Ten Steps to Selecting a Great Flight School

A good flight school is a place where the people care about you, your training, and your safety, as well as respecting your time and money. They want you to achieve your dreams and have a great experience learning how to be a safe, confident, capable pilot. If you sense there is a lack of any of the above, you should consider looking elsewhere. You will reap the benefits of a good flight school through the rest of your flying days. Choosing a school that provides experienced, dedicated instructors, and structured training is very important…this may be the most important decision you ever make. Here’s a short guide to deciding which flight school is best for you: 

1. Your Goals – Know what you want to achieve and communicate your goals to the school. Keep in mind that cost is less important than value and cheaper is rarely better when it comes to your flight training. You cannot put a price on quality training, learning good habits from-the-start, and safe, well-maintained aircraft. 

2. Accreditations and Reputation – The flight school should have a positive reputation for quality and professionalism in the aviation community. Do they have any accreditations? Do they give you access to student success stories? Share record keeping methods? How many failed check rides have they experienced? Do they have references to share? Do they work closely with FAA and TSA? Do they offer a structured Syllabus? Will your progress by supervised and supported at every stage by to ensure the highest quality training standards? Is it obvious they ‘give back’ and make investments in the aviation community? 

3. Atmosphere and Facility – Is the flight school professional, clean, and organized? Does it have classrooms, computers, and other hands-on equipment in a comfortable learning environment? Is the ENTIRE staff informed and easy to identify? Is someone there for you seven days a week to answer questions and meet your needs? Do they offer on-line scheduling? Are they an FAA approved testing center offering examinations on-site? Will your FAA check ride be at their location? Is there a sense of community? Are there regularly organized safety events and fun, educational group activities? 

4. Instructors and Staff – The quality of your training is paramount; choose a school whose entire staff commits 100% to your flight training. Ask about the average time for course completion. How does that compare to national averages? Ask how many students are currently taking flight lessons? Is there a student progress tracking system to view? And how many instructors are working and how long have they been there? Were they educated at a university or an accredited flight school? Have they attended advanced instructor training? What is their availability? Are the Instructor biographies posted with pride? Ask about the medical history of the instructors. All the people you contact should be professional and courteous, from the management and instructors to the front desk and maintenance personnel. The entire operation should impress you with professionalism, knowledge, and experience.

5. Curriculum – Does the flight school have a professionally developed curriculum with a structured syllabus to meet your needs? Do they offer both FAA Part 61 and FAA approved Part 141 training programs? How strictly do they stick to the syllabus, if used? Do they pre-brief and post-brief at each lesson? Are stage checks by chief pilots or senior instructors required to be sure your training is on track, and you are prepared for your check ride? It is important to know what to expect and where you stand in your training at all times — it also gives you the opportunity to clarify and ask detailed questions. 

6. Insurance – Proper commercial insurance coverage is critical for any unforeseen incident or damage for you and/or the aircraft during your training. Ask what the flight school’s insurance policies are and know your insurance responsibility. 

7. Financial Health – Make sure the school is financially sound so that you will be able to finish your program. Has the flight school ever closed its doors before or declared bankruptcy? Who is are the owners and are they financially stable? How long have they been in business? Does the school own any of its own aircraft or its facility?

8. Aircraft – Look for a flight school that offers a variety of aircraft and redundancy of primary trainers to insure they will have aircraft to meet your needs. Are there high-wing and low-wing aircraft? Tail-wheel trainers? Though age of aircraft is important, maintenance of the aircraft is much more important (see below). 

9. Maintenance – Does the flight school have qualified FAA certified maintenance technicians on staff? Ask to see the planes’ dispatch sheet and maintenance logs; beware of any unresolved squawks. Are there multiple “inoperative” labels on the plane’s instruments? Do the aircraft appear clean and well maintained? Are maintenance personnel available seven days a week?

10. Cost and Time – According to the FAA the average time to achieve a basic pilot’s license (PPL) is 45- 80 hours of training with a cost of $9,000-$14,000. Beware of schools or persons promising much lower rates or training times. Does the school ask you to pay up front before you receive any goods or training? Buyer beware of rates quoted lower than average – you often get what you pay for! The quality of your instruction is the key to success and taking longer to accomplish your goals will cost far more in the end.

There is no substitute for excellent, structured training by experienced professionals. Make a plan to visit the flight school, take a tour of the facility, meet the staff and schedule your first flight. Hang around and listen to conversations between instructors and clients/students. Do you feel comfortable and welcome? After your first flight you should experience something that can only be described as a near state of euphoria accompanied by a strong desire to schedule your next lesson. Anything less and you may want to continue your search for a flight school with a more comfortable “fit” for you and your flying goals.

“You will find no greater sense of excitement, adventure, and accomplishment than the feeling of your first solo flight. No other sport could possibly offer the same thrill and endless opportunity for exploring, travel, and personal challenge than aviation.”