scorecardI'm a flight instructor in Las Vegas, where clients rent private planes for up to $1,000 an hour. Business is booming as people are coming out of the woodwork wanting to learn to fly.
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I'm a flight instructor in Las Vegas, where clients rent private planes for up to $1,000 an hour. Business is booming as people are coming out of the woodwork wanting to learn to fly.

Amber Gibson   

I'm a flight instructor in Las Vegas, where clients rent private planes for up to $1,000 an hour. Business is booming as people are coming out of the woodwork wanting to learn to fly.
Careers5 min read
Carl May has been a pilot and flight instructor for nearly two decades.    Carl May
  • Carl May is a 38-year-old flight instructor and director of flight operations for All In Aviation in Las Vegas. He's been teaching and flying planes around the US for 17 years.
  • Despite the ongoing pandemic, business for All In Aviation has boomed this year, and May has nearly doubled his staff of flight instructors since April.
  • He typically sees several clients a day for three- to four-hour flight lessons on planes that cost anywhere from $215 to $1,000 to rent per hour.
  • Here's what his job is like, as told to freelance writer Amber Gibson.

Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a pilot. I would look up in the sky all the time, and was obsessed with trying to see airplanes.

I knew I wanted to go to college for aviation, so after high school I did two years in Arizona at a satellite school. In that time, I obtained my private pilot's license with instrument rating and my commercial license. Then I got my Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and Certified Flight Instructor — Instrument (CFII) ratings, and went to the University of North Dakota to finish my bachelor's degree in commercial aviation.

I originally thought I would go into the airlines, and wanted to know everything there was to know about the commercial airline industry.

You don't need a college degree to become a flight instructor.

First you need to have a commercial license, which requires 250 flight hours. Then you can train for your CFI and CFII to be able to teach others. Most people are flight instructors so they can make money while building up their flight time to become a commercial airline pilot, which requires 1,500 flight hours.

After graduating in 2007, I spent nearly 13 years in Scottsdale teaching and running flight schools. More recently, I worked with the Scottsdale Cirrus training center.

In 2019, I decided it was time for a change, and I took a position with All In Aviation school in Las Vegas. They'd just opened a brand new building, and I saw the job had potential growth.

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When the pandemic hit in the spring, I was worried.

Nonessential businesses had to close, but luckily we have a contract with the Air Force, and those government contracts are considered essential work. Our out-of-town traffic dropped off to practically zero overnight, so I began working from home on our ground school — a three-day crash course for new students.

It was a little slow for a couple weeks, but suddenly in April, people were coming out of the woodwork wanting to learn to fly. I was constantly having meetings and phone calls with people who wanted to learn to fly, so I started hiring more and more instructors.

carl may 2
During the pandemic, May says business has been booming.      Carl May

Now, we have a total of eight flight instructors, three of whom I hired and trained during the pandemic. We kept chugging along and were blown away by the amount of business we had.

Our flight instructors have all been billing an average of 120-140 hours a month. In September, our flights hours were double of what they were in January.

As a flight instructor, my schedule changes every day.

Most training occurs during daylight hours so it's not uncommon to have early mornings, especially in the summer when the temperature is up. Most lessons are blocked out for three to four hours. We have a preflight discussion before we board the plane, then the training flight lasts anywhere from one to two hours, and is concluded with a thorough post flight briefing.

I typically see two to three clients per day depending on the length of the lesson. As a full-time instructor, I make myself available seven days per week and take time off as needed. I'm typically at the office Monday through Friday, and sometimes still find myself flying on the weekends to accommodate student schedules. Some students need night flight time so I just adjust my days to start and end later.

Our students range from teens to people in their 50s, but during the pandemic there's been an uptick in older clients, between the ages of 35 and 55. For many, now that things are a little slower at their job, they finally have the time to learn to fly.

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Our students recognize the luxury and convenience of being able to fly yourself somewhere.

Carl May
May says his clients value the ability to fly themselves anywhere.      Carl May

Flying affords them a freedom many of us have been longing for during lockdown.

Most recently I had a gentleman who'd sold his businesses and invested in a new airplane. He took his private pilot check-ride on his 50th birthday, and then a week later he flew to Cirrus aircraft headquarters in Tennessee to pick up his brand new turbo Cirrus airplane. He's going to put the airplane on lease back with us, and that'll be a new addition to our fleet. Including the VisionJet, we have 10 Cirrus aircraft and two Cessnas for 12 planes total.

I have another fun customer in his early 40s who owns his own business, and wants to learn to fly and own a Cirrus VisionJet. We've been all over the country with him, incorporating his flight training with his business operations. I did a flight with him and his wife where we stayed the night in Sedona, Arizona, and I had a $900 a night cabin to myself. When you aren't a pilot yet, unfortunately we can't just drop you off somewhere and then come back and get you. That would be a charter operation and we aren't certified to do that as a flight school.

We added several Cessnas to the flight school fleet that rent at $215/hour to accommodate more price-conscious folks. Still, many of our customers end up gravitating to the Cirrus planes, which range from about $300 to $400/hour, for all their safety features. A lot of people see the VisionJet, which costs $1,000/hour to rent, and that's their end goal. It has a button called safe return that turns the aircraft into an autonomous vehicle in the event that the pilot has a medical emergency.

It's been steady but intense growth over the past year. Traditionally summer months are slow months for flight training because it's so hot here, but all of our aircraft are fully air-conditioned, so that definitely helps.

The best part of flying and being an instructor is helping my students achieve their goals in aviation.

Every day and lesson is different, and I enjoy creating personal relationships with trust and respect. Most flight instructors teach for a short time as a means to the airlines, so my advice for other pilots and instructors is to practice patience and enjoy the process. Remember to live in the present, and respect everyone you meet. It's a small industry, and you never know when you may cross paths with someone again.