So you’ve decided to learn to fly. After much deliberation and saving you are ready to fulfill a dream. But where to start? If you live in a metropolitan area you likely have several schools to choose from. In a rural area flight schools may be sparse, if there are any at all. This article is a guide explaining how to ensure a training program meets your needs.
Picking the right school greatly depends on why you are learning to fly. Are you embarking on a career ultimately flying heavy metal overseas? Are you looking for personal growth and the fun of sight-seeing with friends and family on sunny weekends? Or maybe you own a successful business and want the utility of owning a personal airplane for business travel. To determine the right school for your circumstances let’s look at the pros and cons of the various options.
University programs like UND and Embry-Riddle have trained tens of thousands of pilots making a career of flying. Their highly structured curriculum prepares pilots for the regulated world of commercial aviation while also obtaining a 4 year degree. This route is generally the most expensive but you are also paying for prestige. Much like a Harvard-educated lawyer, a degree from a top tier aviation university carries a lot of weight on a resume. You will also have opportunities for networking and internships that will help in furthering your career. But does this mean you cannot achieve the same qualifications getting a business degree while flying at a local school? Absolutely not. Most major airlines require a 4-year degree but it can be in any field. And most regional airlines do not require a degree at all.
Professional Pilot Programs
Many schools cater to students with career aspirations but not necessarily associated with a university. Programs like ATP are designed for students to get the necessary qualifications in a minimum amount of time. These programs are very intensive and students must be self-motivated to be successful. There is little regard for the quality of education, only meeting the minimum requirements. If you have a mentor such an airline pilot uncle to help guide you then this may be a great option. But if you are looking for well-rounded quality training without a support network, you may find yourself with the qualifications but not the knowledge and experience for the next stage in your career.
Local Flight School
Most airports have a flight school or FBO with instruction available. The quality of these options vary widely and really depends on the dedication of the staff. Do they use a well organized curriculum? Do they provide additional resources such a training materials, simulators and seminars to supplement flying? Do they have training aircraft appropriate for the kind of flying you intend to enjoy once you have your certificate? Depending on the experience level of the staff, you can obtain the same quality of flight training as any university or the opposite. If choosing a local flight school it is important you visit each facility: get a tour, ask about the training process, policies and procedures and talk with other students. You will likely have an impression, favorable or unfavorable, within minutes. It is equally important to meet several different instructors and find one that is a good fit. Read our article on Choosing a Flight Instructor for more guidance.
The last option is to join a local flying club. These clubs may be organized in a variety of ways from basic memberships to buying shares of aircraft. Typically, clubs are non-profit and managed by volunteers to provide aircraft to members at the lowest possible cost. Club members may teach as an independent instructor and again, quality varies widely. Some independent instructors are highly experienced and have a passion for flight instructing. Others have a CFI certificate but have no business teaching. This may be the lowest cost option but you really have to do your research to make sure you know exactly what you are getting. If you are part owner, you may be on the hook for your share of an airplane repair. You likely will not have the support and assistance of administrative staff you would at a flight school. Plus, independent instructors probably have another full time job so scheduling time may be a challenge. That being said, the right club could be a perfect fit for a flexible pilot who is cost conscious and finds the right instructor.
One last option includes a word of warning. You have likely seen advertisements for accelerated training such as ‘Get your Private in sunny Florida in only two weeks – Guaranteed!’. Accelerated programs are convenient if you don’t have any training options where you live and can take a few weeks from work to immerse yourself in training. But even with a dedicated airplane and instructor there is no way guarantee anything. The goal is not to pass the checkride, it is to become a safe and proficient pilot. Rushing and cutting corners is a very dangerous game that could cost you your life. If this is the only practical solution, break the training into segments. Take one trip with the goal of soloing before you leave. Second trip meeting all cross country requirements. Third trip prepping and checkride. You will spend more time and money reviewing. Especially if there is a large time gap in between trips.
There is no single best path for flight training. It really depends on your individual goals and options available in your area. Check out our articles on choosing a flight instructor and aircraft for more helpful tips.