How To Choose a Flght School (REVISITED)
How to avoid the mistakes made by others in choosing an overseas professional pilot flight training program. This is a update of an article written in 2010 to allow for the increase in pilot hiring worldwide and other changes in the past 7 years.
Press Release (ePRNews.com) - ORMOND BEACH, Fla. - Aug 31, 2017 - This article is an update of one that was written seven years ago. That article was written during the economic downturn that started in 2008. Much has changed since that time. One thing that has changed is that airlines nearly all over the world are currently hiring pilots. That is particularly true in Asia, but even in the United States regional airlines are scrambling to hire enough pilots. Also, salaries for pilots have continued to escalate worldwide. Even though this is a great time to start your pilot training, you still need to be cautious about where you spend your flight training money. The cost of flight training is still one of the biggest investments that a cadet pilot will ever make.
Back in 2010, nearly every week, a flight school in the USA (and many elsewhere in the world) would go out of business. Many of those airline pilot training schools that closed were unable or unwilling to refund any student funds already placed on account. Though that trend has lessened in 2017, just this year schools primarily with international flight students have closed in California, Connecticut and New Jersey leaving hundreds of students scrambling for funds and looking for new schools where they can complete their pilot training.
What factors should you as a prospective professional pilot student consider when choosing a flying academy?
Here is my updated list and an explanation of each.
How does a prospective student measure the stability of a school? One way might be the number of years in business. Only a successful business can survive the difficult first few years of operation. Flight schools that have been in operation for less than 10 years may not weather the next economic downturn. Those that survived the troubles of 2008, 2001, and before should not only thrive in the good times but survive the bad ones as well.
One sign of lack of financial strength in the pilot training business is the possible demand of the school for the student to pay all or most of the fees upfront. Sometimes this comes with a promise of a discount for paying the complete cost of training in advance. Though in some cases this offer may be genuine, in other cases it may be a sign that the school is using the “new” money to pay for the flight training of the students who are already enrolled. A way to discover this might be to ask the recent students who have enrolled how much flight training is being provided. If those students indicate that no flight training is being done in the first month or two of training, this could be a negative indication. A good rule to follow is never to pay all of the fees in advance. Unless the flight school is in distress, they should be willing to allow you to pay as the training progresses.
You should ask any flight school that you are considering how many accidents they have had. It is unlikely that a flight school that has been in operation for at least a few years will not have some record of at least minor incidents and/or accidents. But a flight school that has multiple serious accidents or fatalities over a short period of time should cause you to at least do further research to determine the cause of the accidents. If the accidents are the result of poor maintenance or poor instruction, you might want to consider other schools. Even accidents that appear to be due to an “act of god” like bad weather or a mid-air collision should cause the prospective student to consider whether local weather conditions or the concentration of air traffic in that area are suitable for flight training.
Since the flight school may not provide you with accurate figures on safety, and those that are provided may be suspect, you may want to verify those figures by doing your own research. Therefore, an internet search may prove fruitful. If the flight school is in the USA, you can search in several ways for possible incidents and accidents. Your first stop would normally be www.ntsb.gov. Select aviation accidents. Search by the name of the pilot school. This may or may not register the relevant accidents as the airplanes might be registered in another name. Also search for the airport where the school is based and perhaps even the state in which they are located. You can also just do a general search on the internet using the school’s name and location. Serious accidents especially those producing major injuries or fatalities will show up in the local media.
One of the more difficult to determine factors is the quality of the training provided by the school. If you are able to visit the school in advance, you should talk not only to the management but also the flight instructors and students. Any school that will not allow you to “mingle” with the students should be regarded with suspicion. Be sure that you are able to meet not only a few hand-picked students but are able to talk to several of the others not introduced by school. If necessary, find out where the students live and drop by those apartments for a casual conversation away from the school.
You may also be able to talk to one of the Pilot Examiners who test students that graduate from the school. Find out from the school or the students which examiners are used and contact them.
The internet can also be a useful tool for finding information about flight school complaints. Though a few complaints about any one school might be expected even from a good school, multiple complaints should be examined closely. Some aviation websites collect information not only about flight schools but on a variety of aviation topics including pilot jobs as well. Some of the websites to consider checking out include www.jetcareers.com, www.pprune.org (particularly good for views on European training), and www.airlinepilotcentral.com.
• Cost. Choice. “Shared Time”.
Many students focus all of their attention on finding the lowest price for their flight training. Rather than concentrate on cost only, it is recommended that students focus more on “value.” The cost of the flight training should be one factor in determining the value of that training. Be careful about the price of programs that appear lower than the price of most others. Some flight schools utilize safety pilot time as a means of reducing costs. But this actually reduces the amount of “hands-on” time each student receives. If a 250 hour program has 100 hours of shared or safety pilot time, then the student will actually receive 20% less time on the flight controls than a student who actually flies those hours solo. Students should also be aware that some countries (India comes to mind first) do not allow any safety pilot time to be logged as pilot-in-command time. Even under FAA rules, safety pilot time should not be logged as cross-country flight time. Reducing the amount of pilot hours in a course would diminish the pilot’s actual skill and ability. At the end of any training program, the goal should be not only to meet the minimum pilot hours but acquire the skills and experience needed to fly safely and to get that aviation job that you seek. Seek to acquire the maximum skill not the minimum!
Today, nearly all pilot schools with have glass-cockpit airplanes. But do you really need to fly 190 to 250 hours in the most expensive training planes available? Perhaps, a more prudent choice would be to fly the instrument rating time in the plane with the latest avionics and do the private pilot and other time-building flights in the most economical airplanes. Many schools still have Cessna 152s available and these can be rented for less than $100 USD per hour.
• Flight Instructors (Where have they gone!?)
With airlines hiring pilots in the USA with just 1,500 flight hours and pilots elsewhere in the world being hired with a commercial pilot license and just 200 hours, it may be difficult to find a flying school that has enough flying instructors. Aviation academies worldwide are having trouble hiring and maintaining flying instructors. Look for a school that has a core of professional flight instructors who are not likely to leave the school for an airline job. Also, look for a school that has a program of training and standardizing those instructors including those who are likely to leave quickly.
***There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of choices for flight training worldwide. Sunrise Aviation, a commercial pilot flight school in Central Florida, is one of those choices. Sunrise Aviation currently has professional pilot cadets from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Panama, China, South Korea India, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Taiwan, and, of course, USA. Sunrise Aviation in Ormond Beach, Florida has been in business for 34 years. Over the past 34 years, they have trained future pilots from nearly 100 different countries. Cadets at Sunrise Aviation may finish their CPL training and get a college degree. Sunrise Aviation can be found on the web at www.flysunrise.com or reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Inquiries by telephone should be made to +1-386-677-5724.
Sunrise Aviation (Ormond Beach, FL)