Choosing a Flight School

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flight school1I spend a great deal of time talking with prospective students each day who are searching the area for a flight school.  Although each student is unique, those who have done their homework and know what they are looking for generally ask the same types of questions.  Those who have done little to prepare for their search rarely ask key things that a prospective customer should know.  These customers are either assuming certain things based on our reputation, or are not aware of the implications of the differences between flight schools.  Here are some of the things that any prospective customer should consider when deciding where to train.

First impressions when visiting or calling a prospective flight school are important.  Was your call answered or promptly returned?  Is the representative you are speaking with interested in your unique situation (interests)? Or are they just rattling off numbers trying to get through their sales pitch?  Did you feel like you were important to them, instead of just another person calling?  These ‘little’ things or feelings that you get will most likely have a much larger implication when it comes time to being their routine customer.  All too often in the flight training business, customer service is thrown out the window because you are considered a student, not a customer.  Although you will be a student of their school, you are foremost their customer, and how they interact with you says volumes about their business practices.

flt school 2On a more technical side, what type of airplanes do they train in?  I am not going to discuss the advantage of one type of trainer over another (too many to discuss), you should be more focused on age, condition, appearance, and equipment.  I am not directly suggesting that a new airplane is required to get quality flight instruction, nor do ‘bells and whistles’ solve your future difficulties with landings, but there is something to be said for getting what you pay for in aircraft experience, safe and high quality maintenance, and how their aircraft look (appearance).  Paying too much for flight training is something we never want to do as customers, but be careful to compare ‘apples to apples’ when it comes to pricing flight training.

Although choosing an instructor can sometimes be a discussion unto itself, if you have found a quality flight school, they will have many different instructors to choose from, ranging in different experience levels, different backgrounds, and a willingness to change instructors during training if you (the customer!) aren’t getting the most out of your student – instructor relationship.  Be sure to ask about background, experience, pass rates, and personality type of instructors when looking at flight schools.

I cannot express how important it is to have a flight school that schedules around your needs.  One of the many things that discourage students from continuing training is scheduling difficulties.  We are all busy people, and finding time in our schedules to fly can be a challenge (some more than others), but making sure that the school is willing to work around your schedule, and having availability to meet your scheduling needs is an important logistical consideration that cannot be overlooked.  If you find yourself always wanting to fly, and your school being unable to meet your requests, it may be time to find another flight school.

flt school 3Those customers who have really done their homework ask about part 61 or 141 flight schools.  A part 141 flight school is an FAA approved school using an approved syllabus.  There are many advantages of a 141 school, but that is not to exclude part 61 training and some of the benefits that it offers to students.  Many part 141 schools offer part 61 training in addition, which one that is suggested to you should depend on your situation.  I don’t necessarily offer a preference to part 61 or 141 training schools, but their training materials do matter.  I do highly recommend seeking out flight schools which operate from a published syllabus.  Whether part 61 or 141, a syllabus is a crucial piece for you to monitor your progress, determine strengths & weaknesses, and to avoid costly training oversights that come back to haunt you later in flying.  If the flight school does not operate from a syllabus and references to ‘years of experience’ there are some questions that should be asked about average hours to complete the certificate, pass rates, and quality of instruction.  Just because they have been teaching for years, doesn’t mean they have been teaching well for years.

I don’t consider these to be the only things to consider when choosing a flight school, but they are questions that are often missed when a prospective customer calls me.  A good flight school will point these items out (whether asked or not) and many other items when you call or visit. You should spend a good deal of time investigating the prospective school, including a through tour of their facilities.  Remember, your impression of their entire operation may speak to many other aspects of their business and instructional quality.

Happy flying

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David Zitt is gold seal flight flight instructor and Airline Transport Pilot. Formerly a chief flight instructor of a Part 141 flight training academy, David is a pilot and director of safety at a Cincinnati-based corporate flight department. David is type rated in the C500 and C525 series aircraft. David owns a 1943 L-4 Cub (the military version of the popular J-3 Cub).