By Kyle Garrett, President of AviationSchoolsOnline.com and instrument-rated private pilot
What is the best Flight School in the United States? The one that gets you to your aviation goal in the best way possible for you.
There are over 1400 flight schools in the U.S., so it’s really hard to pick just one, but here’s a short guide to deciding which flight school is best for you.
First of all, do you want to fly for personal use, both business and recreation? Or, do you want to fly as a career in the corporate, charter, cargo, airline, or other pilot occupations?
HOW TO PICK A FLIGHT SCHOOL FOR PERSONAL / BUSINESS FLYING – If you want to learn to fly for fun and/or personal business use, you’ll probably want to attend a local flight school in your area. Here’s what to look for:
• Facilities – are the facilities well-maintained? A clean and organized flight school appearance probably means the rest of the operation is run well too. Watch out for dirty, sloppy, unorganized offices.
• Owner/employees – Do the people at the flight school seem happy and energetic? Are they excited to meet you and take you flying? Do they want to share their love of aviation with you? These would all be good signs.
• Payment options – Watch out for any flight school that wants you to “pay upfront” for the entire course. Don’t do it. If the school does not offer a “pay as you train” program, run away. However, most reputable flight schools will offer “block payments” as a way for you to purchase flight time in advance at a discounted rate. This is okay as long as you don’t pay too far ahead. Stay within your comfort level when paying in advance. Plan to spend between $8,000 and $10,000 for a private pilot certificate, and $4,000 – $5,000 for a sport pilot certificate.
• Fleet – Does the school have more than one aircraft for primary flight training? This can be important because aircraft used for training have to go in for maintenance every 100 hours of flight time, which means possible “down time” for your training. It’s usually better to go to a school with multiple planes to keep you flying.
• Aircraft condition – Many flight schools have recently upgraded their fleets to newer, glass panel trainers. But for the most part, you’re probably going to be training in an older plane. Here’s what to look for: just like a car, if it looks like a wreck, it probably is. Training aircraft fly a lot, so it’s okay if the plane looks well-used but be wary of planes that look unmaintained.
HOW TO PICK A PROFESSIONAL FLIGHT SCHOOL TO FLY FOR A CAREER – You can attend a local flight school or a professional flight academy. There are pros and cons to both. Here’s what to look for:
• Location – Learning to fly as a profession means many more flight hours than learning to fly for fun. During training, you mostly fly in good weather, so location becomes important. Look for a school where the weather is good VFR (mostly sunny skies) most of the time. Good weather means you get through the program faster and into your new aviation career sooner.
• Facilities – A clean, professional facility typically means a well run organization.
• Professionalism – all the people you contact should be professional and courteous. The entire operation should impress you with professionalism. When you fly for a living, you must be a professional at all times and your school is where this attitude begins.
• Aircraft Fleet – Some people may argue, but in my opinion, if you’re going to fly for a living, you should be training in mostly glass cockpit airplanes. All new airplanes are glass cockpit today, and if you want to eventually fly for the airlines, you’ll be in glass cockpits there too. Look for academies/schools with all glass cockpit fleets.
• Financial Assistance – Finances play a huge role in learning to fly for a living. Plan on spending anywhere from $25,000 (commercial pilot) to $90,000 (airline transport pilot) depending on how far you want to go. Good professional flight schools will help you find sources of financing, but in reality, you probably need to come up with most of the money yourself through private funding and loans.
• Payment Plans – as with any flight school, don’t pay (too far) in advance.
• Career Services – look for a school with a track record of getting graduates jobs. Many of the largest flight academies offer possible job connections with commuter and regional airlines, and some graduates go directly from flight training to the co-pilot seat of turboprop or regional jet. Other schools promise interviews with affiliated airlines. In any case, look for schools that are invested in helping you get your first flying job.
• Student Housing – Chances are, the perfect flight school for you will not be in your hometown. Look for a school that has student housing options. Student housing can be great in several ways. First, it’s usually much cheaper than housing you could find on your own. Second, it’s usually fully-furnished, making your move easy. And third, you’ll be surrounded with fellow pilots going through the same program and that’s a great way to learn.
• Time-building options – After you’ve earned the appropriate certificates and ratings, you need to build flying time. How much time, and in what type of aircraft depends on the type of job you eventually want to get. Look for a flight school that offers ways to build time inexpensively. For example, many of the larger flight academies will actually hire you to train the next classes of students going through the program (you’ll be a Certified Flight Instructor by now) and other schools will offer ways to build time flying twin-engine aircraft with other students that allows you to build flight hours for less money.
There’s a lot more to look for in a flight school, but at least these are the highlights. Hope this helps!
Here are some sites to get you started. Good luck!
Flight Training Schools – http://www.AviationSchoolsOnline.com