Early in childhood, most of us were taught these basic types of questions and how to apply them in any given situation. When it comes to choosing a flight school, these old friends will not lead you astray. Selecting where to do your pilot training is a serious endeavor that can be tedious, confusing, and often overwhelming. My goal, however, is that you walk away from this article feeling a bit more prepared when taking the first steps toward your next aviation adventure, whatever and whenever that may be.
Choosing a Flight School: The Who
Do your best to meet several flight instructors, including those who would likely be assigned to you. If the Chief Instructor Pilot is available to discuss their programs, that’s even better. Try to speak with some of the office staff and aircraft maintainers, as well. Talk to them about their backgrounds, ask all your questions, and don’t be afraid to get their opinion on the company and training programs. You would be surprised the kinds of insight people will offer when given the opportunity.
Choosing a Flight School: The What
Take a good look at the aircraft you’ll be flying, as well as the number of aircraft available versus the number flown on a daily basis. Having twenty aircraft means very little if only three of them are airworthy, and should be looked at as a red flag. Inside the aircraft of today’s schools, the systems and equipment can vary greatly. Do the majority of aircraft have glass cockpits or steam gauges? Dual GPS or a single VOR? Are you looking to be trained only in aircraft with new digital, glass cockpits? The options will be many, so have an idea of your equipment desires before you venture out.
Choosing a Flight School: The When
A student’s pace in training can largely be determined by availability, both on the part of the instructor and the student. Ask about CFI-to-Student ratios, and be honest with yourself about your own availability. Perhaps your planned schedule only allows for early morning flights on the weekends, which the school may or may not be able to support. These will be some of the factors that determine your expectations for the pace at which you complete training. Be justifiably leery of any school whose main attraction is a shortest-time-to-ratings mantra; effective instruction will be inherently efficient and should establish a reasonable pace unique to every student.
Choosing a Flight School: The Where
Is the airport in a remote location? Is it near an International Airport? Is it based at an International Airport? Are there other flight schools at the same airport, adding to the daily traffic density? How will those factors affect your training and do they align with your desires as a student pilot? Some students seek the structure and added rigor of Class Bravo airspace, while others may want the quiet radios of a small, hometown airstrip. Ask to see the briefing rooms where you’ll do ground training, as well as maintenance spaces and administrative offices. You’ll be spending a good amount of time, and money, so get to know the facilities.
Choosing a Flight School: The Why
One of the most efficient questions you can ask a prospective school is “Why should I choose your flight school over every other flight school?” This is where doing your homework and visiting multiple schools if your local area affords it, can really pay dividends. No flight school should be shy about answering this question. In fact, one would hope to hear a prideful undertone in their response.
Choosing a Flight School: The How
The final two questions are a culmination of everything we have discussed. Often times the first and most decisiveaspect of flight training is “How much will it cost?” A valid concern considering the cost of present day flight training. Get specifics in writing for aircraft (including variously equipped), instructors, ground school, written exam and checkride fees, required vs. desired training supplies, security badge fees, and any other school-specific costs. This will be one of the best ways to compare apples-to-apples between various locations.
The last question, and in my opinion far and away the most important: How did you feel? Every flight school is different, from the people to the aircraft to the fabric on the chairs in the lobby. It is of the utmost importance that you not only feel comfortable and safe in the environment but that you get a deeper, internal sense of “this is the right place for me”. I would offer the flight school should feel the same way. They should be accepting of and forthcoming regarding your questions and supportive of you choosing what best suits you and your goals as a pilot. If they aren’t, how does that make you feel?