Big school or small school?
Whether you're a newbie in aviation or an old ace returning to the flock, you've probably agonized about choosing a big, fancy, name-brand training facility, or going instead with a local FBO or flight school.
The usual questions of how much it costs and how long it will take are, of course, important considerations for any school on your list. It's also important to interview past students to learn their thoughts about the training they received, probing for both positive and negative comments. Ask them if they had the chance to do it over again, would they change anything?
Big schools frequently have much broader educational opportunities, an important plus if you plan to acquire an academic degree while completing your flight training. Recognize that attendance at a big school can make you a small fish in a big pond. You're competing for available job opportunities with many more pilots than at a smaller school. But the larger school may be able to inform you of more job opportunities.
Small schools, on the other hand, often expose students to more types of flying and more diverse job possibilities because they deal with both locally based and transient aircraft in addition to their own training fleet. You will also save money on living expenses if the school is local, and perhaps be able to continue your current employment to keep your income stream alive during your training cycle outflows.
For a professional pilot course, you'll see ads with fees ranging from $14,000 to $40,000 and more. The reasons for price variations can range from school size (larger ones often tend to be more expensive), and types of aircraft flown (do I need to start off in a larger four-place airplane?) to hours of dual versus solo flight, instructor rates, books, supplies, checkride fees, transportation, and housing.
Special proprietary programs that require advance screening and attendance at a specific school are expensive, and it's important to understand exactly what you're getting: very specialized training aimed at a specific job.
Details of your primary flight training (private through CFI) are of minor interest to major airlines. Instead, they focus on your overall education, total flight time, and the kind of job you currently hold.
Once you've done your homework, get some advice from an impartial source who understands your situation and has no financial stake in your decision. Remember that your success in finding future employment will be more a result of your own perseverance and networking efforts than the size of the school you've attended.
Karen Kahn is a captain for a major U.S. airline and author of Flight Guide for Success--Tips and Tactics for the Aspiring Airline Pilot. Type-rated in the Boeing 757/767, MD-80, and Lockheed JetStar, she is an FAA aviation safety counselor who holds ATP and Gold Seal flight instructor certificates. Kahn is rated in gliders, seaplanes, and helicopters. Visit her Web site.