For some it starts by seeing a plane flying overhead, for others maybe that first overseas trip and for a few it is maybe in the family. That first taste of flight is something we never forget. That feeling, hopefully for most, leads to the first time we get to take control of an aircraft with no one sitting in the seat next to you. For me it was possibly the most exhilarating feeling I have ever felt!
To get to this step we first need to choose the school that is going to send us solo and eventually get us to the point where we are ready to test for our PPL, CPL or ATP licences. This is not something that should be taken lightly, you will be spending a huge amount of time at the school and in a aircraft often with only one or two instructors for the duration of the licence. So it is extremely important that you feel comfortable at the school and particularly with you instructor.
So how do you choose the right school for you?
(this is a guide and what worked for me, choosing an air school is a personal thing and everyone’s choice and priorities will be different)
This, for most people is one of the most limiting factors to choosing an air school. A lot of people self fund air school and therefore need to know their money is being spent well on good training at not exuberant prices. Luckily there are schools that offer very good training at a reasonable price. Do your research with this one, as all schools may offer different things for the money you are paying, and sometimes being able to pay upfront will save you money in the long run. Be aware though that if paying upfront it is not always easy to get your money back if you decide to stop training for whatever reason. Get quotes from as many schools as you can so you can compare them and what they offer, ie. are study materials included, does it include lectures and so on. Make sure there are no hidden costs;)
Where do you want to be based? There are plenty schools all over the world, and most, accessible to you. But, this ties into price, how far are you willing to go? And, will it be worth it? If you have just finished school you may not have the funds to move to a different city, so staying at home with your parents may be the best choice for you. In this case choosing a school within an easy driving distance is important. This may limit your options considerably, but for some it is perfect. You may also opt to go to a school that has accommodation facilities, this then cuts out the need to travel to and from the school and in the end may save you money, there are schools around that do offer this type of thing. Another important aspect of location is the actual flying, is the airport in a location that gets a lot of bad weather, or is there a lot of other air traffic and does the airport have the necessary Navigations Facilities to train if Instrument flying. These all are important aspects to look at as in the end it may delay your training and cost you more.
Ahh the beautiful machine you are going to be spending 40 to 200 hrs of your life in over the duration of your licence. The fact that most aircraft you will be doing your training in are single engine piston adds to the importance of this point. You are going to be spending so much time in and relying on this plane to stay in the air and keep you alive. So what should you look for? This is not easy, being to new to the aviation world you won’t really know what to look out for, this is were a little bit of attention to detail will come into play. Are the planes kept clean? Are screws missing? Is the plane neat inside? These are just a couple things to have a look for. I am not saying that if it is not neat the plane is poorly maintained, but it is a thought… Another thing to look out for is the general facilities, if they are well kept hopefully the planes are too.Another consideration is what you want to do your training in, a high wing or low wing? And possibly a multiengine plane at some point. But the most important is that the planes are well maintained!On a side not: Always treat the plane as if you owned it, remember other people will be flying the plane before and after you. So make sure you leave it the way you would want to find it.
Like I previously said, having a good instructor that is knowledgeable and who you get along with is extremely important. First off you will be learning how to fly a plane from this person, so he/she should be able to answer your questions and give you the best training for your buck (Dollar but South African). This is again not an easy thing to do as a newbie, but having a walk around, meeting the instructors of the prospective school may give you an idea. Remember you can always change instructors if you are unhappy (I did when I was doing my training). Another point to look at is the ratio of students to instructors, this can also be applied to aircraft, since you may be time limited or possibly only a part time student with specific days you can fly, having a good ratio of instructors to students is important. You don’t want to miss out on beautiful flying days just because your instructor is fully booked with other students.
What facilities are on offer at the school you are looking at. Well like I mentioned in the Aircraft section, how well are the facilities kept? If you are going to be spending a lot of time there you want it to be clean and comfortable. Something that is always nice is having a lounge area that you can sit and prepare for flights or just chat to other students about all things aviation:) Is there coffee, tea, water and possibly cool drinks for sale? It is nice to have a library of publications, law books, magazines to have a read while you wait for a flight. What are the ablutions like?Next you can look at the booking systems, do they have online booking system where you can easily book from home? Having a certified exam centre will help a huge amount, firstly it will make it much easier to book and write exams, and it will help with saving costs of driving or flying to the nearest exam centre. Is there Instrument rating facilities? Having a certified simulator is a huge plus when it comes to doing a night and instrument rating, it will save money and get you proficient in your instrument skills before going out in the actual plane.
These are just a few things to look at when choosing a flight school to get you to the testing stage. Not everything here will be as important to some as it will be to others, and like I said, in the end, it is your choice and YOU have to be comfortable with the training you are getting!
For a few other points that I have not gone over head over to Bush Pilot HQ and have a read of some more interesting things to consider while choosing a school.
A great place for international students- Epic Flight Academy flight training includes VFR, IFR, multi-engine. Epic helps international students achieve professional pilot jobs through their flight school. www.epicflightacademy.com