You have dreamed of obtaining your private pilot license and have decided that it’s time to take that next big step. As you begin searching for pilot training schools, you realize that it’s not as simple a task as you thought. You see that some are affiliated with collegiate programs while others are independent. Some are fast-track programs while others allow you to train at your own pace. Fear not, future pilot! Understanding the differences between flight schools is not as hard as it seems.
The FAA essentially has two breeds of flight schools – those that operate under FAA Part 61 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) and those that operate under FAA Part 141 (Part 61, 2015; Part 141, 2015). The end result of each course of training is the same – you will have a small green card that proudly says “Private Pilot” on it which allows you to fly airplanes. The primary difference between a Part 61 flight school and a Part 141 flight school is how you conduct your training and the amount of experience the FAA mandates you are required to have before you are eligible to take your final checkride. Let’s discuss Part 61 first.
All of the laws of our nation are listed in something referred to as the Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs). Title 14 of the CFRs specifically includes every U.S. law relating to aeronautics and space. Within Title 14, there are various subparts relating to more specific areas of aviation and space law, such as medical certification standards (Part 67), airspace classifications (Part 71), and operating and flight rules (Part 91). Part 61 includes the laws relating specifically to the certification of pilots and flight instructors. You may see this abbreviated sometimes as 14 CFR Part 61, or as we will refer to it in this article – simply Part 61. Get it? Good!
If you visit your local airport and talk with the fixed-based operator about beginning flight training, odds are that you will be conducting your training under Part 61, although some larger programs like the aviation department at Southern Utah University also train under Part 61 (SUU, 2015). Under Part 61, you are required to obtain a minimum of 40 hours of flight training to be eligible for your private pilot certificate, 20 of which must be with a flight instructor and 10 must be solo (Part 61, 2015). You may be thinking – That’s only 30 hours. What about the other 10? The FAA doesn’t mandate what the remaining 10 hours must be – those may be dual or solo. During these 40 hours of training, you must obtain experience in the areas of operation outlined in 14 CFR 61.107(b)(1). Examples of these topic areas include preflight procedures, takeoffs and landings, airport operations and emergency operations.
Furthermore, you must also log ground training on topics such as weight and balance, aerodynamics, aircraft systems and flight planning (Part 61, 2015). There is no requirement for any specific number of ground training hours under Part 61, however. The only requirement is that you must receive ground training in each area specified in 14 CFR 61.105(b).
If you have dreams of making a career out of aviation, you will inevitably need to obtain your commercial pilot certificate, which is a requirement for you to start getting reimbursed for your hard earned skills. To be eligible for your commercial pilot certificate under Part 61, you must obtain 250 hours of total flight time (2015).
While many flight instructors use some form of informal syllabus to guide their instruction, training under Part 61 is largely fluid. You and your instructor are free to work on any aspect of training on any given day. This provides flexibility, but may not ensure that you have mastered certain skills required for later stages of training.
FAA Part 141, as you can imagine, refers to Part 141 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Training under a Part 141 flight school is much more structured than you would experience under a Part 61 flight school and is more commonly associated with larger independent flight schools like Upper Limit Aviation (2015), or with university aviation programs.
If you decide to pursue your private pilot certificate under Part 141, you only need to obtain 35 hours of total time before being eligible for your private pilot checkride, compared to 40 under Part 61. That may not sound like much of a difference, but consider the commercial certificate which we said was required for you to become a professional pilot. Under Part 141, you are only required to obtain a minimum of 190 hours of total flight time to be eligible for your commercial checkride, assuming you did all of your previous training under Part 141 as well, compared to 250 under FAA Part 61. That is a full 60 hours sooner for you to be eligible for your commercial checkride than if conducting your training under Part 61.
The FAA allows these reductions in flight experience requirements because they have specifically approved the training syllabi of every Part 141 flight school. Every lesson is carefully structured to maximize your learning and prepare you for future lessons. In addition, FAA Part 141 flight training programs incorporate intermediate stage checks throughout your training to ensure that you possess the requisite skills and knowledge before progressing to more advanced topics. Essentially, training is generally much more efficient under the FAA Part 141 flight school system.
If you are a veteran, another added benefit is that you can use your G.I. Bill benefits for training at an FAA Part 141 flight school (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2015). If your training is not associated with a college degree program, the G.I. Bill will only pay for training after you have obtained your private pilot certificate. However, if you are electing to pursue flight training in conjunction with a college degree program, your benefits will begin paying for your training on Day 1.
In conclusion, only you can decide what the best type of program is for you. If you are seeking flexibility in training and a self-paced flight training experience, an FAA Part 61 flight school may be your best option. If you are seeking to obtain your certificates in the minimum number of hours, pursue flight training in conjunction with a college degree, or use your G.I. Bill benefits for flight training, an FAA Part 141 flight school may be the best fit. Just remember, your pilot certificate does not distinguish which method you used – only the fact that you achieved your goal of becoming a pilot!
Note: Upper Limit Aviation offers both Part 141 flight school and Part 61 flight school training.
14 CFR Part 61 – Certification: Pilots, flight instructors, and ground instructors. (2015). U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Retrieved from http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?node=pt14.2.61
14 CFR Part 141 – Pilot schools. (2015). U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Retrieved from http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title14/14cfr141_main_02.tpl
Southern Utah University. (2015). Professional pilot program. Retrieved from https://www.suu.edu/business/aviation/
Upper Limit Aviation. (2015). Airplane school. Retrieved from http://www.upperlimitaviation.edu/airplane-pilot-schools/
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015). Flight Training. Retrieved from http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/flight_training.asp