Choosing a Flight School
Choosing a Flight School and Flight Instructor
Where will I fly and who will teach me?
Your best bet for making this decision is to talk to every pilot and aviation enthusiast you know. Ask around for recommendations to good flight schools in your area and do a little research online too- most schools have a website you can browse. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association website (AOPA.org) is a great resource for schools in your area and their information is available at no cost to the public.
Depending on where you live there may be many different airports near your home or perhaps only one within a reasonable distance. You may have the option to train at a busier airport with many commercial flights per day, or a smaller one focused solely on general aviation (non-airline) traffic. They both have their advantages and disadvantages; at a busier airport you will spend more time waiting for other airplanes to takeoff or land but you gain the experience of operating in a busy environment as well. At a smaller airport you have more freedom and will spend less time waiting on other aircraft but may not get as much exposure to operating in congested areas. Before you earn your license you will have the opportunity to fly at both types of airports, so don’t get too hung up on this part of the decision.
Flight schools also vary depending upon size and location and you should choose the one that meets your unique needs. Some consist of only a couple aircraft and a few instructors working freelance- that is, independently of each other. Yet other flight schools may have a fleet of a dozen aircraft and many full-time flight instructors who all follow a similar syllabus. At this point in your flight training, the key is to find dedicated people whom you like and can learn from. At each flight school you visit, be sure to meet with instructors and interview them on their background, teaching philosophy and their expectations from you as a student. It will be of great benefit to the both of you if you like and respect this person, seeing as how you will be spending many hours working with them. In addition, your learning progress can be expected to “plateau,” or slow down from time to time. During these rough spots the right instructor will be able to guide you and ensure that you are still making headway towards your goal.
Part 61 vs. Part 141?
While searching for a flight school you may hear the terms “Part 61” and “Part 141” thrown around, but you probably lack an understanding about what they mean. They simply refer to the specific section of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) that govern how students are trained at that school. You may choose to train with a “Part 141” school, which is a FAA recognized flight program that must follow stringent regulations and oversight. They create a syllabus for each rating or certificate they offer (private, instrument, commercial, etc.) which the FAA must approve and are required to keep more detailed records on all flight training done at that school. Under Part 61 rules the FARs list only the minimum requirements that must be met to earn a certificate but they give no direction as to how it should all be taught. This means that it is up to the individual flight instructor to create their own syllabus and gives them the flexibility to tailor everything to the individual student.
Great pilots come from both types of programs and when comparing apples to apples it would be hard to distinguish a good Part 61 program from a good Part 141 program. Again, it comes down to selecting a school that has a good reputation, is convenient for you, and has a flight instructor that you like and respect.