The 2021 State of Flight Training Report revealed that many independent Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs) have struggled to keep their businesses going and growing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though flight training was one of the first activities to resume as cities began lifting restrictions, many CFIs and students did not resume training right away for a variety of reasons.
For some independent flight instructors and ground instructors, the pandemic presented new opportunities to make money online that they had not considered before. Other instructors realized for the first time it is possible to make money online as a flight instructor. Shifting, pivoting, and adjusting to changing practices and new technology have created opportunities to share expertise online and generate income. As a CFI or CFII, you can make money online in all aspects of FAA knowledge test preparation, ground school, and checkride prep.
6of the Best Ways to Make Money Online as a Flight Instructor
- Conduct one-on-one ground training online over Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc.
- Write for aviation publications or create content for other CFIs or flight schools (freelance writing)
- Generate a secondary stream of income from advertisements on YouTube videos or your website
- Become an online ground instructor/aviation professor for a community college or four-year college
- Create lesson plan content for a flight school, college, or online ground school company
- Provide virtual flight training on flight simulators, using tools like Redbird Connect
Start With a Personal CFI Website
The first step to promoting yourself and expanding your business is to create a personal CFI website. If you publish content to your website, you can drive traffic to it and market the services you want to monetize. Your website also will help you publicize a portfolio of your work for future opportunities.
Purchase a Domain
To get started with your website, you will need to purchase a domain name. Your website should be search engine friendly, so something along the lines of learntoflywith_________.com, CFI_____________.com, flightinstructor_______.com, groundschoolwith________.com might work well. You can include the name of your city or state in your domain, but you may not want to limit yourself to one area if you plan to market your content to flight students throughout the country.
If you want to use a template to build your website, you can purchase your domain name and design your website using a web development service like Squarespace or Wix. These services allow users to enjoy many of the benefits of a modern website without the hassle of creating one from scratch.
Before you focus on marketing your services, create a page on your website for your professional bio. Your bio will help establish your credibility for potential customers, and it can serve as a resume for future employment opportunities down the road. If you are a cargo pilot, corporate pilot, Airline Transport Pilot, or have other experiences that separate you from competing CFIs, be sure to include this information in your website bio.
Create Educational and Promotional Content
Once you have completed your home page, bio, contact page, and pages for the services you want to offer, you should create a blog to drive traffic to your website and demonstrate your knowledge in the various areas of pilot training you want to monetize. You can base content on private pilot lesson plans, performance maneuvers for commercial pilot certificate candidates, aviation incidents and accidents, and concepts like aviation weather theory and aerodynamics. You can even write satirical books like CFI Alex Stone.
The content you create should be unique, engaging, informative, and interesting. While other CFI websites are ripe with content, you should not steal the ideas of others. There is enough space for everyone at the table without copying the content of another instructor. Plus, doing so will only hurt you in the long run when Google reduces the value of your site.
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Market Yourself As the Subject Matter Expert You've Already Become
If you are a current CFI (and every CFI should stay current), the FAA has recognized your knowledge, skills, and abilities as an instructor, and you have expertise in several areas of flying. You can use your title to market yourself, create your brand, and share your knowledge on websites, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms. You can publish articles and create materials that student pilots can use to supplement their flight training.
Use Social Media to Increase Traffic to Your Website
You can generate traffic to your website from Google and other search engines alone, but posting links to your content on social media, engaging in flight training forums, and asking and responding to questions in flight training Facebook groups will amplify your visibility. You also may be able to gain students by posting on flying club and airport websites. Marketing your services locally can help you convert ground students to flying students.
If you fly regularly, you can incorporate photos and videos from your own experiences into your social media posts. Do not forget to write captions and descriptions to boost your presence. Websites like Canva.com and Visme.co allow you to quickly and easily create eye-catching graphic content for your social media pages and your website.
If you create social media pages to supplement your website, be sure that you update them frequently and engage with your followers. If you think you will struggle to find the time to manage several pages, focus your energy on one or two platforms to start growing your following. Creating a content calendar and having specific goals with your social media posts will keep you on task and point.
Diversify Your Revenue Streams
Once you have started publishing and promoting your content, consider setting up a Google Adsense account to run ads on your website. It is not likely, at least initially, that ads on your website will generate any significant income. What you make from Google Ads revenue will depend entirely on how much traffic you receive. The more helpful and interesting content you add to your site, the more traffic you will receive.
If you plan to discuss products—such as recommending pilot supplies—you can create an Amazon Associates account to make a percentage of the sales revenue generated when buyers click through to Amazon from your website. For example, a blog post listing your take on “The Best Private Pilot Supplies on Amazon” may be helpful to your website visitors.
Offer Online Ground Training and Tutoring
Meeting with students over Zoom, Google Hangouts, or FaceTime is not hard, but it does require you to market yourself to get students. Once you have prospective students coming to your aviation website, you can sell them one-on-one ground training and FAA practical test ground prep. Many CFIs make between $30 to $50 an hour for these online sessions.
Offering ground training programs online requires the same preparation as in-person training. The following tips can help you structure and lead your sessions:
- Don’t be a technology dinosaur. At the very least, know how to schedule and start a session, share your screen, mute and unmute, and flip your camera from rear-facing to front-facing. If you are new to using videoconferencing platforms, practice with a friend or family member before your first session with a paying customer.
- Have visual materials prepared. It is okay to include YouTube video clips of content created by other CFIs or pilots, but keep them relevant and make them short (ideally under 60 seconds).
- Before your lessons, ask students what they wish to cover, and be prepared to lead the lesson and make it engaging. Give them a pre-lesson assignment from the Airplane Flying Handbook or Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. An hour of reading slides is exhausting and will not lead to repeat business or referrals. Before you finish the session, ask students if you covered everything they wanted to go over and if they have any questions or feedback.
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It’s Not Magic; It’s Just Hard Work
The possibilities for making money online as a CFI are virtually endless. Jason Schappert, Jon Kotwicki, Rod Machado, and Darren Smith are good examples of independent CFIs who have successfully established themselves as flight instructing experts and have developed online ground schools.
However, the expression “content is king” is not a lie. Flight instructors who find success making money online are not lucky; they work hard to produce content regularly. Being present in flight training Facebook groups and forums, posting YouTube videos, meeting with students on Zoom, creating online ground schools, and constantly writing and blogging requires discipline. If earning steady revenue is your goal, then you must stay active and continually add new content that will drive visitors to your website.
You do not need to invest thousands of dollars right away to have someone create a brand for you, build a website, and post on social media. You can do it all by yourself. If you are new to blogging, search engine optimization, or social media marketing, spend a little time learning and familiarizing yourself with best practices. As your business grows, you can choose to invest in production equipment for videos or hire others to help you with writing and posting.
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