Obtaining Your Advanced Pilot Ratings

Obtaining Your Advanced Pilot Ratings

By Rod Machado
Updated 4-1-2024

 Once you've acquired the private pilot certificate, you're ready to fly, have fun and, perhaps, pursue that airline career. If so, here's what you should think about doing.
   First, you'll need to obtain the following certificates or ratings: instrument rating, commercial pilot certificate, flight instructor certificate, instrument flight instructor certificate, multi-engine rating and finally a multi-engine flight instructor certificate in that order. Obtaining any of the flight instructor certificates is not required, but it can be important in that it allows you to build flight time. That's right. The time you spend teaching others counts toward the total flight time necessary to become a professional pilot. In addition, you can earn money when you teach others. Imagine that. Someone pays you to fly! What a concept. So here's what you can expect when working on these higher ratings.

Acquiring the Instrument Rating
The FAA regulations allow you to begin working on the instrument rating right after you've obtained your private pilot certificate. What does an instrument rating do for you? It allows you to fly an airplane when operating in visibility-reducing phenomena like clouds, fog, or haze. As you can see, this is an important skill to have, especially if you're an airline pilot. After all, airline pilots can't say to their passengers, "OK folks, we're not going because there's a cloud out there."


  It takes a minimum of 40 hours of instrument time to obtain an instrument rating. Instrument time is the time you spend flying the airplane while looking only at the instruments on the instrument panel. Your instructor will often place a view-limiting device over your head to restrict your vision to the panel (which is like wearing a low-riding sombrero). This device can look like a lampshade or it can look like a pair of welding glasses. There are several variations to these devices, as you'll discover.

  There's also a good chance that you'll use a simulator for some of the training required. In fact, with some simulators (actually called Advanced Aviation Training Devices or AATDs) you can apply as many as 20 hours toward the 40 total hours required for the instrument rating. Simulators are efficient training tools that are very helpful while working on the instrument rating. Yes, even Microsoft's Flight Simulator is a very useful tool for helping you learn about instrument flying (if anything, you can even practice the basic flight maneuvers you learned when receiving flight training from your instructor in the airplane). Under all circumstances (no exceptions here, sorry Charlie), simulator flight time is not applicable toward the instrument rating unless an appropriately rated instructor provides you with instrument instruction while you're operating that device. Furthermore, the simulator must meet FAA approval to be used in this manner. Nevertheless, you can still benefit from having a computer-based simulator on which to practice your instrument flight maneuvers, even if a flight instructor or simulator approval isn't involved. For instance, you may be taking instrument training from a flight instructor in a real airplane and use the simulator at home to practice what you've already learned. This, and this alone, is reason enough to purchase a computer-based simulator on which to practice.

   You'll also have to pass another written exam as well as a checkride to obtain the instrument rating. Don't worry. You'll get used to taking knowledge exams and checkrides. It's all part of the process of becoming a professional pilot. 

Here's what you can expect to pay for the instrument rating: 
40 hours of airplane rental @ $180/hr. = $7,200
40 hours of dual instruction @ $75/hr. = $3,000
40 hours of ground instruction @ $75/hr. = $3,000
Written exam fee = $150
Designated examiner fee for checkride = $600 ($800 in some locations)
Rod Machado's Instrument Pilot's Handbook = $84.95 (or audiobook version)
Additional ground school materials = $200
Total Cost = $14,150

   Of course, if you use a simulator for 20 of the 40 total required hours, the expense is likely to be a little less. In general, it usually takes two to four months to earn the instrument rating. Of course, it's also possible to earn it in less than two weeks. You'll probably hear of several companies that provide accelerated instrument training. They advertise the possibility of completing the training in two weeks or less. Do these programs work? Yes they do (read more about it here).

Perhaps the most important reason they do is that they have a reputation of providing excellent flight instructors. Once again, the flight instructor is the key ingredient in the flight training process. Most of the instructors doing accelerated-type training are highly experienced and competent teachers. This alone can make accelerated training worthwhile. Second, because this is a rating that is based on flying in reduced visibility, weather isn't as much of a limiting factor as it was for the private pilot certificate. In fact, instrument training often works better when the weather is poor. At least you can get actual experience flying in the clouds. Third, some of these accelerated-type instructors come to your hometown to teach you. Yes, it's a little more expensive, but if you want to get that rating, then please consider one of these companies. Check out: Professional Instrument Courses and IFR Now. (Other accelerated courses will be added to this list when their owners or operators let me know who they are.)
  Once you have the instrument rating under your belt, you want to begin working on the commercial pilot certificate.

Acquiring The Commercial Certificate   
   What does the commercial certificate do for you? It allows you to fly an airplane for compensation or hire. If you're planning on working as a professional pilot (i.e., flight instructing or doing charter flights) you'll need a commercial pilot certificate.
   The commercial pilot certificate requires a minimum of 250 hours of flight time. After you've obtained your instrument rating, you'll probably have a total of approximately 125 to 150 hours of flight time. Therefore, you'll need to build up another 100 to 125 additional flight hours. This won't be much of a problem because you'll most likely be flying around with friends while sharing the expenses of flight. Obtaining a commercial license typically takes anywhere from three weeks to two months from the time you begin your training.
  If you're serious about that airline career, you should start thinking about the commercial license as soon as you've earned the instrument rating. The reason I mention this is that there are certain flight requirements you'll need to meet for the commercial certificate and some of them can be met while you're building time toward the 250-hour mark. For instance, you'll need to make a 300 nautical mile cross country flight as part of the commercial certificate requirement. You'll want to plan on meeting this and other requirements before you reach the 250-hour time requirement.
  A written exam and a checkride are also required for the commercial certificate. You only need to have a third-class medical certificate, however, to take the commercial checkride. You'll need a second-class medical if you elect to fly for compensation or hire as a commercial pilot (the medical requirements are stricter for a second-class medical certificate). Since you're required to demonstrate your proficiency in something known as a complex airplane (one having retractable gear, a controllable-pitch propeller and flaps) or a technically advanced airplane for the commercial certificate, you should expect to pay more for this type of airplane during training.

Here's what you can expect to pay for the commercial certificate: 
20 hours of airplane rental @ $180/hr. = $3,600
20 hours of dual instruction @ $75/hr. = $1500
Second-class medical = $175 (if you plan to fly for compensation or hire) 
Written exam fee = $150
Designated examiner fee for checkride = $600 ($800 in some locations)
Rod Machado's Private/Commercial Handbook = $84.95 
Additional material = $200 
Total Cost = $6,309.95

   Here's a very important thing to consider. A commercial certificate applies only to the class of airplane (i.e., single- or multi-engine) in which you trained. In other words, if you do all your commercial training in a single-engine airplane and take your commercial checkride in that airplane, then you're limited to flying for compensation or hire in a single-engine airplane. If you want to fly for compensation or hire in a multi-engine airplane, you'll eventually have to take a commercial checkride in a multi-engine airplane. At this point, some folks ask, "Why don't I take my commercial training in a multi-engine airplane to begin with?" You can do this, but here are the difficulties with this idea. 

   1. First, if you're going to be a flight instructor and teach in single-engine airplanes, you'll still need a single-engine commercial pilot certificate. Therefore, if you study for your commercial certificate in a multi-engine airplane, you'll still have to take another checkride in a single-engine airplane to obtain the single-engine commercial certificate.
   2. Second, obtaining your initial commercial certificate in a multi-engine airplane requires more time and money than initially earning this rating in a single-engine airplane. For instance, you'll have to demonstrate your instrument skills in this multi-engine airplane and that requires a bit more training time. It's not so much of a challenge, however, when you've acquired a little more general flying experience in a single-engine airplane first. 
   3. Third, your objective here should be to build flight time as quickly as possible. If you're planning on doing this by flight instructing, then working on the multi-engine commercial certificate first will result in a delay in obtaining the initial flight instructor certificate. Remember, if you're going to instruct in a single-engine airplane, that's a commercial activity, which means that you need a single-engine commercial certificate. On the other hand, if you've been offered a job flying a multi-engine airplane, then obtaining your initial commercial certificate in a multi-engine airplane is a wise idea. Such a job isn't, however, a likely possibility since there aren't too many companies hiring 250-hour, newly-rated commercial pilots. 
  4.  Fourth, my experience indicates that pilots become overall better pilots when they forgo their multi-engine commercial certificate until a later time. Unfortunately, some instructors or educational institutions assume that early multi-engine training produces a better overall professional pilot. The instructors who say these things are normally the instructors who are hungry to build multi-engine time. Sorry, but flying a particular airplane is not what makes you a better pilot, be it a professional pilot or a general aviation pilot. What makes you a better pilot is your attitude and the people you associate with in aviation. Period.
   5. Finally, the most common reason pilots want to work on the multi-engine rating first is that it's exciting. Frankly, this is the only reasonable reason to do this and, if that's the real reason you want to do it, then have at it as long as you have the money. On the other hand, if you're on a budget like most of the other folks learning to fly, then delaying your excitement for a short time makes good economic sense.
  Therefore, let's assume for the rest of this article that you'll obtain your single-engine commercial rating first. Once you've earned the single-engine commercial certificate, you're ready to begin working on the CFI certificate.

Acquiring The CFI or Certified Flight Instructor Certificate 
With the commercial certificate in hand, the flight instructor certificate is not too far off. This rating requires that you learn how to teach as well as fly from the right seat. You can expect to fly a minimum of 10-15 hours with an instructor and spend approximately 40 or more hours with an instructor learning the fundamentals of teaching. In fact, don't be surprised if your instructor requires as many as 80 hours of ground training (that's 40, two-hour lessons) to develop your teaching skills. This training typically takes anywhere from two to three months to complete. Two written exams (the CFI knowledge exam and the fundamentals of instruction exam) as well as a checkride are also required. Once you have the instrument and commercial rating, there is no minimum flight time required for the CFI rating. 

Here's what you can expect to pay for the flight instructor certificate: 
15 hours of airplane rental @ $180/hr. = $2,700 
60 hours of dual instruction @ $75/hr. = $4,500
Written exam fees = $300 
Checkride fee: $800 
Books for the CFI rating = $300 
Additional material = $200
Total Cost = $8,800

   There are a few other things you should consider. It's sometimes difficult for a new instructor to walk into an FBO off the street and start working as an instructor. That's why some pilots, after obtaining their commercial certificate, train for their flight instructor rating at a school where they'd like to work as an instructor. It's actually a great idea to do all your training at this school, if possible (as long as it's a good school, of course). This means that the FBO is already familiar with you and is more likely to hire you to flight instruct. After all, we feel more comfortable with the people we are familiar with, right? You might even make this part of the deal when talking with the FBO about beginning your initial training or your CFI training. Let them know about your flight instructing ambitions. I've found that most flight school owners are willing to invest a lot of extra time and energy in those individuals who will be around for a while, instead of those who will learn and leave.
  Now you're ready to start teaching and making money at the same time. As a new CFI you're qualified to train others for the private and commercial certificate, as well as give flight reviews, proficiency flights and checkouts in other airplanes. With a little additional flight time and experience, you'll also be qualified to train others for the flight instructor rating.
   Yes, you can even provide 25 of the 40 hours of flight training required for the instrument rating. Unfortunately, you can't provide 15 of these hours, since this training must be done by an instrument flight instructor (a CFII). This is why I recommend that you consider obtaining the instrument flight instructor certificate immediately after earning the flight instructor certificate. Obtaining an instrument flight instructor rating means you'll have more people to teach. That means you have more opportunities to build flight time. It also means more income for you, too.

Acquiring the Instrument Flight Instructor Certificate Fortunately, the instrument flight instructor certificate doesn't involve as much work as earning the original flight instructor certificate. After all, you've already learned how to teach, right? Now it's a matter of learning more about the world of instruments. This is a lot of fun, too. You can expect to spend at least two to four weeks working on this rating. But plan on six weeks as the norm (this assumes that you're already a proficient instrument pilot). You'll certainly want to purchase a copy of my Instrument Pilot's Handbook to aid you in your study for this certificate. This is an advanced instrument text that provides you with some very useful information that's essential to becoming a good instrument flight instructor.

Here's what you can expect to pay for the instrument flight instructor certificate: 
10 hours of airplane rental @ $180/hr. = $1,800 
20 hours of dual instruction @ $75/hr. = $1,500
Written exam fees = $150
Designated examiner fee for checkride = $800

Books for the CFII rating = $200 
Additional material = $100 
Total Cost = $4,550

The Multi-engine Rating With two flight instructor ratings under your belt, you're in a much better position to make a living as a CFI. Now it's time to think about getting the multi-engine rating in preparation for building multi-engine time. No written test is required for the multi-engine rating. Since you already have a single-engine commercial rating, you'll want to work on your multi-engine commercial rating. In other words, you can obtain a private pilot multi-engine rating, but this doesn't make sense (if you want to fly for a living) because it won't allow you to fly a multi-engine airplane for compensation or hire. Therefore, you'll want to train to have the multi-engine rating applied to your commercial pilot certificate. 

Here's what you can expect to pay for the multi-engine commercial rating: 
10 hours of airplane rental @ $350/hr. = $3,500 (cost can vary significantly)
5 hours simulator time @ 120/hr. = $600 
15 hours of dual instruction @ $75/hr. = $1,125
Designated examiner fee for checkride = $800
Books for the multi-engine rating = $60 
Total Cost = $6,085

   Finally, you should consider acquiring a multi-engine flight instructor rating. This allows you to train others for their multi-engine rating. And that means you get to log the time you spend teaching as multi-engine time, which helps you meet the airline's multi-engine time requirement (which I'll talk about in this article).

Here's what you can expect to pay for the multi-engine instructor rating: 
5 hours of airplane rental @ $350/hr. = $1,750 
5 hours simulator time @ 120/hr. = $600
10 hours of dual instruction @ $75/hr. = $750
Designated Examiner fee for checkride = $800
Total Cost = $3,900

   And that's what it takes to go from zero flight time to being multi-engine flight instructor rated.
   So, how long does it take non-pilots to go from zero-flight-time to a multi-engine flight instructor? I've known people who did it in six months. They had good instruction and trained in a location with good weather. They worked really hard, too. Don't get me wrong. It's possible to do it in less time but those stars, moons, and planets must be aligned properly for this to happen. How much does it cost to go from zero flight time to multi-engine flight instructor? The total process can cost somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000. Sure, there are all kinds of little things you can do to minimize the expense, especially working on the buddy system and splitting the cost with another student who has ambitions similar to yours (no, I don't mean ambitions such as dominating the world or controlling a small country, either). In the end, this is a very small financial investment when it comes to the potential of having an airline job that pays a reasonable income over the course of a career.

   If you're interested in flying for a living, you might even think about purchasing an airplane in which to do your training. This makes sense in that it's wiser to put money you'd ordinarily pay for rentals into the purchase of your own airplane. Besides, depending on the economic times, used airplanes can have a great resale value, so you might want to seriously consider this option. The main thing you want to look at when considering this option is insurance. You'll want to make sure you can afford the insurance on your airplane when it's being used by you (and perhaps a partner, too) for flight training. You might want to give the folks at your local aviation insurance company a call (such as Avemco) and chat with them about the idea. Keep in mind that there are several aviation insurance companies you should chat with if you don't find a reasonably priced policy to your liking. An internet search is the best way to find these companies.
  Take a look at these two sites to get an idea what used airplanes cost. The first site (Aircraft Shopper Online) is an excellent site. Trade-a-Plane is my favorite site but it does require a small fee to use (and it's worth it, however). If you enter the particular airplane you're looking for you'll be able to acquire a general idea of the cost.
   As an additional note, this is a perfect time to enter the aviation business. It turns out that several large flight training companies and several regional airlines are now offering training reimbursement. For instance, a company called "ATP Flight School" offers $11,000 in reimbursement as part of their arrangement with two regional airlines (SkyWest Airlines and Horizon Air). Another flight school in Tuscon, AZ is offering all flight instructors a $5,000 sign-up bonus if they'll agree to teach for a specified length of time. And this is just the beginning of the good offers you'll see from aviation companies as pilots become harder and harder to find.

Working Toward That Airline Career
   If you have ambitions to become an airline pilot for regional carrier or a major air carrier, then please read the next blog in this series titled: Your Airline Career. 




Thank you for sharing this informative article about instrument rating. I hope there are a flight training school owners who could read this and be guided accordingly.

Instrument Rating Santa Monica

Thanks for sharing this! All the best!
Feel free to visit: https://codeberg.org/

Cole Byrne

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.