Step 3. Choose Your Flight School


Most will agree that choosing the right flight school is a very important decision, but they won’t tell you why.  This leaves people with a lack of understanding as to just how important this decision is.  If you make the wrong decision, it could cost you thousands of dollars, waste time, and will possibly end up in you quitting and never achieving your dream of flying.

The reason people get frustrated and quit flying is that when they show up at a flight school, they have no idea what to expect or they have expectations that are completely off the mark with what actually happens. 

If you want to fly as a hobby, you have to keep in mind that your certified flight instructor (CFI) is probably there to build up enough flight time to move into his/her next flying job, which is probably a regional airline job or small cargo company flying job. 

This poor individual is getting paid a little over minimum wage and because they are interested in flying as a career, they take it very seriously and expect you to take it just as seriously.  They will try to teach you to fly like an airline pilot, which is a little bit different than the type of flying you want to do.  Flight instructors that have just graduated from a professional pilot program at a university are especially prone to want to teach you to fly like an airline pilot, when in fact, you have no interest in that type of flying. 

Airline flying is very standardized since airline pilots need to do things the same way every time.  A captain at an airline may fly with a co-pilot that he/she has never met before and will never meet again.  Therefore, it’s crucial that all airline pilots are taught the same standardized procedures for operating the airplane.

You need to find a flight school with an instructor that will work with your way of learning and not treat you like an airline pilot wannabe.  Try to determine your own learning style and your instructor’s teaching style as well as his/her motivation for flight instructing.  Try to choose a CFI that likes to instruct because they enjoy teaching rather than someone who is there trying to build up flight time. 

An Example of Why Choosing the Right Flight Instructor is Important

Bill was learning how to do power-off stalls in the airplane.  His instructor had broken down the maneuver into 8 different steps that needed to be completed in sequential order.  Bill was told to memorize the 8 steps and perform them from memory.  After several flights Bill just couldn’t remember all 8 steps in their proper order in order to execute the maneuver to the instructor’s satisfaction.  Bill started thinking that flying was not for him and that he might have to give up on that dream.

When I started flying with Bill, I told him to forget the 8 steps.  I told him to simply configure the airplane for landing and pretend we were going to land (this happens at a high altitude, not near the ground).  Then pretend to flare (pitch the nost of the airplane up) too high until the airplane stalls and then recover.  The recovery, I told him to remember by saying three words, “Pitch, Power, Flaps.”  Bill started executing this maneuver flawlessly after some practice because now he was free to configure the airplane for landing as he saw fit, not by memorizing 8 different steps in a specific order.  And for recovery, he only had to memorize three words.

Bill got his private pilot certificate in October 2010 and says that it’s the biggest accomplishment of his life.

How To Choose The Right Flight School in 4 Easy Steps

Step 1.  Understand the difference between Part 61 and Part 141 Flight schools. 

Flight schools fall under two differnt categories.  To learn about those two categories, Click Here.  Since you just want to fly for fun, the type of school you choose with respect to Part 61 vs. Part 141 doesn’t make a big difference.  The important thing for you is choosing your flight instructor.

Step 2. Make a list of local flight schools to visit

Find Flight Schools in your area by looking at the following links or doing a search on Google.

AOPA Online Search for a Flight School - search by name, state, city, etc.

Best Aviation Flight Schools - search by state

Step 3. Visit the schools and bring a list of questions

Once you have a list of schools that you want to consider going to, make a list of questions to ask.  Your questions should include the following:

How many flight instructors do you have and how many are full time vs. part time?
This is important because it will determine how available the instructors are.  If most of the instructors are part-time, it means they have a full time job that will sometimes take precedence over your flight training.  If your flight instructor is a part-timer, make sure your schedules mesh. 

How many airplanes do you have available for flight training?
This is important because of availability.  If there are only 1 or 2 airplanes available, you may not be able to schedule it when it’s most convenient for you.  Having 3 or more airplanes available will increase the chances of you scheduling at your convenience.

How are your airplanes maintained?
There’s nothing more frustrating than showing up for a flight and then having to cancel due to a maintenance issue.  Flight schools that have their own maintenance facility are good about keeping their airplanes in airworthy condition. 

Which syllabus do you use for pilot training?  Can I see a copy of it?
Schools that don’t follow a specific syllabus leave the training completely up to the instructor.  In this case, find out which instructors are good about requiring their students to buy and follow a syllabus – because not all instructors do this.

Do you offer ground school classes?  If not, how is ground school handled?
Most of the learning you will do will be on the ground.  The flying is for practicing maneuvers and to develop your muscle memory.  Since many instructors are interested in building up flight time, they will leave most of the ground school up to you.  The ideal setup is a school that offers their own ground school.  If you can’t find one, invest in a good home-study program available online or in pilot stores.

Do you have a chief flight instructor?  Can I talk to him/her?
Having a chief flight instructor is a great sign because this means that the school takes flight training very seriously.  Schools without a chief flight instructor usually have an ad hoc assortment of flight instructors, each doing their own thing.  If you end up in a school without a chief flight instructor, the next step will be crucial.

 Step 4. Choose a Flight Instructor

Choosing a Flight Instructor is key when learning to fly.  Click Here for information on Flight Instructors.

As mentioned above, try to look for an instructor that is not just trying to build up flight time or one who has been instructing for a few years.  Make sure you are comfortable with him/her and make sure they follow a syllabus.

Finally, schedule a demostration flight, preferably with the flight instructor that you would be training with.  This accomplishes a couple of things.  First, it will give you an idea of what flying is like.  Second, it will give you a chance to get the feel for your instructor and how comfortable you are with him/her.

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