The Limited Flight Instructor Certificate

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.


Great idea. I always stayed away from getting a commercial certificate since I wasn’t planning on a flying career. But when a friend wanted to learn from me, after I flew with him and taught him some basics, I was a little shocked to see that I need a commercial cert even though I was not going to charge my friend for instruction.

Bodi Debnath

Janet Guthrie, the first woman to race in the Indy 500, holds a Limited Flight Instructor certificate.

Glenn Shaw


You make great points and lightly touched on a the topic of why certain pilots are instructors – to build time to go to the airlines NOT to be invested in training new pilots. How many horror stories have we heard from students about instructors who were distracted, yelling and just not providing sound instruction. This covers from having instructors who are not instructing because they want to. The only reason they are instructing is to build time so they can move on. Instructing is a means to an end for these pilots.

Letting those that are passionate about teaching take the lead, regardless of their commercial and instrument ratings would ensure that the quality of instruction for new pilots is at its highest level and that we are sharing airspace with safe and competent pilots.

I sincerely hope your words are heard and this become an initiative within the aviation community.


Dan Overland

This is a great idea Rod. You make a compelling argument, one that I hope the FAA strongly considers!

Mark Heckler

I completely agree being of retirement age and commercial glider single engine land wit a couple thousand hours in gliders and tail dragger, I have no interest in professional pilots license but
enjoy introducing young pilots to aviation I’m trying to give back and pay forward some of the joy my grandfather gave to me.

Neal Palmquist

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