Learning To Fly

Learning to fly can be one of life’s most rewarding adventures. The freedom of moving in three dimensions is not only fun but can lead to interesting career and travel opportunities. To take advantage of aviation’s rewards, you must make sure you get good, solid information that you’ll need to be a safe, confident pilot in the air. One of the most important steps in that process is finding the right flight school.

How to Determine What You Need and Want

At the beginning of your flight school search, it helps if you have a general idea of what you want from aviation. Why do you want to learn to fly? What is your ultimate, long-term aviation goal? Do you want to fly for fun, or are you seeking a flying career? Will your flying be local, or do you want to use general aviation aircraft to travel? Do you want to own an airplane or will you rent? These are questions you should answer before you start considering flight schools. Also, you should consider whether you’ll train full time or part time; this can make a big difference in your school selection criteria.

Types of Schools — Part 61 and Part 141

Flight schools come in two flavors, Part 61 and Part 141, which refer to the parts of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) under which they operate. The most common and least important distinction between them is the minimum flight time required for the private certificate — 40 hours under Part 61, and 35 hours under Part 141.

Considering that the national average for earning a private certificate under part 61 is 60-75 hours (how long you’ll take will depend on your ability and flying frequency), the minimum time difference isn’t as important for initial training although the averages are much lower for students training under part 141 due to the structure and standardization that part 141 flight schools offer. The time required does make a difference to commercial pilot applicants: Part 61 requires 250 hours, and Part 141 requires only 190.

What differentiates the two is structure and accountability and standardization. Part 141 schools are periodically audited by the FAA and must have detailed, FAA-approved course outlines and meet student performance rates. Part 61 schools don’t have the same paperwork and accountability requirements. Additionally part 141 schools can train under part 61 if it is the most effective route for the student to progress but part 61 schools do not have the option to train under part 141.

Which type of school is best for you depends on your needs, available time, and other factors, such as veteran’s benefit eligibility (only Part 141 schools can qualify for VA-reimbursed training and international training) and location. When it comes to the FAA checkride, which will be the same for every student, it doesn’t matter where you learned to fly, only how well — including your understanding of aviation academic material.

Take a Firsthand Look — It’s Your Money

If you do nothing else in your school search — visit the school!

Your first contact will likely be an admissions officer or the chief flight instructor. Listen closely and ask questions about everything. Don’t be shy. If you don’t understand something, ask! During your tour, ensure that no area is left unvisited, from administrative offices to the maintenance area.

Other important information resources can be the local FAA Flight Standards District Office. They may offer important insights on such topics as a school’s safety record and business practices. If so accredited the Immigration and Naturalization Service, if you are an international student.

Don’t Overlook Ground School

Learning to fly requires that you obtain the ability to manipulate the controls of the airplane and make it perform certain maneuvers. However, there is another aspect of learning to fly, and that is the academic knowledge required to understand how, where, and when to fly safely. This is accomplished in ground school.

Ground school takes two basic forms: an instructor teaching a scheduled class or a self-paced one-on-one instruction. Home-study programs using video or audio tapes and/or computer-based programs can add to your level of proficiency and are recommended for all students.

Training Aircraft

The training aircraft is where you practice in the air what you’ve learned on the ground. High wing or low, it doesn’t make much difference. What’s important is how well the airplane is equipped and maintained.

How many aircraft a school has depends on the number of active students. Generally speaking, one aircraft serves four or five full-time students. This ratio may be higher with part-time students. Another consideration is the fleet’s mix of primary, advanced aircraft.

Because these aircraft are flown often and sometimes hard, how a school maintains its training fleet is important for both safety and scheduling. Asking questions about maintenance policies and procedures should be part of every school interview.

Flight Instructors

A good flight instructor is important because your life will depend on what he or she teaches you. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the training and experience of the flight instructors. You might ask what the average flight time is and what the pass/fail rate is among the instructors. You might also talk to some of the other students at the school to ask about their flight instructors.


Compared with most of your current activities, learning to fly is expensive. But remember, you’re investing in your education, in skills that will open new worlds and opportunities. Flying is an activity of purpose, productivity, and pleasure. It’s also a never-ending learning process and as with all education, your initial training provides the foundation for all that will follow.

Looking at the bottom line, you’ll notice that, adjusting for location and differences in training programs, schools more or less charge about the same. Only you can determine if what you get for your money is fair. As with any other major purchase, if a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is.

When comparing costs, make sure you’re comparing “apples with apples.” Some schools base their prices on the FAA minimum-time requirements, such as 40 hours for a private certificate. Others base their prices on a more realistic figure that’s the average of what their students accomplish. Some include books and supplies, ground school, flight testing, and FAA written examination fees. Others don’t. In other words, read the fine print, and ensure you’re making a comparison of equals!



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