Some instructors and pilots call the ground instructor certificate the easiest FAA certification to obtain. In some respects, it is. There are no experience, flying, or oral exams required. You simply must take and pass a couple of computer-based written tests, which are given at a local testing center, and then visit your local Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) office.
However, the process doesn’t make the certificate any less meaningful or rewarding. Becoming a ground instructor makes you a subject matter expert who can demonstrate knowledge in a particular area of aviation, something you can put on your resume and share in interviews. You also will be in a unique position to provide ground instruction courses at flight schools or to help independent CFIs prepare their students for lessons and checkrides.
If you are pursuing an aviation career or working to become a CFI yourself, getting a ground instructor certificate can broaden your knowledge and experience. Here are seven things you should know as you’re weighing your options.
1. The FAA offers three types of ground instructor certifications
You can become a Basic Ground Instructor (BGI), an Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI), or an Instrument Ground Instructor (IGI). Each of these ground instructor certificates allows you to provide ground training and endorsements for certain written exams.
- A Basic Ground Instructor is authorized to provide the ground instruction necessary for a sport, recreational, or private pilot certificate.
- An Advanced Ground Instructor is authorized to do everything a BGI can do, but also can provide the ground instruction required for every other certificate except the instrument rating. You do not need to get a BGI if you are getting an AGI.
- An Instrument Ground Instructor can provide ground instruction for the instrument rating and knowledge tests.
2. Ground instructor certificates have fewer requirements than other ratings
You do not need to be a licensed pilot to become a ground instructor. You also do not need to have medical clearance, meaning you can still get the rating even if you are not medically fit to fly. You only need to be 16 years old to take the Basic, Advanced, or Instrument Ground Instructor tests. However, you must be 18 years old to have a ground instructor rating issued.
FAA Knowledge Tests
To become a ground instructor, you must pass one or more of the ground instructor knowledge tests. You have 2.5 hours to take each test and you must score at least 70% to pass. Each rating requires a different breadth of knowledge.
- The Advanced Ground Instructor test is 100 questions
- The Basic Ground Instructor test is 80 questions
- The Instrument Ground Instructor test is 50 questions
You may take one test at a time or aim to get one, standalone ground instructor rating. If you try for the latter, fortunately, all of the knowledge tests are similar to other FAA written exams. For example, the Instrument Ground Instructor test has many of the same questions as the Instrument Rating (IRA) and Certified Flight Instructor - Instrument (CFI-I) knowledge tests. Although the tests are not identical (the IGI test also includes a few helicopter-specific questions), if you study for one of them, you likely will be able to pass the others too.
If you plan on getting your instrument rating or Certified Flight Instructor rating, then you may choose to take two or three tests at the same time. However, passing scores for knowledge tests are only valid for two years. If you do not get your rating(s) within that period, you will have to retake the exam(s).
If you have taken FAA knowledge tests in the past, then you should note that the agency implemented changes to its testing process in January 2020. Those changes can be found in the agency's memorandum.
Fundamentals of Instruction Test
Along with the ground instructor test(s), you also must take and pass the Fundamentals of Instruction Test (FOI) to become a certified ground instructor. This is a 50-question test, which you will have 1.5 hours to pass. Like the knowledge tests, a score of 70% is required to pass.
Some people find the FOI test difficult, especially since much of the material isn't aviation-specific. You can expect to see several questions about teaching and learning methodology, such as the following:
- What is the principle that is based on the emotional reaction of the learner?
- What is a sign that a student may be experiencing acute fatigue?
- How should you help manage cockpit stress?
The FOI is required if you are planning to become a CFI, but you do not need to retake it if you already have a ground instructor rating (even if many years pass from when you first took it). You also are exempt from taking it if you hold a teaching certificate at a 7th grade level or higher (issued by a state, county, city, or municipality) or if you are employed as a teacher at an accredited college or university. If you take the FOI test and do not become a ground instructor or flight instructor, then the test will expire in two years.
For each of the mandatory exams, a test-prep program may be beneficial, and sample tests can be found on the PSI website. Once you have passing scores on both the ground instructor test(s) and the FOI, you will need to make an appointment with your local Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO) to process your rating. Assuming you have the required documentation, a temporary certificate will be issued, and your card will follow in the mail.
3. Ground instructor certificates are more affordable than other ratings
There is no flight time required to get this rating, which means you do not have to pay for an airplane rental, instructor fee, or Designated Pilot Examiner checkride fee. You will need to pay for your Airman Knowledge tests ($160 each) and for any test preparation software you may choose to buy (around $35-$70).
4. Ground instructors are not required to maintain records
14 CFR § 61.189 specifies the records that flight instructors must keep, such as the name of each person whose logbook an instructor has endorsed for solo flight privileges and the date of the endorsement. While it may be valuable for a ground instructor to keep similar records, there is no requirement to do so, and ground instructors will not be asked to present records.
Some instructors that have both a ground instructor rating and a Certified Flight Instructor rating prefer to sign off on instruction and endorsements with their ground instructor rating. In theory, this could give their CFI certificate some protection in the event of an FAA investigation or disciplinary action, and also potentially eliminate the need to produce records if requested (although, keeping records is always a good idea).
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5. Ground instructor certificates never expire
14 CFR § 61.19 (e) specifically states that “a ground instructor certificate is issued without a specific expiration date.” This is different from a flight instructor certificate, which expires 24 calendar months from the month in which it was issued, renewed, or reinstated.
However, to give ground instruction, you either must have served as an instructor in the preceding 12-month period or received an endorsement from a ground or flight instructor certifying your proficiency in the subject matter for which the certificate authorizes teaching. An online Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC) also will satisfy this requirement.
6. You need a ground instructor certificate to become a Gold Seal CFI
The FAA issues a “Gold Seal” to certain flight instructors who meet a higher standard of performance, and who have a proven track record in flight instruction. This is a coveted designation.
To be eligible for the Gold Seal, you must have accomplished one of the following within the previous 24 months:
- You trained and recommended at least 10 applicants for an FAA practical test (with at least 80% of those applicants passing on the first attempt)
- You conducted at least 20 practical tests as a Designated Pilot Examiner
- You conducted 20 graduation tests as Chief Instructor of a 14 CFR part 141 approved pilot school course
A combination of the scenarios above also can satisfy the requirement (two practical tests equal one trained and recommended applicant).
Additionally, you must hold a ground instructor certificate with either an advanced or instrument ground instructor rating.
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7. Becoming a ground instructor is rewarding
Since ground instructors test broad knowledge, they can teach ground school for helicopters, gliders, or airplanes. CFIs can only teach in the type of aircraft in which they are certified. For example, an IGI can sign off someone to take the Instrument Rating Helicopter (IRH) knowledge test, or an AGI can sign off someone to take the Commercial Pilot Balloon - Hot Air (CBH) knowledge test.
Whether you are planning a career in aviation as a flight instructor or an airline pilot, or you simply want to broaden your knowledge and skill set, a ground instructor rating is an affordable addition to your aviation resume that you will not regret.
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