So you’ve made the decision that you want to start flying. Firstly, AWESOME! It’ll be an achievement that will be well worth the effort.
Now it’s time to choose a flight school but where do you start? That was my exact question when I was first starting out so I’ve compiled this blog entry in hopes to help some of you ease the process.
Why do you want to fly?
Are you wanting to become a commercial airline pilot, bush pilot, work for the government, or have you just watched Top Gun a little too many times. Whatever the reason the first step is to figure out what your ultimate goals are with flying. Then you can outline your expectations and start charting out timelines for yourself. Be realistic with your timeline, taking into consideration your budget and what time will allow. This will prove useful because seeing it all written is different to imagining it in your head.
Part 61 and Part 141
New students always want to know, “What’s the difference?” Trust me I also struggled with this question. Firstly, looking at the word ‘part’, it refers to the part in the Federal Aviation Regulations that outlines the requirements for pilots, flights schools, etc.
Part 61, although follows FAA practical test standards, is less strict and allows a flight instructor to be more flexible with their training. Part 141 is more regimented and the flight school must have FAA approval for their curriculum, syllabus, and lesson plans. These plans are constantly reviewed giving continuity to your learning.
An easier way to help make the decision refers back to the previous paragraph. What are you wanting to do when you become a pilot? If you’re thinking of going to aeronautical college they require a Part 141 curriculum. In addition, if you’re career driven then a scheduled training environment will be more beneficial. Not to mention that you can decide to take your practical test with fewer hours. For example, a private pilot license requires 40 hours of training for Part 61 but only 35 hours for a Part 141.
Do your research.
- Research flight schools in your area. I would first start online to get a feel for each company’s values, characteristics, and success rates.
- Once you’ve narrowed down your list talk to flight instructors at the schools, talk to their students, ask about teaching styles. Ask to look at their contracts so that you can know all the rules and not be surprised.
- Walk the airport. What is their aircraft availability? How many instructors do they have employed at the current time? Is there a high turnover rate? There is nothing worse then bouncing from teacher to teacher. It’ll hurt your budget and cause frustration. How is the location of the airport? Meet the maintenance crew, you are putting your life in their expertise.
- Ask the flight instructors what their goals are? You’ll find that some are only there to rack up hours to proceed with their next career move. This doesn’t mean they’re a bad teacher but you need to ensure that they’ll be putting in the effort as much as you.
- What resources do they have available? Any simulators on premises, ground school, partnerships with colleges or flying clubs?
- Take a test flight. They’re usually under $100 and if you let the instructor know what your intentions are they will treat it like a lesson.
I know we all would rather be in the sky then in the classroom but ground school is very important. Personally, you have to think about how you learn and what style suits you best. If you need a structured environment then you may want to enrol in a nearby college. If you’re like me and your work schedule is pretty manic then you can definitely teach yourself. Taking this path means that you have to be disciplined but it does offer more flexibility. There are plenty of study aids that you can look at to help you through the topics. Take a look at Jeppesen, Gleim, and the Pilot Store they will both online and paper guides. You can even use online websites to advance and challenge your learning:
- Get better with radio calls with LiveATC.net (Love this!)
- Exams4Pilots let’s you take continuous practice tests
- Jason Schappert is a best selling aviation author. His website and YouTube account is really great for breaking down particular manoeuvres and news in the industry.
- AOPA Flight Training is full of great resources, also check it out for discounts
- Look online to join aviation groups near you. It’s great for your learning to just talk about flying in general conversation. All that networking will pay off as well!
Your flying instructor will be willing to do theory with you at their regular fee of around $45 per hour. This can get rather expensive after a while. I was lucky enough to come across an aspiring CFI and we started talking and discovered we had common ground. I need to improve my theory and he needed to work on his teaching skills for his upcoming exam. As a result, I’ve improved my knowledge for free and he advanced on the skills he needed. Talk with your fellow student pilots and start a study group. A good pilot is always learning so better to get in that groove now.
Know your budget
This is probably the most worrying factor to consider. You have to take into consideration not only the cost of the actual plane rental but also the cost of your headset, ground school training, insurance, polarised sunglasses, your medical certificates, etc. There’s nothing more devastating then getting half-way through your training to only discover that the bank account is running dry. This is the time to get creative! I’ve heard of a lot of pilots moving back in with their parents, taking a second mortgage on their house, asking for a large loan, delving into their savings, entering the military route to provide for their family still, and tightening the budget. Several students offered their services of marketing, washing the planes, accounting skills, or running the administration part of the business. It basically comes down to what are you willing to sacrifice to fly. It is a long goal so you have to be prepared to put in the work and move forward with whatever decision you chose. I promise it is worth all the effort, time, and money!