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Top Five Things to Look for in a Flight School

by Tori Williams 2. September 2017 11:00
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So you have finally decided that you will chase your dreams and get your pilot license. That’s great! The next big step in the process is to pick a flight school. However, with the number of flight schools around nowadays (sometimes multiples at single airports) it can be difficult to know which flight school to choose. Ultimately you will be giving a large amount of money to them, so it is very important you find the right fit for your goals and needs as a flight student.

In this article I would like to outline some of the most important things to look for in a flight school, to hopefully assist you in choosing the perfect fit. Sometimes it is worth driving to the next town over for your preferred flight school.

1. Availability of aircraft

One of the number one complaints I’ve heard from my flight student friends is that they are unable to schedule their flights when they need to because there is limited aircraft availability. Having too many students trying to fly too few aircraft can lead to a lot of frustration and unhappiness from all involved. Speak with current students and see how often they are able to fly. Is it flexible or will you be fighting for a plane when the weather is nice? Another important thing to think about is what you will be flying after you complete your training. Does the flight school offer rentals without instructors? Is there a local flying club that has ties to the school? Having a game plan for when you’re flying on your own will save you a lot of work once you achieve your goals to earn your license.

2. Experienced instructors

One of my pet peeves with flight instructors is when they are clearly just instructing to get the hours to move to the airlines. Although this is what the majority of instructors are doing, it doesn’t mean they get to be lazy or haphazard with teaching you. Watch out for instructors who do not take your training seriously, or will cancel your flight for the slightest inconvenience. A good instructor will tailor your lessons to your learning style, and will do the best they can to advance you through the lessons so you aren’t wasting money. Remember, no matter how nice the person is, you have the right to switch to a new instructor if you feel you are not making the progress that you should be.

3. Training Options

The training options that you look for in a flight school have a lot to do with what your personal goals are as a pilot. Do you intend to fly as a hobby or are you ultimately wanting to make a career out of it? There is a notable difference between a Part 61 and Part 141 certified flight school and it is up to you to decide which you prefer. This goes along with the availability of aircraft as well. Do you want to fly the classic Cessna 172 or are you looking for a more “mission-oriented” type of aircraft? Have an open mind about new aircraft if you’ve only ever experienced one type, but be picky if you need certain type ratings or endorsements for your ultimate aviation goals.

4. Good Maintenance

I can assure you that when I first started looking at flight schools, I didn’t think twice about how their maintenance was. However, once I started flying and planes continually went out of service for the most random things, I began to wonder how smoothly our maintenance department was operating. Ask any potential flight schools who is in charge of maintenance, how a student would report a discrepancy with the plane, and how quickly the turnaround time usually is if a plane does go down for maintenance. Keep in mind that aircraft have regularly scheduled inspections, and ask how long they usually take to complete them. You may be surprised to learn that they are not up to standards. Determining the airworthiness of a plane is ultimately up to the pilot in command, so knowing how well the maintenance has been kept up is important.

5. Safety Record

Even if all of the above features of your soon-to-be flight school appear to check out perfectly, safety should always be the number one concern for pilots. Closely tied to maintenance and instructor experience, the safety record of the flight school directly impacts you. Keep your ear to the ground for any stories of unsafe operations and be watchful for regulation compliance. If the flight school ends up getting shut down for operating unsafely, you may be questioned about it during an interview for an airline. In the short term, you won’t have access to the planes you were flying. Keep tabs on the history of the flight school and be cautious if anything seems off.

The time you spend comparing flight schools will always pay off in the end. Don't be afraid to be picky and ask the hard questions. Flight schools would not be around without students so make sure you do your due diligence in the beginning, and enjoy your time training. What do you look for in a flight school? Let me know in the comments below!

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Aviation Safety | Airports | Tori Williams

7 Practical Tips for Instrument Training

by Tori Williams 1. November 2015 20:45
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I am happy to report that in my pursuit of a career as a professional pilot, I successfully passed my Instrument Rating checkride a couple weeks ago. Although this is just a milestone along the long road to my goals, I am proud of how far I’ve come from my first attempt at flying an approach. Several pilots warned me that instrument training is more difficult than any other training, and I have to say that I now understand what they meant.

Instrument training was different from private training in a lot of ways. Everything that I had already spent hours learning and practicing was expected to be second nature to me at this point. This really hit home when I executed a poor traffic pattern and my instructor scolded me, saying, “This is PRIVATE stuff! You should know how to land.” I could not longer struggle to control any part of my flight operations and blame it on still being a student. In a sense, you change from being a student of the airplane to a student of everything outside of the airplane. Factor in how you cannot see outside, and the learning curve suddenly gets that much more difficult.

Upon landing and being told I had passed my checkride, my DPE told me that he strongly believed that instrument training was more difficult than ATP training. This surprised me, and I will have to report back in a few years on if I find this true for myself or not. Regardless, my previous instructor’s warning that it will be like a “fire hose to the face” when I began training was definitely true. I struggled for months in the ground course and every flight seemed to make me feel more emotions than Private training did. If it was a good flight, I definitely knew it and felt like a champion. If it was a bad flight, it was more difficult to recover from and I felt more like a failure. I am sure this is because the acceptable margin of error in instrument flight is so small.

During my training I jotted down some notes on things I would like to tell other students currently working on their instrument rating. Hopefully some of these tips will be helpful for navigating the difficulties you will face along the way.

Accurate representation of what it feels like to study for the Instrument Written.

Knock out the Written Exam

There is nothing more frustrating than getting grounded during flight training because you haven’t completed a written test. It is policy at my school that if you have not passed the written test before you start the second “flight lab” (25 hours of training) then you cannot move forward. Even if the threat of being grounded is not looming over your head, the written is a huge hurdle to pass and I recommend taking it as soon as possible to get it out of the way. Some concepts are more difficult than Private, but it’s nothing that a few extra hours of studying cannot remedy.

Reference the Instrument “Know All” Handbook

My instructor sent me a link to this page early in our training and it was a game changer. It lays out the highlights of regulations and procedures in a way that is easily understood, and it is perfect for printing out and highlighting. I even made some sections into flash cards for further memorization. Being a pilot is about knowing how to use every resource available to you, and this is certainly a goldmine of helpful information.

Memorize Approach Plates you use Often

I would say that in almost every other flight lesson we flew over to KLEX and did an approach into whichever runway they were using. I became really familiar with the VOR-A, ILS, LOC, and RNAV approaches for 22 and 04. Knowing that I frequent these approaches so much, it was extremely beneficial to me when I sat down by myself and mentally flew the approach plates several times. It made the approach briefing less confusing, and helped me to understand exactly what I was doing as I went along. Even before a cross country, I recommend looking over the plates a few times to get familiar with them so that you are never a few miles out and looking at the plate for the first time.

Don’t Stress Over the Brief

When I first began my training, it seemed like every time we were getting close to the airport and I needed to brief the approach to my instructor my palms suddenly got sweaty. There was so much to go over. There is so little time. Don’t let yourself stress over the approach plates, and find an acronym or method that works best for YOU. I always use “FACTM” approach. Frequencies, Altitudes, Course, Time, and Missed. I go over this in my head, and find the information that relates to it on my approach plate.

Invest in Good Foggles/Hood

One thing that I almost got in trouble with during my checkride was the type of foggles I used. They are clear, except for the opaque white around the edges. When I was coming in on my final approach, I experienced a familiar phenomenon: a blinding glare from the sun. As we were coming straight towards the sun, it reflected off of the opaque part of my foggles and I could not see any of my instruments. I had this happen before but never to the extent of during my checkride. My extremely kind check airman held a binder up to block the glare as I finished the approach, and recommended that I look into a hood for future flights. Find what works best for you and consider all the possible negatives of all options.

Get into Actual IMC

Near the end of my training, when I was pretty comfortable with approaches, my instructor called me up on a particularly overcast and nasty looking day. He told me that I had better not think I wasn’t flying that day, and to get to the airport as soon as possible. That was the day that we went into real, solid, terrifying instrument meteorological conditions. Up to this moment I was sure that I could handle it, after all I had about 40 hours in simulated instrument conditions. Immediately when we burst into the clouds my entire body tensed up. It was the most disorienting experience I had ever had. I asked him to please take over the radios so that I could get a feel for it. I highly recommend going into IMC multiple times during your training to truly understand the mental aerobics that come with completely trusting what you see on the panel.

Keep a Reminder of Why You’re Doing it

I won’t lie, I thought about quitting a couple times during my training. Everyone said that Instrument training either makes or breaks you as a pilot, so I thought that if I could not get it down then I was not fit to be a professional pilot. I watched as a few of my friends switched majors or quit their training because it was just too difficult. Every time I had to remind myself that this has been my dream since I was a young girl, and I could not quit until I had given it all that I had. It absolutely pays off in the end if you dedicate the time and effort, and keep motivated.

I wish you all the best in your instrument training, and I hope that these tips will at least encourage you to stick with it. Stay safe and keep working hard towards your goals!

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Aviation Safety | Flying | Tori Williams

How Safe is Flying?

by Tori Williams 1. May 2015 08:30
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There is an age-old question asked to pilots and professionals in the Aviation industry by concerned passengers and family members time and time again. The question, “Is aviation REALLY safe?” is asked more frequently than ever now that the media spends weeks analyzing every single detail of any plane crash. The simple answer is yes; flying is statistically a very safe thing to do. However, I believe that a fear of flying stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of how the airline industry works. I’m sure everyone has heard the statistics, but I want to point out some facts about the industry that lead to logical reasons why aviation is the safest form of travel.

You can describe flying in a way that sends chills down anyone’s spine. It is where you hurdle yourself through the air in an aluminum box, at altitudes higher than the tallest mountains on earth, at speeds in excess of 500 MPH. For a large majority of people, this is all that they can focus on when they think about flying. There is a lot more to it than that, because the airline industry is an extremely complex and innovative system that is entirely designed around safety.

The statistics are everywhere. Evidently your chances of being killed on a single airline flight are a measly 1 in 19.8 million. The Bureau of Aircraft Accident Archives has recorded a steady decline in crashes over the last several years. Worried about the aircraft mysteriously disappearing? The average over the past 40 years has been one disappearance per year. Add this to the fact that roughly 100,000 aircraft take off per day, and you have an extremely low probability.

Despite all the statistical evidence, some people still experience fear and anxiety over the thought of flying. Everybody loves lists, so I want to list some of the most factual and logical reasons that airline flying is extremely safe.

1. Aviation is the most regulated and scrutinized means of travel. There is an old saying, “The FAA: We are not happy until you aren’t.” The regulations and rules that airline operators and pilots must follow seem to never end. They pertain to types of equipment onboard, crew training, fuel reserves, weight and balance of the aircraft, and hundreds of other things. If it pertains to the safe operation of the aircraft, the FAA has a regulation about it.

2. Security is tight. After 9/11, the airline industry upped their security measures as much as possible. Passengers go through extensive searching and monitoring, doors to aircraft cockpits are locked. Try to look at the random frisking and excruciatingly long TSA lines as a positive thing – they are just a side effect of excessive security measures to keep you safe.

3. Pilots go through rigorous training. As an aspiring airline pilot, I have seen firsthand just how much training pilots have to go through. When you first earn your Commercial license, you are far from piloting in the airlines. Pilots have to immediately begin building hundreds more hours, gaining experience, and even when they reach the airlines they act as copilot for several years. Having two individuals with years of extensive training at the controls should ease your worries a little.

4. Pilots also go through rigorous examinations. In order to maintain a First Class Medical certificate, a pilot must be in top physical and emotional shape. There is an ever-increasing list of medications and physical ailments that will keep them out of the cockpit. This is a sore subject for many, but a reasonable point as to why airlines are safe.

5. Aircraft are expensive. The typical commercial airliner can cost a company upwards of $100 million. If you paid $100 million for a company asset, would you be uptight about the way it was handled and operated? A crash can completely bankrupt a smaller airline, so it is also in the best interest of the number crunchers that flights do not go down.

6. Aviation is constantly evolving. Since that fateful first flight by the Wright brothers, aviation has been growing and advancing at a breakneck pace. Every year new innovations are made that help make operations smoother and safer. Ask any pilot about NexGen and you will see firsthand just how quickly new equipment and systems are being implemented.

I hope that these points will help you reconsider any remaining fear or anxiety you feel towards flying. What safety fact do you find most comforting? Let me know in the comments below!

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Aviation Safety | Tori Williams



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