How to choose a flight school

choose a flight school

choose a flight school

Perhaps you have always wanted to get your pilot license ever since you watched airplanes flying overhead as a child. Or maybe your interest in learning to fly has come more recently, following the gift of an intro flight, or while researching a change in career. Whatever your motivation, the time has come for you to research and choose a flight school.

Some things are easy to research: choosing a gym, fitness coach or a piano teacher is relatively simple because we have experience with them and know many people from whom to get recommendations. Finding a flight school can be more daunting but by the time you have finished reading this, you should all of the tools you need to choose a flight school.

How quickly do you want to complete your flight training and get your license?

When you are looking to choose a flight school you want to ask yourself how fast do you need to finish your flight training? Some schools cater to students who are looking to get the licenses they need to fly airliners, while many independent instructors choose to take the time you need to make you part of your local aviation community.

It can often be cheaper to get your license quickly, because you spend fewer hours in training, but it may cost more up front. Getting your license more slowly may cost more overall, but you get to spread the cost of training over a longer period.

Should you continue training at the school you know?

If you have already taken an intro flight, sometimes called a discovery flight, it can be tempting to continue training at the school you already know. Learning to fly is a major investment in training. When you choose a flight school, you should treat it like making other large purchases. Take the time to research your options so you can make an informed choice. Here are some important points to consider.

Total anticipated flight training cost?

Society today demands instant gratification and people have been taught to shop for price regardless of value. Many people shop around looking for the flight school that offers the cheapest rental and instruction rates. When it is time to choose a flight school this is not the best approach. The hourly rate has nothing to do with how much you are going to spend by the time you get your license, since there are so many other factors to consider as well.

The FAA requires 40-hours of flight training before you can take the test to earn your license. Most people spend about 75-hours training to get their license, but some schools can teach you to fly in less time, closer to 45–50 hours. It should be clear that even if their hourly rate is higher, your total anticipated cost of training will be far less. To get your pilot license more quickly, it is important to choose a flight school that has a clear training plan developed for you from start-to-finish. 

Create a list of schools

When you’re ready to choose a flight school you’re going to need to create a list of flight schools near you. You can type flights schools near me into your search engine or browse one of the many flight school directories available online. Our flight school directory makes it easy and lets you save your searches and filter the results to help you find exactly what you are looking for. When you’ve narrowed down your selection you can make plans to visit the schools and tour their facilities and aircraft.

What to look for when you choose a flight school

There are many things to consider when you choose a flight school, all of which will add up to whether you have a good experience and get your certificate. For example, one day during your training you will arrive at the school to find the weather is not quite good enough for you to fly that day. What happens next?

Unexpected weather delays (and unscheduled aircraft maintenance) are a part of flight training. With their schedule upset, some schools scramble to reassign students and aircraft, but if you’re at the school waiting for your lesson that doesn’t help you. A school and instructor that is prepared may suggest you fly (or review) a lesson in the simulator. If you haven’t yet completed your ground school, your instructor might test you and help you with any areas where you are struggling.

A cup of coffee, a cookie, and a high-speed WiFi connection can help you pass some time while you’re catching up on work with your iPad. The right environment and response can make the difference between accomplishing something and feeling like your entire morning was wasted.

The important thing is to prepare for your visit by knowing what your goals are. Here are some things to think about before you visit a school:

  • Will you be flying mornings, evenings, or weekends? 
  • How will the school put together a training plan that meets your goals and requirements?
  • How many hours does it take students at the school to earn their certificate?
  • What is the school’s payment policy? Do they offer financing options or prepayment discounts?
  • How many aircraft does the school have?
  • What is the ratio of aircraft to students?
  • What do the aircraft look like? Are they well maintained?
  • What does the school look like? Do they take pride in their facilities?

Choosing an instructor

If the school is looking promising, ask if you can meet some of the instructors. It’s important to find an instructor you relate with. Both of you will be spending a lot of time together in a confined space while learning and practicing difficult new skills.

Although it’s not unusual for schools to have pre-solo and pre-solo cross country phase checks with other instructors, you want to spend most of your training with the same instructor. Flying with a different instructor for each flight means you will end up repeating and demonstrating a lot of things you practiced during a previous lesson. It will also make it difficult for you to build a relationship with your instructor. Your instructor is constantly watching you to decide when you are ready to solo and ultimately take your test. Without getting experience of how you fly and respond to different situations, it will be harder for them to make a decision, extending the time you take learning to fly. 

Deciding on a school

As you narrow down your choices and you are ready to choose a flight school, you may want to consider asking for referrals from past and present students. You’ll want to learn from them about the quality of training, and whether they have had a good or bad experience.

You’ll also want to ask them about any maintenance issues that delayed their training, and whether there are financial issues to consider. Ask other pilots in the airport cafe (if there is one) and else where on the airport as well. Aviation is a small community and reputation travels quickly.

Should you learn to fly close to home?

The distance of the school from your home may also make a difference when you choose a flight school. Flight training is both physically and mentally tiring. If you have a long drive before each lesson you may not be in the best frame of mind to focus on your training. A long drive may also mean that unpredictable weather has changed your schedule by the time you arrive for your lesson. If they are not prepared for this eventuality, you will find that you have wasted time and money when the lesson is canceled. When you choose a flight school, if everything else is equal, pick the one that is closer to you. 

What about learning to fly on an intensive course?

There are some schools that specialize in intensive accelerated training. For some people they can be a good choice. Flying a couple of lessons each day means there is less time to forget the muscle memory actions between lessons, meaning that you will learn in fewer hours.

If you choose a flight school that specializes in accelerated courses, you will need to be prepared before you start. Most courses require that you have completed your ground school and written test before you begin flight training.

While it works well for many people, myself included, some people don’t respond well to intensive training. They find it exhausting, and the time away from home can be depressing. If you have traveled a distance to attend the accelerated you’ll need to take into account the extra costs of accommodation and food for the period of training. And while it may be offset because you earn your certificate in fewer hours, you will need to have the money available up front.

Depending on how far away the school is, you might find it difficult to visit the school and check the aircraft and instructors before you commit.Again, ask around and get referrals. Aviation is a small community and schools with niche solutions get reputations. Most are excellent and serve to fit a need in the market that other schools can’t provide.

Putting it all together

When you choose a flight school, don’t make your decision based on price alone. You want to go to a flight school that has excellent instructors and a good reputation. You will be spending a lot of time at your chosen flight school, so you need to feel comfortable with the facilities and the people.Get opinions and referrals from students and other people at the airport, but above all trust your instincts. If something feels wrong you might want to look elsewhere. Even after you’ve made your choice remember, you can always change your mind.