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I got frustrated having lesson after lesson cancelled during my Multi-Engine Instrument Rating and the stress of worrying if I would ever finish. I learnt from my mistakes- you need to know the questions to ask your flying school when deciding where to go otherwise, you will run the risk of getting stuck with an organisation that is not suitable for you.
In this blog post, I’ll share important questions to ask your flying school when deciding where to go.
1) Find out what is the flight school like from past students
I have had problems in the past where I have rushed into deciding to use a particular flying school to find serious issues, bookings continuously being cancelled, aircraft not being available, or prices being increased with no warning. Pricing instability will add stress to your flight training. A good way of avoiding this is simply asking past students about their experiences.
2) What are the total costs of your pilot training?
Ideally, you want to agree on a price upfront for your training. Whilst you do not want to pay all the money upfront, there is a balance to be struck between making sure the flying school remains cost-neutral, but you also are not in a situation that should the flying school go bust, you lose all your money.
During my Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL course at Westair), I split my payments into three and paid periodically as I reached certain hours during the course.
3) What additional pilot training materials are needed or not included in the price?
This is key! A lot of flying schools will advertise what appear to be excellent prices to grab your attention, but once you start your given course, you find that you need additional extras.
During PPL this could be landing fees not being included, for ATPL theory, you may need to pay to attend brush up classes. For CPL, your aircraft hire for the CPL skill test may not be included in the course price. Sign a training agreement that details what is included and a schedule of fees for any extras.
4) What is instructor availability
At the early stages of pilot training, instructor availability is not too much of an issue. As you get to CPL and Multi-Engine Instrument Rating (MEIR), instruction, particularly at the weekends, becomes more difficult. Depending on your availability, you want to make sure that there is instruction available for the days you wish to progress your pilot training. For my MEIR, my instructor was only available on Saturdays.
When I was doing my CPL, the instructor was only available on Sundays during the weekend. So I progressed both my CPL and MEIR in parallel on alternate days over the weekends as I had a job working full-time Monday to Friday.
5) What is the aircraft availability like?
It would help if you had aircraft available when you want to fly. During hour building, this is key. If trying to hour building in a club/ flying school environment, with the weather’s unpredictability, you want to have access to an aircraft all day.
There is the other side of the coin – you do not want to reserve an aircraft all day, and on a perfect flying day, you only fly for an hour. You won’t be very popular!
I did my MEIR at a flying school that had 1 DA-42 for all the students. When the aircraft had a technical issue or had to go away for service, that caused all our training to be interrupted. If your given flying school has one aircraft for advanced flight training, verify that they do not have too many students competing for the same resource.
6) How is the flying school doing financially?
I did my MEIR at a flying school that was struggling financially. Whilst the instruction was excellent, the price increases every 3 months became really stressful to deal with. I genuinely worried that I would run out of money or the flying school would go bust! I did not run out of money, but the flying school went bust.
In terms of where and who to ask – the flight training world is very small, so ask instructors, other students etc. for a second opinion to be sure.
7) What are old students now doing and what is their pass rate?
Depending on what your goal is for pilot training e.g. PPL leisure or want to join an airline eventually, you want to know what the pass rate is for whatever level of training you are going for. If a flying school has a reputation for people getting partial passes at CPL, then you may want to look elsewhere.
If a school has a reputation for first-time passes then there is a good chance you will get a first time pass too.
I appreciate that low hour pilot jobs are scarce to come by right now – but if your ambitions are to join an airline eventually, you want to enrol with a flying school that has a reputation and reasonable success rate of past students successfully landing jobs.
8) Do they have any links with other companies
Depending on your ambition, you want to see if your flying school has links with other companies or employers. If you are at PPL and considering going further, is your flying school part of the wings alliance?
Equally, if you are undergoing professional pilot training, you want to gravitate towards schools that have mentored schemes with a given airline. This will improve your chances of getting an assessment. If you want to become a flying instructor some schools have opportunities for past students to take up instructor positions.
9) What are the winter months like? Closures/ curfews etc
Some flying schools suffer in the winter because the airfield becomes frozen or waterlogged (some grass strips!). As a result of COVID 19, certain airfields and airports are short of air traffic controllers or have periodic closures or curfews.
You want to understand what these are and see if this will impact your flying training.
10) What aircraft will you be flying – take a look around!
The final point to make is to encourage you to visit the flying school and look around. What does it feel like? Are you waiting around in reception being ignored? Do the facilities look well maintained and office organised? What does the aircraft look like?
Are the aircraft in good condition? I am not suggesting that you only enrol at flying schools with brand new aircraft, but a telltale sign of a problematic flying school will be your treatment when you arrive and their general presentation. Well maintained, clean aircraft with up to date avionics usually indicates a well organised and funded flying school.
If you wish to learn more about Pilot Training and flying school selection, check out my best-selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon.
If you have any questions about flying school selection or if I have left anything out, please leave a comment in the section below – I would love to hear from you.
Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 pilot with over 2,500 hours of flying in Europe. He holds a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, is a chartered engineer, and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self-funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.