A Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) is someone who is licensed to instruct student pilots both on the ground and in the air in training for their own flight certificate. The rules laid out for the qualification, responsibilities and authority of CFIs in the United States are laid out in Title 14 CFR § 61 - known to pilots in the US as 'FAR Part 61.'
In general, in order to become a CFI a pilot must first hold a commercial or air transport pilot certificate, since flight instructor qualifies as 'flying for compensation.' In addition, they must hold an instrument rating. If they wish to instruct pilots who are seeking their own instrument rating, they must further have a CFII or Certificated Flight Instrument Instructor rating. Specifically, a CFI may (according to FAR § 61.193) train pilots who are seeking any of the following:
- A student pilot certificate;
- A pilot certificate;
- A flight instructor certificate;
- A ground instructor certificate;
- An aircraft rating;
- An instrument rating;
- A flight review, operating privilege, or recency of experience requirement of this part;
- A practical test; and
- A knowledge test.
There are two ways to learn to fly in the U.S., known by the sections of the FAR that regulate them - Part 61 (the section above) and Part 141, which lays out regulations for formal flight schools. Both require all instruction to be given by a CFI. The CFI will be responsible for determining when the student is adequately prepared to undertake various tasks or types of piloting during his or her training, such as solo flight, local flight to other airports, solo cross-country flight and when they are prepared to take the FAA written exam. The student pilot will be evaluated at the finish of their training by a designated FAA Flight Examiner, who will administer an oral and practical examination to verify the CFI's assessment.