How To Choose A Flight School

chooseflightschool

Choosing a flight school can be a daunting process when you are new to the aviation scene. If you are wanting to learn how to plunge upwards into the sky in a winged mechanical beast (and billow cash from all windows in the process) – it’s always a bonus if you can find one that you won’t be a miserable at.

This article will be exploring how to find an organisation that will enable you to flourish in your aviationally related endeavours, and what questions you need to be asking to make sure it really is ‘the one’.

While primarily aimed at UK pilots, this should be pretty useful for anyone embarking on their flight training ladder of destiny.



Contents

  1. Discovering Your Options
  2. Finding Out More
  3. Visiting The School



Discovering Your Options

First things first, you need to figure out what your school options are. If you are doing your PPL to fly for fun, then you will probably only want to stay in your local area to learn. There are plenty of these around the country, although as you can see, if you live in the North of Scotland your scope of operations is rather limited. On the plus side though, you don’t live in the deepest depths of Wales.

If you are wanting to do an integrated course or modular up to CPL or MCC level (see our modular vs. integrated article), then you might be more willing to travel further afield, although you may need to stay in accommodation while at your chosen school (which only exacerbates that aforementioned cash billowing that you will soon have going on).

Below is a map of all the flight schools in the country. If you want to filter results by licence type training offered – don’t worry – go to our school portal page and filter away!

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Finding Out More

So now you have got a list of possible flight schools, write them all down, and go check them out on their website. Don’t listen to all the marketing crap, they’re hardly going to proudly announce questionable maintenance records in their blurb, or have claims of molestation in their student testimonials.

Meet your instructor - Mr Feely!

Meet your instructor - Mr Feely! He has a very 'hands on' approach to flight training.

Just get the facts from the site like what and how many aircraft they have, prices, courses offered etc. Don’t make decisions on the quality of their website/brochures either – they are flight instructors not graphic designers!

Flight Training Costs
Within the flight school website, you should find a prices page. Make sure the price is within your budget, and make sure that within this cost you factor in everything. Ensure the price list includes VAT for example. You will also need a headset, logbook, pens, pencils, kneeboard, charts, rulers, protractors, flight computers (not as awesome as they sound), theory books, airfield directories – all of which will push the cost up a few hundred quid. Flight schools may also charge a fuel surcharge per hour flown as well, so check up on that.

On the flight schools website, they will often only quote the minimum course price (ie. minimum hours). You are unlikely to complete a PPL in the UK in minimum amount of time (45 hours), so you’ll need to add on a few extra to be safe.

There’s also CAA fees too! PPL Theory exams are £48 per paper (seven of them), and to get your hands on the turd brown book which is the actual licence will cost you £176 (all costs at time of writing – no doubt they will continue their upwards ascent).

How the CAA can afford such extensive officing is beyond me...

How the CAA can afford such extensive officing is beyond me...

Don’t forget the joy of landing fees either – every time your wheels touch the ground you’re gonna have to pay for it (depends on aircraft, but around about £10). I’ve just looked in my old logbook, and I made 138 landings during my PPL training. Thankfully I did my PPL in America where the are no landing fees, so I do not need to excuse myself while I go to rock and weep gently on this discovery.

If you are away from home there is food and accommodation to add on, or even if you are flying from your home airfield, there are transportation costs to get there.

Schools may include some of these various charges within their pricing structure, so you will also need to read up on that.

In all, a PPL will currently cost you about £9000. Nine. Thousand. Pounds.

That's <em>this</em> many £10 notes.

That's this many £10 notes.

What Type Of Aircraft To Fly

You also need to thing about what kind of aircraft you want to learn on. Cessna 150’s and Piper Cherokees/Warriors have been the backbone of flight schools seemingly since the dawn of time. This is because they can take the pain; both from the sheer number of hours they fly, to the i-am-a-student-pilot-and-I-enjoy-landing-nose-wheel-first points of view.

However, this also means that they can often be older than you are (as long as you are a sprightly youth) – and they can be a little ‘aged’ inside. They are also not likely to have any fancy avionics like GPS or cupholders within their wizened, elderly shells. So if you are someone who wants to fly around in the lap of luxury with a moving map and autopilot (and be willing to pay for it), then this probably isn’t for you. Don’t worry though, if a flight school has one of those fancy super-duper shiny sleek and new aeroplanes, they will be very sure to make you very aware of it on their website.

If you’re not too fussed about what kind of aircraft you want to fly in, then you need to look to the future and have a think about what is available at the flying club that you will join, after you have received the coveted licence document. Obviously, if that club is the school as well, then you won’t have too much of a problem. However, learning in one aircraft type, and then spending the rest of your life flying something completely different, doesn’t make much sense.

Not only does it not make much sense, but you will have to pay more money too! Switching aircraft types means practising all the manoeuvres (as described in the PPL syllabus section) with an instructor in this new, unfamiliar and foreign aircraft. Your wallet will shrivel accordingly.

What Type Of Airport To Train At

Another thing to think about, which you will be able to glean from the flight schools website, is the kind of airport it is based at. Larger Airports with flight schools, such as Liverpool John Lennon, Leeds Bradford, or Bournemouth have large amounts of commercial airliner traffic using them. These will obviously get a higher priority to use the long flat strip of tarmac than your comparatively piddly little Cessna.

I think I'm being followed...

I think I'm being followed...

This often means long periods of time either idling on the ground, or orbiting in the air. While the latter will make you awesome at 30 degree banked turns, it’s probably not the best use of your time or money when it comes to getting your licence.

However, these airports are very good at getting you used to flying in congested areas, and you have to be good at the radio, which are both good aspects. The same can also be said for larger general aviation airports, where there aren’t all the pesky downside of big jets hogging the limelight.



What To Look For In A Flight School

Now you have gleaned all the info from your short-listed flight schools’ website, and had a think about all the factors above, it is time to talk to someone! Give whichever school looks the most promising a phone, and ask if you can come down to speak to someone and have a poke around.

When looking around, some factors to consider are the facilities available. Some airports (especially those with larger flight clubs) have bars and restaurants. This is important, as a lot of flight training is sitting around, waiting for weather to clear, or for instructors and aircraft to become available and you will want and need something to distract you, as well as somewhere to gather with your fellow aviators.

Good classrooms and general areas of study are also a big bonus. When you are planning your next flight, you will need somewhere quiet to go and spend some quality time fingering your flight computer and spreading your map out. You also probably don’t want to be your groundschool in some fetid hovel.

Other things to look out for are for solid maintenance agreements, or better yet dedicated flight school maintenance. Aircraft have to undergo routine checks at 50 hours flight time and a deeper check every 100 hours flight time. Add to this routine faults, and you can see that at schools where there are only a handful of aircraft this can cause big delays and disruption, unless there is a solid maintenance program.

As I said before, aircraft (apart from shiny shiny new new ones) usually look pretty tired. But don’t judge a book by it’s cover! Assuming there is decent maintenance, two wings, a tail, an instrument panel (largely) devoid of inop stickers and somewhere to sit – you’re laughing.

Questions To Ask

You can ask questions to the flight school staff, but be aware that they are a business, and while some are better than others at this, it is safe to guess that they are not going to draw your attention to the negatives – like that crash they had last week, or the likelihood of them going insolvent next month.

Our school really is quite <em>phenomenal</em>

Our school really is quite phenomenal

Things you need to be asking when at the flight school:

  • What is the instructor to student ratio? One instructor can probably keep a leash on around 4 full time students. More students = less lessons = longer time to train.
  • Typical time to get *insert desired licence here*? If you can knock the course on the head in a concentrated amount of time, your retention will be much better, and your course will be closer to the minimum hours, keeping costs down.
  • What is the pass rate for *insert desired licence here*? If a school says 100% (especially for CPL or IR) be suspicious. They may be talking first series pass which is actually two skills tests.
  • How many aircraft of *insert desired training aircraft here* do you have? If there is only one aircraft of the type you are learning on in the school, it is going to create bottlenecks with students, and will be a large pain in the rear if it goes tech.
  • How are lessons scheduled? Can you phone up in the morning and be flying in the afternoon, or are lessons booked days in advance (and therefore without knowing what the wonderful weather has in store for you)?
  • How do you pay for your training, and what is the refund policy? Some schools let you pay as you go, others require that you pay the whole thing upfront. This might not be a good idea as if you want to leave the school, they’ll keep some of your cash. Most disagreeable.
  • What is the weather like, generally? Some airports are not built in very good places, and can have their own micro climates. Since small aircraft don’t have huge amounts of leeway when it comes to wind, and you can only fly in good weather, this is something to ponder.

Who You Really Need To Talk To
The real people you need to get at are the current students! Try and get into the inner sanctum of the school, and speak to people currently learning to fly, preferably on the course you are interested in. Try and speak to them away from the listening ears and threatening stares of the flight school staff.

Otherwise you'll have this situation...

Otherwise you'll have this situation...

They have been in the position you are in now, and will know the kinds of questions you will want to be asking (even if you haven’t thought about some of them before). Make sure you ask them about their overall view of the school, and whether they would recommend it. Ask them about any problems they might have had, and how this was dealt with – this can often reveal a lot about the workings of the school.

You also need to speak with some of the instructors. These are the people who are going to be teaching you, and you need to make sure that you can get on with them okay.

Well, I think you will agree that that was an epic post. I hope you have found all this helpful. If you are wanting to learn about what exactly is involved in the course you are about to embark on, then visit our course information portal page. Any other questions, just chuck them in our forums!

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5 Responses to “How To Choose A Flight School”

  1. mohamed says:

    how can I apply for PPL course (I am a Sudanese)

  2. profpilot says:

    Mohamed,

    Basically you just need to find a flight school in an area of the country you want to learn in! You can do that by looking on the profpilot interactive flight school map. You then just need to phone or email the school you are interested in using the details provided on this site. Isn’t profpilot helpful?

  3. Taz says:

    Hey profpilot,
    very helpful indeed.
    I’ve recently started taking flight lessons at my local flying school (Netherthorpe), but all they can offer is a two seater Cessna 150. I really want to fly a four seater (so I can take family and friends)! It was a bit foolish of me to start training without looking at other flight schools. Your website has helped a lot, so I’m thinking of starting again in a flying school called soloflight. Apparently they will teach me in a Piper-PA28 for about the same price as a Cessna 150, I don’t mind paying an extra £30 tough.
    Do you think changing flight schools is advisable? (I have 8 hours to date).
    thanks

  4. profpilot says:

    Taz,

    Glad you’re finding the site handy!

    I don’t think that you necessarily need to start at a different flight school, even if they do have swanky four seaters. Not only will this stop the Netherthorpe people from weeping at the loss of a customer, but it could well save you a lot of money. Please remember though, I am just a random person who happens to have a website with a load of aviationally related drivel on it; don’t take my words as gospel!

    While you are learning in a C150, with its accompanying cramped cockpit, you are not actually allowed to take any passengers up with you (unless you are with an instructor). This means that even if there were two spare seats, you would not be able to take any family or friends up unless your instructor was with you. So while you could go on a cross country with your instructor with family/friends, the likelihood is that you will be doing a normal lesson. Family and friends probably do not like stall themed lessons.

    I would say the best thing to do is to get your PPL on a C150, then move to a different club and get trained on the Pa28 once you have a PPL. Moving to another club, you usually have to do some sort of checkout flight to familiarise yourself with the local areas and procedures, and prove to the club that you can fling yourself through the sky in a reasonably competent manner. You could tie this in with training on a Pa28. The C150 and Pa-28 are both quite similar, so it is not difficult to get to grips with. The main difference is that lack of gravity driven fuel tanks in the Piper, so there is a slightly higher risk of dying if you forget to switch tanks in this aircraft.

    This will save you money in the long run as the £30p/h extra to train on the PA28 in your PPL will add up to be over £1000 more compared to the C150. If you just do the familiarisation in the PA28 after you have your PPL, you will have a C150 and Pa28 in your logbook, as well as an extra £500 in your already severely shrivelled wallet.

    So: PPL on a C150, then after that train on a PA28 at a different club, and enjoy passenger based excitement.

    Hope that all made sense, reading it back through I don’t know it does to me. But I’m tired and off to bed now. Who says profpilot has bad customer service?! They lie.

    SAM

    PS. Seriously, if that confused you, just reply back…

  5. Taz says:

    Hey Sam,
    Thanks don’t worry just like your website your reply was just as helpful. I think you have a point, and I might as well continue with my old flying school. As my dream is to become an airline pilot (like many others before me), I think its best if I continue my training as you have advised. I will then do my hour building on PA28 after I get my PPL.
    Taz

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