Not knowing what to look for when selecting a school can impact not only how much you spend but the overall quality of the training you receive. When learning to fly you should not only look at the costs, you need to consider multiple factors. If you’re just getting started I have put together somethings to consider when it comes time to select a flying school to begin your training. Remember there are many variables to take into account so what works for one student might not for another. Please use this as a general guide and I would encourage you to post questions on the Scudrunners.com Forum.
So how do you pick the right flying school? If you live in a small town with only one flight school at a sleepy airport your choice is limited. Maybe you have a choice between a small airport with a small school and a busy airport with several flying schools. You might think you will receive better training at the busy airports school. However you might actually be better off at your small town airport.
Let’s begin by taking a closer look at the airport.
If you have a choice of where to receive your training it’s a good idea if all other factors are equal to choose the small airport school here’s why. Airports that serve large population centres obviously will have more air traffic. With more air traffic this mean sitting on the tarmac with your engine running waiting to take off. Built up urban areas will also mean flying a distance to practice your air work. Every minute you sit with the engine running or transiting to a practice area is costing you money. Flying in and out of busy airspace should be part of a well-rounded training regime, however when you’re first getting started it is advantageous to be up and flying efficiently to maximize time spent practicing and honing your fundamental skills.
As an example Boundary Bay Airport (CZBB) located just south of Vancouver BC is a busy training airport. They are efficient at what they do and top marks to the controllers there. However to practice your maneuvers such as stalls and forced approaches you will need to transit to designated practice areas. This transit time after departure can take up to 15 minutes depending on the day. So if you’re booked in for an hour lesson you will literally spend half your flying time transiting to practice your air work. The price to rent just a basic Cessna 152 with an instructor is about $200 per hour. This means half that could be spent waiting on the ground then flying to and from the practice area to perform your air work. By contrast students flying out of a small airport could be getting more bang for their hard earned loonie. Another advantage at small town flying schools is the plane and instructor may not be in a rush to make it back for the next students lesson. This means when you’re out flying and you need more practice on a particular skill or manoeuver it will be easier to accommodate extra time flying.
Aircraft availability, you want to fly on your schedule not someone else’s.
You might be pursuing flying while working a 9-5 and want to train after work or on the weekends. The school or clubs airplane might not be available when you have the time. Large clubs with lots of weekend warriors will book up fast especially on nice days. The same holds true for small flying schools with only one or two airplanes. Flying schools are a business and they don’t want their planes sitting on the ground not making money. If your busy working or have family commitments take a moment to look at your own schedule and think of times you could work in flying lessons. When it comes time to tour a potential school or club ask to see the booking schedules. Take a good look at the availability of aircraft at the times you came up with for your own schedule.
The choice of training aircraft can also make a difference, I’m of the opinion that training on the most basic of airplanes is the way to go.
Learning the fundamentals of flying without all the bells and whistles will help you keep your head outside of the cockpit and keep you focused on your hands and feet skills. Once you have mastered the basics and you want to continue expanding your skills then of course go for it. The plane I learned on didn’t even have a heading indicator, so when I jumped into a friends “advanced” plane and was given a new heading I instinctively mumbled something about timing while glancing at the compass. I rolled into the turn and out on the new heading like I was Sean Connery navigating “red route one” in the movie The Hunt for Red October. The friend who’s plane it was looked at me cockeyed and said “Dude, just use this” while tapping on the Heading Indicator.
Much has been written about getting glass time to prepare for a career in aviation. Considering that I didn’t touch anything resembling EFIS until a good 8 years into my flying career. If you’re pursuing flying as career chances are for the first few years you will be flying the biggest pile of crap in the skies with limited tech. For the private pilot who will occasionally fly VFR on a rented 172 I wouldn’t even waste the money unless that’s your only option.
A great Instructor can make all the difference no matter what school you choose. From personal experience my first instructor’s personality and mine didn’t jive. He came recommended and others spoke highly of him.
After a number or lessons I found myself dreading going to the airport. When he took a job at Transport Canada (fill in your own joke here) I was relieved I wouldn’t have to fly with him again. My new instructor and I clicked, flying was supposed to be fun and he understood that. He had thousands of hours in all sorts of types, served with the RCAF and rounded out his aviation career with ATC. I recall flying in all sorts of weather when other instructors and students sat on the ground. Today looking back I was fortunate to find an instructor that had the knowledge, skill and confidence to take a rookie up in all sorts of conditions. Those where such valuable lesson that I know saved my bacon numerous times flying up north miles from anyone or anything. If only I had the confidence to switch instructors sooner I could have saved myself hours of frustration.
Having the same instructor helps with training continuity and you can
usually pick up quickly where you left off during your last lesson. One
great advantage of the big school is you will have a few instructors to
choose from, if you’re not happy or “clicking” with the one assigned to
you, remember you’re the customer. Don’t be nice and waste money on an
instructor that might be just phoning it in for the hours in their
logbook. Ask other students, chat with other instructors you might find a
better fit, sometimes personalities don’t mix. There is even the
option of a freelance instructor but some schools might not accommodate
One thing not well known outside the industry is that typically instructing is a first job for many pilots. Your instructor might have only started flying a year ago and the quality of instruction can be quiet variable. I won’t say that low time instructors can’t be good instructors, in fact an eager low time instructor might be the best choice, like I stated earlier find the best match for you.
Looking down the road after you get your Private Licence and are building time towards your Commercial Licence find out if the school offer IFR or Multi Engine training? Even if your first job might be flying tourists around sightseeing in a single engine airplane which only requires a basic CPL employers like to see a Multi Engine IFR rating as a minimum requirement. An efficient way to build time towards your Commercial licence is to obtain endorsements and ratings such as your Multi Engine IFR or Seaplane. If the school you’re looking at doesn’t offer such training but everything else checks out with your situation then use them, you can always switch to a different flying school for specific training later on. There are some great flight schools that specialize only in instrument training.
Final thoughts if you are pursuing flying as a career I would recommend going at it full time. Of course you would need savings or loans to accomplish this however if you can it is the way to go. You will save money by not repeating exercises and having to relearn what you forget between lessons. If you’re dedicated you could go from zero time to your Commercial Pilots Licence in less than a year of work.