Congratulations! It looks like you’ve finally decided to take the plunge into the amazing world of aviation. Learning to fly is a challenging but an incredibly rewarding experience. Although it can be stressful at first, you will look back and be glad you dedicated the time and effort to learning to fly.
Choosing a Flight School
Choosing a flight school is a big decision. The process of learning to fly is lengthy, expensive, and will impact your relationship with flying for the rest of your life. The last thing you would want to do is choose a flight school and realize a few weeks in that you aren’t happy with it.
There are several things that are easy to overlook when picking a flight school. Things like expectations, costs, programs, and more can end up being different than what you expected. Since this is likely your first time having to choose a flight school, you might not yet know what questions are even important.
For those reasons, I decided to put together a guide showing you all the steps your should follow to choose a flight school. Take your time to read through this list as you start your search and I promise you’ll be glad you did.
What Kind of Training Do You Need and/or Want?
The first thing you want to start thinking about is what kind of training you want to get. This will depend on the kind of airplanes you want to fly and what objectives you have as a pilot.
For example, if you want to learn to fly light aircraft without passengers as a hobby, the training you’re going to need is very different than if you want to make flying your profession and and become either a commercial pilot or airline pilot.
It really comes down to knowing what your objectives and goals are. Take a look at the different types of pilot licenses and keep this in mind as you meet with people from flight schools and compare what they offer.
Different flight schools offer different types of training and tend to focus on certain specific aspects of flying. Since you want to make an informed decision, it’s important to know what you’re looking for when you first start.
What Are Your Long Term Goals?
You also want to consider what your long-term goals are beyond your initial training right now. If you are perfectly fine earning your recreational pilot license so that you can fly locally as a hobbyist, the flight school you choose can be different than if you plan to eventually get your airline transport license.
Although achieving your long term goals as a pilot can take as little as a few months or as long as several years depending on what your goals are, you should start to think about them now so that you can plan ahead and make sure you are getting off to a good start.
Part 61 vs Part 141
There are 2 types of flight schools: Part 61 and Part 141. These numbers refer to the federal aviation regulations they operate under.
The main difference between these 2 different types of schools is their training structure as well as their accountability.
Part 141 Flight Schools: These flight schools are periodically audited by the FAA. They need to keep detailed FAA approved course outlines and student performance metrics. Being a part 141 approved flight school means that a flight school has met these specific requirements and has their curriculum approved by the FAA. The FAA can often inspect these flight schools and they must meet minimum pass rates for practical exams.
These flight schools end up being much more structured than their Part 61 counterparts and a great option if you plan on continuing your education to the professional level.
Part 61 Flight Schools: These flight schools allow for students to learn in a more flexible manner. This includes the ability to rearrange flight content and lessons to meet student needs. This can be a huge advantage for a part time student looking to learn at their own pace.
It’s important to note that regardless of which of these types of flight schools you train with, you’ll still need to learn the same material and pass both written and practical exams.
Make a List of Flight Schools Near You
The first thing you should do is make a list of potential flight schools that are close enough to you that you are willing to travel to on a regular basis. This will be different for each person depending on your schedule and where you live.
The closest flight school to you might not necessarily be the best one for you, so it’s not a problem if you have a drive a little further. But, make sure that you aren’t choosing a flight school so far away that you’ll find in inconvenient to go to.
Depending on the type of pilot license you plan to earn, you might be visiting this flight school regularly (weekly or more) for months. If you find it too difficult or inconvenient to drive there, you’ll never end up finishing your training.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few flight schools, I would take a few minutes to look at each of their websites to get some basic information on them. Things like the type of training they offer will likely be listed online and can save you some time if it turns out they don’t offer the type of training you’re looking for.
Set Up a Time to Visit Them
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few potential candidates, you should give them each a call and schedule a time to visit them in person.
This will give you a chance to ask a lot of questions, tour their facilities, and see if they are a good match for you. This is likely one of the more important parts of this process, so make sure you take your time and get answers to all the important questions.
Here is a list of things I would make a point of asking at each flight school:
- Types of training they offer and specialize in
- Are they a Part 141 or Part 61 flight school
- What kind of aircraft they use
- Schedules of training
- Details of classroom training (facilities, class size,etc)
- Costs for their training including aircraft rental, ground courses, flight time, and other fees
You want to make sure you are asking a lot of questions so you can understand how they operate and how it will fit your needs.
The person who serves as your flight instructor will have a very important role in your pilot training and your safety as well. It’s very important that the person you train with is both qualified (certified flight instructor (CFI) or better) as well as a good fit for you.
Making sure they are a certified flight instructor ensures that you’ll not only have a safe flying experience but that the training you receive is recognized by the FAA. You would not want to find out that after spending time and money on flight lessons that those hours don’t count due to the instructor who gave you the lessons.
The personality and attitude of your flight instructor is also important. The instructor should be someone you can see yourself getting along with and learning well from. If you note a bad attitude or you just can’t quite “click” with them, I would think seriously about looking for a different instructor.
Take a Introductory Course
If you like what you’ve seen so far, I would suggest taking a intro flight with that school/instructor. This will give you a firsthand look into how their process works, their personality, and more. If this is your first instructional flight, you’ll also get to experience what you’re getting yourself into and how you feel about it.,
I would strongly recommend you take at least one of these intro flights regardless of which flight school you decide on, especially if you have no previous experience with flight lessons.
Schedules and Time Limitations
Another very important aspect of choosing a flight school is their scheduling policies and procedures.
If you are going to be completing your training on a part time basis and have other responsibilities in life (career, family, etc.) you want to make sure that they are able to reasonably accommodate your schedule. You’re not going to have a good experience if they are only able to have you train/fly at times that often don’t work for you.
If you are going to be a full time student and want to complete your training as soon as possible, you’ll want to discuss this with the flight school to make sure they have the appropriate staffing and equipment to accommodate this for you.
Costs and Financing
Flight school can be very expensive. Depending on the type of training and license you plan to earn, you can expect to spend anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. Once you have decided on what kind of training you need and what your goals are, I would strongly recommend you discuss costs with all the flight schools you interview and consider training with.
Costs can vary quite a bit from school to school and they can even structure their fees different from one another. For example, some flight schools rent you the airplane wet (meaning with gas included in the fee) while others rent you the airplane dry (meaning you still have to pay for gas).
Variations like this mean you have to do your due diligence and ask a lot of questions.
I would recommend that when you meet with people from flight schools, you let them know exactly what type of license you plan to get and have them break down the total cost for you. Don’t fall for advertised prices and specials you see on the internet. Like most advertising, it can sometimes leave out important details that will drastically effect the total cost of earning your license.
Instead, have them break down for you exactly how much the total cost will be for the entire program along with what’s included and anything you might have to pay for on your own outside of their fees.
Make sure they include things like the ground school course, airplane rental, fuel, instruction time, insurance, testing, and more. You want to make an informed decision, so finding out these details upfront is key.
Make a Decision
Once you’ve taken your time to complete all of the above steps, it’s time to make a decision. If you want to get started right away, I would make sure that the school you are about to choose meets are your requirements, then just dive in.
This might be a major decision, but after you’ve done your research you need to pick one and run with it. The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be learning to fly and eventually passing the test to become a licensed pilot.
That’s it. You took the time to do all the right things up front that will ensure you are choosing the right flight school. Now, it’s time to get serious about your training.
Take your time and enjoy the process. The goal is to become a skilled pilot that is knowledgeable and safe while flying. Don’t try to cut corners or rush your training.
As you can see, choosing the right flight school is a very important decision. Taking your time and following these steps will make the entire process of learning to fly much less stressful and much more enjoyable. Learning to fly should be a great experience and you can make sure it is by putting in the time upfront to make sure you’re making the right call.
Good luck and get out there!