month flight time?


    Posted by David Molnar | October 17, 2016, 11:07
    • The short answer; no I don’t feel bad.

      Why? The main reason is that I feel quite confident saying that there is no way I would have achieved 58 hours a month average with MLH by the end of my first year of work. I say this because of the students I had and the ones I was lined up to receive. Almost every student I worked with in my final months at MLH was at the end of their commercial/CFI training and was in need of perfecting their teaching and lesson plans only. They had already flown enough, or nearly enough, to meet the flight requirements for their check rides. So the flying was being kept at a minimum and this lead to the high ground hours and low flight hours seen in the charts above. There was no reason to believe this trend was going to change anytime soon.

      Your question made me curious about how I did after switching to tours when compared to my friend who stayed with MLH. Over my first year of work as a pilot, from June 1st 2015 until May 31st 2016, I flew 615.9 hours or an average of 51.3 per month. So even after switching to tours and flying considerably more than I had been I still did not match my friend’s hours. Having a look at the numbers he gave me I saw something astonishing. In order to go from 41 hours a month average to 58 hours a month average he had to have flown just over 90 hours per month during the final four months of his first year. I can say with absolute certainty that there is no way I ever would have achieved 90 hours a month during the final four months of my first year, in fact I would have been very lucky to have had one month with 90 hours!!

      So I can wish things had turned out differently, but I certainly don’t spend any time feeling bad about my decision to leave MLH.


      Posted by Orin Bakal-Molnar | October 22, 2016, 10:57

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