Q: WHAT DO I LOOK FOR IN A FLIGHT SCHOOL?
A: Look at the big picture. What exactly are you getting for your training dollar?. The ideal training environment consists of a number of important components:
1. THE AIRPORT & ITS FACILITIES
Look for a well managed,professionally run modern airport, staffed by helpful full time employees always on hand for assistance. An on site mechanic and avionics shop is a great benefit as aircraft maintenance downtime is reduced. The airport should have at least its own weather reporting system, some smaller airfields have to rely on systems from nearby airports which is not ideal. Full fuel service is another benefit of operating out of a well run airport. Some smaller airports offer only self service. An airport with investment plans for future growth is always a good sign.
2. THE FLIGHT SCHOOL
Look for a purpose built dedicated training facility with a good sized and well equipped class/briefing room with high speed internet and a lounge area etc. Try and get a feel for the way management are investing in the school, as its future might just depend on it. Small underfunded so called “flight schools” are nothing more than a private aircraft owner and an instructor each of which could disappear overnight leaving the student high and dry. Look for a school planning on the future with respected instructors with a good track record. A well maintained flight school normally reflects on well maintained aircraft.
3. THE AIRCRAFT
Look for aircraft that are well maintained and are well equipped, preferably with modern avionics and navigational systems. A fleet of at least two aircraft should be the minimum, as once your certified you don’t want to be stuck on the ground as the only available aircraft is being flown constantly by the instructor’s for training, this is a common problem with single aircraft flight schools and a number of recently certified pilots have approached me from neighboring schools frustrated that they are unable to rent the aircraft. Also two or more aircraft reduces the chance of your training being interrupted by essential maintenance.
Do some research for yourself, do a road trip drive by, talk to airport staff. Get a feel for the airport environment, too busy or complex could be an expensive tough initial training experience, too small or apparently underfunded/understaffed could also be a sign of trouble ahead.
Compare airport facilities, aircraft/Instructor costs and also the flight school environment before deciding on where to spend your training dollar, it might certainly in the long run be worth you driving that extra mile.
Q: HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR?
A: Finding a local flight instructor is fairly easy; it’s making the best choice that is important. The FAA standards for Flight Instructor certification are some of the highest standards found in the world today and any FAA Certified Flight Instructor is fully capable of performing initial Private Pilot training efficiently and safely otherwise he would not be certified. Unfortunately there are some flight instructors as with any profession whose motives are unscrupulous. You hear of some instructors being able to offer you anything and everything and they can be very persuasive, don’t be fooled, being able to keep an open mind at this stage and getting past the “SALES PITCH” is important. We have come across numerous cases where students have been lured by the unscrupulous instructor promising everything the student wants to hear, sadly once signed up they discover that the promises are long forgotten, the training is taking a lot longer than originally promised and they are running out of money and patience fast. Learning to fly is a financial commitment you do not want to regret.
INDEPENDENT RECOMMENDATIONS are certainly the best method of finding unbiased information on a particular Instructor. Don’t be shy about going up to (or calling) your local airport and asking people. Terminal staff, Mechanics, avionics workshops will all know the local instructors and more importantly for you they will be able to give you their independent recommendation based on their knowledge of the instructor concerned. Do yourself a big favor and get some background information on the Instructor, his reputation on the airport, how long has he been associated with the school. Asking questions could save you a lot of money, time and heartache.
Instructor fees do vary by geographic area and you should not pay high Instructor fees at any rural airport. Also, you should not pay high instructor fees for Basic Initial Private Pilot training.High Instructor fees are associated with more advanced flight training ratings and certificates such as Instrument rating training, Commercial pilot training, Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) training, Multi-Engine training, Flight Instructor Training etc. Keep your requirements in perspective.
Sadly in today’s economy and also with aviation training at rock bottom a lot of Flight instructors are struggling financially, especially in the quiet rural area’s. This unfortunately results with the few students there are, being “milked for money” just to keep the unscrupulous instructor afloat, with students being flown not for their benefit but for the benefit of the instructor, with basic private pilot training going on forever. This practice is totally unprofessional and unfortunately does go on. Be very wary of Independent Flight instructors with no other income, especially in the current economic climate. A student pilot approached us recently upset that after 130 hours of flight training he had still not completed his private pilot training. He turned out to be no stranger to aviation as he was a retired US Army Air Corp Warrant Officer with 20 years aviation experience. His Instructor at the time was apparently highly qualified with over 9500 hours of instructional time and 11 years experience as an instructor, after reviewing the students logbook it was apparent that his flight time was not being used constructively and that no structured course was being used. Sadly this is not the first case we have come across like this and will not be the last, its a perfect example where the “sales pitch” of hours of experience , qualifications and years of service does not guarantee good honest flight instruction.
Q: HOW LONG DOES LEARNING TO FLY TAKE?
A: Learning to fly is not difficult, but it does require study and practice. Federal Aviation Regulation Part 61 lists the things you must learn and requires a minimum of 40 hours of training to earn a private pilot certificate. Few people complete their training in the minimum time and the national average is anywhere between 60-80 hours. How long it will take depends on personal ability and how often you fly. If you do anything regularly, you’ll learn it quicker than doing it once or twice a month because you won’t have to “relearn” what you covered in the previous lesson. One important point is to make sure your instructor is following closely a structured course; otherwise you will end up flying a lot more than you should, which in flight training can equate to a lot of extra cost. Be wary of unscrupulous instructors not following a structured course. No matter how much time and experience they have, you are open to abuse, as their motives might be to just pad their wallets.
Q: HOW LONG IS EACH LESSON?
A: While most lessons are based on a 1 to 1.5 hour flight, they may take up to 2 hours in total as there are pre and post flight briefings, where you will discuss with your instructor what you’re going to do, how you did, what needs attention, etc. As you progress through your training the cross country flight lessons can take up to 2.5 hours of flight time.
Q: DO I NEED A MEDICAL EXAMINATION?
A: You will need to have at least a third class medical certificate before you can fly an airplane solo, but it’s often a good idea to get it before you start training, especially if you think you may have a medical condition that may preclude you from getting through the examination. The exam is not rigorous and more information can be found on www.flightphysical.com you can also use this site to find a local authorized medical examiner (AME) who will be able to perform the medical for you. If you have a problem, it’s not the end of the road, depending on the problem your AME will be able to help you and if you and your AME can prove to the FAA that your condition will not make you unsafe, there’s a good chance you can get your medical.
Q: WHAT IS GROUND SCHOOL?
A: Flight training is divided into two parts, ground school and flight training. Ground school teaches you the principles, procedures, and regulations. Any reputable flight school has a flight training course that encompasses an element of classroom ground school, taught by instructors who are qualified, capable and willing. Remember that once the aircraft engine starts up, you start paying and that’s certainly not the environment to start learning principles and procedures, great for the unscrupulous instructor though as you’re paying for his time also. The classroom is the place to learn principles & procedures, the cockpit is where you put that learning into practice.
Q: WHEN WILL I BEGIN FLYING?
A: You can begin flying on your first lesson, all that you will need to bring with you is a US birth certificate together with a photo ID or a US passport to verify your US citizenship, (if you are unable to locate your birth certificate, not to worry as you can order a replacement online for a small fee).
Q: WHAT’S THE CHECK RIDE?
A: A check ride is broken down into two sections, an oral part, where the examiner will test your general knowledge about the aircraft , airspace etc and the flight test, where you will be tested on your flying ability. The main purpose of the check ride is to make sure that you are a safe competent pilot. Your Instructor will make sure you are ready for both parts before recommending you for the check ride.
Q: DO I NEED SPECIAL INSURANCE?
A: Our school insurance covers students 100% with the instructor onboard and prior to solo flight a “renters” policy is required, this will cover the school deductable that you would be responsible for and is an excellent peace of mind for any rental pilot. This is not expensive and you should be able to get 12 months coverage for less than $200, this policy is good for any plane rental no matter where it is in the US (always check prior to renting an aircraft the insurance coverage), some schools tell you your covered but you might find YOU are still liable for the deductable, this deductable could be a large amount.