Choosing a Flight School

Robert Chapin

The first step into flight training is to go flying.  Many flight schools offer a discounted first lesson as a taste of how exciting it is to be in the airplane.  I paid $29 at the local flight school for my intro flight in 2008.  That’s practically free, and it was one of the best investments anyone has ever made in me.  I came back to them in 2010 for several thousands of dollars worth of training to become a private pilot.

During the intro flight, you should expect to fly the airplane yourself.  My instructor and I agreed that after he started the engine, I could take control of the airplane on the taxiway, take off, and fly out about 30 miles and back while the instructor handled the radios.  He demonstrated a climb and an idle descent for me, and landed the airplane.  He also complimented me on navigating and flying straight and level without any help.  This was a great experience, and a big factor in my career plans.

When making an appointment for your first flight, be sure to ask about the school’s dress code and security procedures.

Touring Before Deciding

The next step is to tour more of the flight schools in the region.  I think the best time to do this is after the first flight.  At that point, when you have done at least some tenths of an hour of flying, and you are interested in more training, you will get the most benefit out of comparing other schools.  If you live in the USA and don’t know where to begin your tours, I suggest looking in the AOPA flight colleges database.

Here are the most important questions to ask when touring a flight school:

  • Which flight ratings are offered?
  • Is a 4-year degree offered?
  • Is it possible to do the flight training without enrolling in the degree program?
  • How long would it take to obtain a 4-year degree?
  • How long would it take to obtain the flight ratings?
  • What happens if the flight ratings and the degree courses are not completed at the same time?
  • Does the school accept previous training and transfer credit from other flight schools?
  • Is it an FAA-approved school?  (In the USA)
  • Is each student assigned a single flight instructor?
  • Who performs the aircraft maintenance, and where is it done?
  • What is the hourly rental rate for the type of airplane you will be flying?
  • What is the hourly flight instruction fee?
  • What is the cost of tuition, room & board?
  • What are the most common challenges students encounter when seeking financial aid?

Red flags should start appearing in your mind if the school is unable or unwilling to quickly answer a question from that list.

One more thing that I feel is important to look for in a flight school is the amount of experience and supervisory presence at the airport.  Consider the number of students and flight instructors you come across during your tour.  Do some of the flight instructors appear to be very highly experienced?  Who is managing the instructors?  Who is training the instructors?  Who is supervising solo flights?

Check back soon for my upcoming articles on applying for aviation college admission and where to get the best advice when you have more questions.

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22 Mar 2013

Flight Training Survival Guide

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