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!