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How To Avoid Flight School Scams - Three "Red Flags" To Avoid When Searching For A School
By Kyle Garrett
The most critical element of successful flight training happens well before you set foot in an airplane. In fact, it happens even before you start ground school. What could be so critical, but seem so inconsequential? Choosing a flight school. Where you choose to train will effect every aspect of your flight training, from the aircraft you fly to whether you get your certificate. There are many things to consider, but avoiding a few "red flags" can save you a lot of grief.
Instructors are difficult to reach
Flight training is a two person job--you and your instructor. If you can't reach your instructor or any instructor you're probably never going to get your training completed. When you're searching for a flight school, make sure you actually speak to an instructor. You may have to wait a little bit, but don't just talk to the dispatcher/office manager and leave. A good school should have at least one staff instructor who is there when the school is open. At larger schools, there may even be several staff instructors. In either case, you're looking for a school where instructors are easy to reach reliably. If you can't get in touch with an instructor while you're shopping around, it probably won't be any easier when you are training.
Aircraft are always out or broken
When searching for a flight school, make it a point to visit any school you're considering. In addition to testing the waters with instructors, take a look at the aircraft available. Unless you own a plane, you'll need to rent one from the flight school or somewhere else. Ask to see some of the aircraft. Like instructors, you may need to wait a bit if all the aircraft are out, but make it a point to ask about the typical availability. There is nothing worse than having time and money to fly, but not being able to schedule a plane. Ideally, the school will have several aircraft of the same or similar type that only require short notice to schedule. When you look at the aircraft, take note of their condition. Not every plane will be a brand-new Cirrus, but they should be clean and well-maintained.
The flight school requires up-front payment for the full course
This is one of those areas where your mileage may vary, but in general, be wary of schools that require full payment before they will start your flight training. The important distinction to make is between a very large, well-established flight school that offers accelerated training and a fly by night operation renting a room in the back of a hangar.
There are certain schools that paying up-front is not a risk. They are generally big, national operations with many aircraft, instructors, and employees. They may have airline, academic, or other industry connections and there are plenty of people to vouch for them. In contrast, there have been cases where flight schools closed with students in the middle of training left holding the bag. In general, don't do anything you're not comfortable with. This doesn't mean you shouldn't get your training at a brand-new flight school with nothing but a couple of planes and a hangar, but think twice before handing over your hard earned money to just anyone.
Flight training is one of the most fun and exciting things you can undertake. As in any industry, there have been a few bad apples, but there are literally thousands of great flight schools all over the country that will turn you into a pilot in no time. By watching out for these "red flags," you should be able to find a great flight school easily.