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Choosing a flight school is tough. Here's what you need to know...
Before anything else, you need to ask yourself what your long-term goals in aviation are. It doesn't have to be anything too specific. It could be as simple as "professional pilot" or "hobby." Making that decision will help you determine which type of training you'd like to receive.
Each flight school will have a different feel, some more profession-oriented than others. If you're looking to become an airline pilot for instance, look to see if your flight school has any partnership programs with regional airlines.
Flight training costs can vary significantly. Several things can influence this, like: school location, number of students, and aircraft type, among numerous other reasons. Some schools have financial assistance and loan programs. Make a budget and narrow down the list of potential schools in your area.
Some flight schools have a syllabus and requirements for ground school. Make sure this fits in with your schedule. If becoming a pilot is something you really want to do, you'll need to make flight training a priority. Delaying flight training due to extenuating circumstances is an excellent way to greatly increase your costs. If you don't fly on a somewhat regular basis, especially at the beginning, you'll never gain adequate muscle memory.
This is a big one. Part 61 and 141 schools have pretty substantial differences. We can't cover all the differences in this article alone, but here are some things you should know... Part 61 usually allows you to complete training on an "as needed" basis. That means you'll be able to train a little more flexibly, both time-wise and lesson-wise. As opposed to Part 61 schools, Part 141 schools utilize FAA approved training courses, which you must follow.
Simply put, Part 141 schools are known for being more structured than their Part 61 counterparts. This can either be a good or bad thing, depending on your personality, learning type, and available time.
It doesn't matter to everyone, but there are some reasons you might want to consider what kind of aircraft you'll be training in. Older round-dial aircraft are often less expensive to fly than their more modern glass-cockpit counterparts. Some pilots prefer instrument training in glass cockpit aircraft for increased situational awareness. So, if instrument training is on your agenda, consider starting in glass panel aircraft. Furthermore, if you want to fly professionally, it's a good asset to have experience with glass cockpits and GPS.
Remember that age doesn't always correlate with safety... You'll need to do a little digging to find out more about the maintenance department and record of individual schools.
Determine a limit for how far away you'd like the school to be. There are local schools, university programs, and training academies that might be farther away. It doesn't have to be nearby, especially if you're flexible enough to move temporarily. Location often determines price ranges for training. Like anything in major urban areas, flight training is usually more expensive than outside the city.
Don't forget to consider how busy the airspace around you is. Spending more time and money navigating airspace than actually training isn't a good way to keep training affordable. If you're new to flying and don't know how airspace works, talk to the pilots you know and bring up this question.
One of the best ways to analyze the quality of a training program is by talking to people who went through it themselves. Avoid talking to employees of the company if possible to avoid bias. Just have an honest conversation with another pilot about the pros and cons of the school. It probably won't be perfect, and that's ok. There's no such thing as a perfect flight school!
You've narrowed the list down and it's time for your first visit. Call the school and schedule a discovery/introductory flight with an instructor. Keep your eyes and ears open during your visit to get a good feel for the environment, staff, safety policies, and satisfaction of other students.
If you don't feel like things are working out at the school you chose, don't be afraid to try another one.
Don't limit yourself to the first instructor you fly with. You can easily set up meetings with a few different CFIs to talk about goals, ways to get started with training, etc. If you can, try having the same conversation three different times with three different instructors. It's a good way to notice subtle pros and cons with each instructor's training style.
If there's an instructor that's knowledgeable and excited to get started with you, choose her/him! Maintaining a professional friendship with your instructor is a great way to enjoy your flight training. You're spending a lot of money... So make it fun!
Put yourself and your instructor on a timeline. Having goals and deadlines will keep both of you on track. Not setting goals poses serious risks to your success. Knowing the end goal will keep you motivated, so all that time and money is well worth it!
That's it. You finally found the school that works for you. Start training and keep working hard. Show up to lessons prepared and follow these steps to make your training as affordable as possible. Don't forget we have a ton of free quizzes, articles, and even training courses to help you get there!
Not every school or instructor is a perfect fit for each individual student. Don't forget that you can always switch things up if necessary. How did you choose your flight school? Tell us in the comments below.
Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, commercially licensed pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings, and a commercial aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. Swayne's experience ranges from international flights in a King Air F90 to ferrying a 1943 Grumman Widgeon across the country. You can reach Swayne at email@example.com, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.