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Since the earliest days of aviation, countless people have dreamed of owning and piloting an aircraft of their own. It used to be a hobby for the fortunate few, but aircraft ownership is now surprisingly affordable, and there are also far more flying schools around than ever before.
Florida alone can boast around 180 schools with a wide range of specialties. You can learn to fly gliders, helicopters or seaplanes; you can specialize in aerobatics, sports or tailwheel flying; there are also schools for mechanics, air traffic controllers and numerous other ground functions.
So whether you want to own and fly your own recreational craft, or make a career as a commercial pilot, there’s bound to be a school to suit you. But whatever your goal, there are numerous factors to consider before making your selection.
As suggested above, the first consideration must be the type of flying you aim to do. All flying schools must be accredited by the Federal Aviation Authority, but there are two different regulatory schemes, known as Part 61 and Part 141, under which they may operate.
Schools regulated under Part 141 must comply with more rigorous regulations and are audited for compliance by the FAA. Pilots trained by Part 141 schools can obtain their commercial license after 190 flying hours, compared with 250 hours for a Part 61 school. Students may also qualify more quickly for a private pilot’s license under Part 141, a minimum of 35 flying hours as opposed to 40 under Part 61, but since in practice nearly all students require significantly more flying hours than this, the difference is not usually important for private pilots.
As a general rule, Part 141 schools tend to offer highly structured programs which require more of a definite time commitment than Part 61 schools. So which one you choose will depend on your final goal and your personal circumstances. There may also be a significant difference in cost.
Once you have identified a number of schools which offer the kind of training you want, the next step is to get more details of each one.
As a minimum you will want to know how long the school has been in operation, how many students it has successfully taught, how many it currently has enrolled, the number and credentials of its staff and of course the scale of fees. You will also, of course, need to check the number and type of aircraft the school has, the facilities available at its airport and the ratio of teaching staff to students.
But most important is to carry out a thorough check of the school’s safety and FAA compliance record. Your own online search is a good starting point, but you should also make inquiries of your local FAA Flight Standards District Office, Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce.
It’s also worth contacting your local flying club and making use of such resources as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). This process may seem tedious and time-consuming. But quite apart from the significant financial investment involved, you will be putting your life in the hands of your flying instructor so it’s not worth taking any short-cuts.
The above steps will be useful in narrowing down your choice to a shortlist, but there’s no substitute for visiting in person before making a final choice. It’s a good idea to go along with a prepared list of topics to discuss, which should include the details of the school’s teaching methods and any intermediate assessments, insurance requirements, arrangements for proper FAA record keeping and policy on flight cancellations.
If at all possible, it’s also a good idea to meet not only the Chief Instructor but also the individual likely to be assigned to you, take a trial or “Discovery” flight if offered, and talk with other students if you can.
All these common-sense steps are necessary, but they should not be discouraging. The great majority of flying schools are well-run, friendly places whose staff enjoy nothing more than seeing their students take successfully to the air. So which one you finally opt for may depend as much as anything on personal preference, location and fee scales.
But don’t let any concerns about costs influence your final decision until you’ve talked to us at We Florida Financial. Our We fly program specializes in aviation loans and offer a range of plans to help fund both aircraft purchase and flight training.
You can find out more by calling us on 954-913-7871 or sending us an online message here.