Updated: Jan 20
My life in the aviation industry started at the University of North Dakota (UND) in 2015. I majored in Commercial Aviation and earned all of my current certificates and ratings through the program. I began instructing for UND in the spring of 2018 and graduated the following year in the spring of 2019. I continued to instruct until December of 2019 and was qualified to teach every course, excluding multi-engine, up to Certified Flight Instructor - Instrument (CFI-I) applicants. I built approximately 1,200 hours of total flight time with just under 1,000 hours of instruction given. I had also accepted a First Officer pilot position at a regional airline where I would be flying the CRJ-200/700/900 and had an expected class date in February of 2020.
I began training at my regional airline in February where I completed my Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) written, ground school, and started my flight simulator training. During this time, our nation began the battle with the COVID-19 pandemic and airline travel came to a halt. In response to this, a week before what would have been my final checkride, my company made the tough decision to send all trainees home until further notice. Thankfully, we were not furloughed.
I waited a few months in hopes of being recalled to training; however, lock downs were put in place, and the airlines were not projecting any trainees to come back for quite some time. Therefore, I made the decision to reach out to UND and see if I could return and flight instruct for the university again. Within a few hours, I had my old job back, and I started the paperwork. I am not going to lie, it was tough going back to what felt like square one, but I had to remember I was one of the lucky pilots who could find a job during these trying times.
A Day in the Life
Typically, I start preparing for a day of flight instructing the night prior. I text my students reminders of our scheduled meet-up times for their flights and check the weather to see if there is anything that might make us change our lesson plans for the day. I will look over the course that my student is enrolled in, the training course outline, and the lesson we will be attempting that day. This is a benefit of working at an FAA Part 141 school —all of our flights and briefings are outlined in each course, so we know what to expect and can assign homework ahead of time to better prepare students. As an instructor, this also helps me plan up to six days in advance and make a schedule that works for all of my students.
My morning normally starts between 0415 and 0500; at which point I get up to workout, eat breakfast, check the weather, and make my drive from Fargo, ND, to Grand Forks, ND, which is about an hour-and-fifteen minute drive. In addition to weather preparation, I check our Flight Operation’s Flight Restriction page which tells me if there are any restrictions on dual or solo flights as well as any weather restrictions that may affect our flight. This is another great perk of working in a Part 141 environment with high safety standards. After all of this, I head to the airport for my first flight of the day which is usually around 0900 with a meet time of 0800 or 0815, depending on the pre-briefing content.
When the student and I meet, we typically go through what the lesson requires to be completed. I normally teach CFI applicant students, so I have them walk me through their plan of action and their preflight briefings on maneuvers to sharpen their teaching skills. After this, we fill out a paper dispatch sheet, which is required to request an airplane, and discuss which practice area we want to go to and see if there are any available slots in it. Once we choose our practice area, we hand our dispatch sheet to our Supervisor of Flight who puts us in the tracking system and forwards the slip to the aircraft dispatcher. After a short wait, we receive a text message with our airplane information, and head out to the designated ramp to begin our preflight inspection of the aircraft. We normally split the preflight inspection between the two of us; one does exterior and one does interior. Once the preflight is complete, we hop in the aircraft, start the engine, and depart the airport to the practice area to begin our lesson. Upon completing the associated lesson maneuvers, we safely return to the GFK airport, secure the aircraft, and debrief the various aspects of the flight.
Lessons I’ve Learned
As a pilot who has flight instructed, left for the airlines, and come back, I have learned a few lessons along the way. The first lesson I have learned is to keep building your resume. Don’t be scared to take on different opportunities where you can build flight time, earn a rating, or just make connections in general. Most of my hours are single-engine time due to not branching out and building my resume. I was not preparing myself for anything except the airlines. When I was put in a situation where the airlines were no longer an option, at least for the time being, I was left high and dry in regard to finding another job. In a Part 141 environment, we are handed so many opportunities. Whether it be career fairs, professors, or guest speakers, it is important that we use them. It can be intimidating and scary, but if something doesn’t scare you, it’s not worth doing.
My second lesson is to never take what you have for granted. I worked at UND for a year-and-a-half, and the whole time all I could think about was bigger and better; I had to get out of there as soon as I could. Little did I know at that time, UND would be the first place to give me a job with open arms and hardly any questions asked. Flight instructing is most certainly not an easy job. There can be long and cold days, too many students to handle, and never-ending scheduling, but I remind myself that I still have a job. I am still building flight hours and I am back in an environment where I have opportunities to build my resume with so many people who are willing to help me do so.
As said by Amelia Earhart:
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”
I believe these are great words to live by as an aviator. When times get hard, the best option is to not just sit idly by. It may be scary or frustrating to go back to what feels like the beginning, but sometimes that just means we get a second chance to set ourselves up for something better.
Certified Flight Instructor
Grand Forks, ND
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