Choosing The Right Flight Training School – Five Things to Consider
You’ll make a lot of decisions during the course of your career as a professional pilot. One of the most important will be where you choose to do your training. There are literally thousands of flight schools around the world to choose from, and as someone who is brand new to the industry, making the right choice can be difficult. You don’t know what you don’t know, which makes asking the right questions, of yourself and of the school, near to impossible. But, we’re here to help. Below are five key factors to consider when choosing a flight school.
Integrated or Modular Training… Six of one or a half dozen of the other?
While it varies from region to region, for our purposes here, there are two basic types of flight training, integrated and modular. One of the first things you’ll need to decide is which type of training will fit your budget, your lifestyle, and your future career goals.
Integrated training refers to a training program that is a complete package on a set schedule. Integrated programs are structured and often you will graduate from an integrated program with a degree or diploma that will go hand in hand with your flight training and licences.
Modular training refers to a training program with a much looser schedule. You may fly a couple times a week after work or on weekends, or every day during the summer between semesters of post-secondary education. Basically, with modular flight training, you create a schedule that fits around the other things you’ve got going on in life, and you create a timeline that suits your ultimate career path plans.
Is one type of training better than the other? There are a lot of opinions on either side of this one, and we’ll save that discussion for a later post perhaps. But when it comes down to it, you’ll have to decide what works best for you.
It’s no secret that flight training is expensive. There are generally no free-ride scholarships, no matter how passionate, committed, and talented you are. But there are multiple options when it comes to types of flight training and how you can pay for it.
Your choice of integrated or modular flight training will determine some of your costs, and also how and when you pay for your training. Typically an integrated program will be more expensive, as it often includes the diploma or degree courses, in addition to the flight training component of the program. With integrated programs, you’ll also be required to pay for a full semester or full year at the outset.
A modular training program, which offers ground school and flight training only, will be more cost effective when you look at the bottom line. This works out great if you already have post-secondary credentials, or if you are looking at an aviation career where a high school education and your flight training will be sufficient. Generally, with modular training, it will be a pay as you go set up. You will likely make an initial investment to cover ground school course costs, and materials. And then when you have a lesson with your instructor, you will pay for that lesson. A payment scheme of this nature allows you the flexibility to start training now, without having thousands of dollars already in the bank. You can work your way through your training.
When comparing costs, make sure you get the whole story from any prospective flight training school on your short list. Some schools will base their student cost estimates on the absolute minimum number of flight hours, and won’t include any extra ground instruction or other fees that are sure to come up. One thing you can do is ask about a school’s average flight training and instruction hours. That will give you a better idea of what the actual costs are going to be.
Most flight training schools will also have a limited number of line crew or dispatch positions available to their students. Not only will this help pay for your training, but it is an excellent way to meet other pilots and get your first aviation job listed on your resume!
Location, location, location!
Where you choose to study is one of the most important criteria when researching your flight school options. Location can affect such practicalities as housing, part-time work prospects, and distance from your home. If you choose to study abroad, you will gain the experience of living in and learning from another culture, but you also need to make yourself aware of the Visa requirements and possibly needing to convert your licence after the fact, depending on where you plan to work.
Geographically, if you can look for a training school in an area of varied terrain and weather, it will give you a breadth of experience to draw from down the road when you find yourself in unfamiliar airspace, or dealing with weather systems throughout various climates around the world.
When it comes to your actual training, while some would argue the benefits of a quiet airport in an uncontrolled airspace, we feel there is much more to be gained from learning to fly at a controlled airport, where you can get used to working with ATC, and managing a heavier traffic environment. These are skills you want to have under your belt before you find yourself in your first airline job. The benefit of this experience far outweighs any potential inconvenience!
Training, Ratings, and Endorsements. Look for the full meal deal!
The needs of recreational and professional pilots are very different. While a recreational pilot may get everything he or she needs from a small flying club with a hand full of C152 aircraft, if you are looking at a career as a professional pilot, you’ll want to look for a school where you can complete all of your necessary training in one place. When you’re looking at websites or visiting schools, look for a training facility where you can finish your PPL, CPL, instrument rating, multi-engine ratings, night rating, and seaplane rating (if your career is headed in that direction).
When you find a school that offers everything you need, you can further look for ways to optimize your training time and the dollars you’re going to spend. When building hours towards your CPL, make good use of that time by also completing your other ratings and advanced training. Put in a few hours in your school’s simulator if you can, to help cut costs a bit.
Regardless of how extensive their offerings are in terms of aircraft or training options, you may, for various financial or other reasons, choose to complete most of your training at the school that just happens to be close to home. And that’s fine. But at the very least, make sure you are aware of what types of training and qualifications companies are looking for. No one wants to find out, when they start applying for their first job, that a bare bones CPL isn’t going to cut it.
Safety first! Reputation second.
Above all other considerations, a flight school’s safety record and reputation may be the two most important pieces of information you’ll want to consider when deciding where to complete your training.
You can visit potential schools and go for a facilities tour. This will give you a good overall sense of the operation, but you’ll also want to ask some specific questions about the safety record of the school, how and where their aircraft are maintained, and what the defect reporting system looks like. Not only will you be safer training with a school who takes safety seriously, you’ll be much better prepared for work in an industry where most companies place a high priority on safety.
A flight school’s reputation can be a bit harder to suss out, as much of what you’ll hear about a school is based on opinion, and not the facts of accident and incident reports. There are numerous online communities and forums where pilots will gather to chat, but we’ll caution you to take anything you read online with a grain of salt. When considering a flight training school, you can ask to speak with some alumni of the school who have successfully entered the aviation industry as professional pilots. You can also talk to current students at the school to find out how they feel about their experience. When you meet professional pilots, ask them where they did their training and if they would recommend it. Most pilots will be happy to point you in the right direction.
If you’re looking at training for a career as a professional pilot, you’re about to make a significant investment of your time, your money, and your future. Any school that properly recognizes this will be happy to answer as many questions as you can ask, and will connect you with the people who can get you the information you need to make an informed decision. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.