The Limited Flight Instructor Certificate

A recent Polish immigrant visited his local flight surgeon to take a third-class medical exam. The doctor had him stand in a specific spot, then pulled down a chart showing the letters: CVOKPTNXZYKV.

The doc said to the Polish immigrant, “OK, can you read that?”

The Polish immigrant replied, “Read it? Heck, I know the guy.”

Sometimes what you look at is not what you see.

That happens to me when I look at a private pilot, because I don’t just see a private pilot. I see someone who, with more experience and the proper training could easily be a capable flight instructor. And this person wouldn’t need an instrument rating or a commercial license to instruct, either. You’re no doubt thinking, “Rod’s wheel is spinning, but his hamster is dead.” Well, before you get too comfy with that judgment, let me try and convince you that my position isn’t all that radical, and why it would be something that could help rejuvenate aviation.

On August 23,1956, the FAA began offering something known as a limited flight instructor certificate (LFIC) to non-instrument-rated private pilots. An applicant for the LFIC needed a minimum of 200 hours total time, needed to meet commercial pilot skill standards, had to demonstrate the ability to teach the appropriate maneuvers in the category of aircraft in which he or she wished to instruct as well as demonstrate that their students could fly safely under their supervision. If the LFI held the certificate for at least one year and trained five pilot applicants successfully, he or she could convert their LFIC to a permanent certified flight instructor certificate (CFIC). The LFIC disappeared as a certificate option on May 24, 1962.

Just in case you think that the FAA eliminated the LFIC because they finally came to their senses, think again. The FAA intended the LFIC to be nothing more than a means of evaluating the competency of those who might eventually apply for a CFIC. The LFIC was eliminated when the FAA became satisfied that their examiners could successfully assess a CFI candidate’s competence directly. It’s important to keep in mind that the LFIC wasn’t eliminated because LFIs produced less qualified students, either.

If you’re thinking that the LFIC could only have existed in the 1950s-1960s era, but would have no place in today’s complex airspace environment, I have a surprise for you. It turns out that we now have something similar to the LFIC. I’m speaking of the sport pilot flight instructor certificate (SFIC), whose minimum requirements are a sport pilot license and 150 hours of flight time. The instructor applicant must simply demonstrate his or her ability to teach to the standards set forth in the Sport Pilot Instructor PTS to obtain the SFIC.

Clearly, the SFIC indicates the FAA’s belief that properly trained sport pilots are capable of teaching others to fly competently and safely in light sport aircraft. Back in 1956, the FAA also believed the same thing about properly trained private pilots who became LFIs. If we keep in mind that the FAA didn’t eliminate the LFIC because of poor instructor performance, then we can reasonably conclude that properly trained 200-hour, non-instrument rated private pilots can competently and safely prepare students for the private pilot rating. That’s why I’m suggesting that the FAA consider reinitiating the LFIC. Yes, the LFIC should come with many restrictions, but that’s a discussion for another time. The question you’re probably asking is, “What’s the payoff for reviving the LFIC?” I was hoping you’d ask.

Over the years I’ve met many private pilots who wanted to teach their friends and family members to fly, but who had no need or desire to undergo the same training required by those pursing a professional pilot career (i.e., the instrument rating and commercial certificate). The LFIC benefits aviation by allowing it to inherit an entirely new class of enthusiastic teachers whose main ambition is to share their love of flying with others and not just to build flight time. As a result, we’re also likely to add an older, and by definition wiser class of aviation ambassadors to our instructor ranks. Can you think of anything that more directly supports the flight training industry? I can’t.

The objections? Given the information I presented, there certainly is no basis on which one can argue that LFIs produce less qualified students. One might argue that today’s aviation knowledge is too complex for private pilots to adequately teach. But that doesn’t explain how sport pilot instructors—those who may start out with 50 hours less flight time than an LFI—are permitted to teach nearly all the same knowledge that private pilots are required to learn. The only other objection is that LFIs would deprive the CFI of his or her share of students. If one believes that flight training is a zero sum game, that might be a valid concern. I believe that reviving the LFIC would actually attract those who might not otherwise have an interest in or find access to flight training as well as help retain those who quit training because of poor instructor performance.

I’ve sung nothing but praise for the FAA in developing the sport pilot instructor program. Now I hope they’ll also see the limited flight instructor certificate as a viable option for those who simply want to teach, and not fly as professional pilots. The evidence to date suggests that this can only help aviation, and certainly not diminish it.

By Rod Machado | | 5 comments
next post → ← previous post


  • Alan M. Hoffberg - May 19, 2017
    Since I became a private pilot and earned my instrument rating, I actively participated as a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight Southeast/Mercy Flight Southeast — for about 25 years. During this time, passengers and pilot colleagues have asked me why I have not become an instructor. Because I consistently fly at the level expected of a professional, I do not feel the need to obtain additional certificates and ratings — because I retired some 30+ years ago. In my younger years, my interests outside of employment included presenting seminars at one of the major eastern universities and two of the major U.S. accounting societies, as well as co-authoring a popular college textbook. During my instrument training, I had the misfortune of having several instructors who did not have the ability to instruct. They instructed only to build time — not because each had the ability and desire to teach. Teaching requires understanding the student and effectively communicating — which not all instructors can perform. If the FAA reintroduced the Limited CFI, I would eagerly teach the young people who have interest in aviation but not the monetary resources to become a pilot in today’s world.
  • Ron Stewart - February 10, 2017

    Rod, I had never heard of the LFIC and think it is a great idea to reinstate it.
    I know a few private pilots that would make very good instructors and would put an LFIC to good use.
    I hope the FAA can see your point.

  • Grant Jihnson - February 10, 2017

    Rod, I’m pumped that this concept even exists. I finished my light sport certificate at Chesapeake Sport Pilot, with current prep to take the advanced ground instructor test. I very much appreciate being able to learn the wide scope of knowledge, as this is greater overall for any pilot. But being that I am in the training/instruction world for the last 35 years, I’m very well prepared to train and educate others…right now. What can I do, who can I write… support this?

  • dale - February 09, 2017

    I believe this might be one way to add more pilots to our ranks. I have talked with several individuals who have told me their have relatives have asked if the family member can teach them. I can’t speak for all of them, but for those that I have flown with, they are competent pilots that would probably do a great job. Yes, it might cut a little into my income due to losing initial pilots, but there is also a chance I would make up for it when those same students decide to go for their IFR ratings.

    Dale Long, CFI

  • David Spano - February 09, 2017

    You couldn’t be more correct! Out of my 7 CFI’s, 2 are Sport CFI’s and they all teach and perform at the same level. One of the best things the FAA did was the Sport Pilot Certificate and SFIC. It’s just a shame most flight schools STILL are not on board with it. It’s shame, I worry about all my competition…all the way to the bank :)

Leave a comment

Stay in Touch

Physical Product Ordering Only (800) 437-7080

If you'd like to order a PHYSICAL product by phone, please call the number above. Digital (downloadable) products can't be ordered by phone.

Latest Posts

  • The Games Young People Play

    By Rod Machado Lucky me. Lucky, because at a recent aviation event, I met and chatted with Sally Melvill, wife of Mike Melvill (SpaceShipOne). She’s a delightful and insightful lady who earned her chops teaching kindergarten. She knows how the... read more

  • Private Pilot Checkrides: The Good Old Days

    My friend, DPE and highly experienced pilot, Mr. Frank Phillips was kind enough to provide me with much of the following documentation in this blog piece. I am grateful that he loves flight training--including its history and development--as much as... read more

  • Reduce Stalls and Spins with Right-Hand Traffic Patterns

    By Rod Machado NOTE: I post these articles, in particular this one, in hopes of receiving some well reasoned input. This article presents an hypothesis that needs testing. Nearly every response so far suggests that pilots should be taught to fly coordinated... read more

  • The Limited Flight Instructor Certificate

    A recent Polish immigrant visited his local flight surgeon to take a third-class medical exam. The doctor had him stand in a specific spot, then pulled down a chart showing the letters: CVOKPTNXZYKV. The doc said to the Polish immigrant,... read more

  • The FAA's New "Not-So-Slow" Slow Flight Procedure

    As most flight instructors know the FAA recently changed the requirements for slow flight in the private pilot ACS. Slow flight must now be accomplished at a speed higher than MCA or Minimum Controllable Airspeed (a speed at which the stall... read more

  • Your Airline Career

    By Rod Machado  Now that you've acquired all the necessary flight instructor ratings, you're ready to think about becoming qualified for that airline job. Normally, you should think about getting hired with a regional airline first. This allows you to... read more

  • Obtaining Your Advanced Pilot Ratings

     By Rod Machado     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... read more

  • How to Become a Private Pilot

    By Rod Machado What Does it Take? What does it take for you to become a private pilot? If you’re like most people, once you get the thought of flying airplanes in your noggin, it continues to play like a musical... read more


    By Rod Machado    Here is the sequence of steps you should consider in pursuing your private pilot license (it's technically called a "certificate" but we'll call it a license). As you'll see, the most important steps listed below deal... read more

  • Young People and Career Choices

    By Rod Machado I remember a time when an airplane would fly over our house during dinner and I’d run outside shirtless—in my tiny pants and bare feet—and then point skyward and yell, “Airpwane! Airpwane! Airpwane!” I remember that because... read more

  • The FORBIDDEN Question

    By Rod Machado During my high school years, it was known as the forbidden dance—the Lambada. Do it on the dance floor in front of the principal and you’d be “dancing with the scars” resulting from that encounter. Some things... read more

  • Rod's Letter to the FAA and ACS Committee Members

    Yes, really! The Private Pilot ACS adds 363 Risk Management items to the PPL practical exam testing requirements. Students are responsible for knowing the answers to each and every one of these items, all of which require highly subjective answers (according... read more