Checking out your local flight school
Are you interested in saving time and money? If so, checking out your local flight school should be at the top of your "to do" list as you begin your quest for a flying career. Why? Local flying can mean less money expended to achieve your goal, as you won't be paying extra for transportation, housing, and meals at a distant locale. You'll also find job hunting easier when you know the territory--and the locals know you.
If you live near a big city with several options, do some homework to select your top three target schools. Check with friends, local flying groups, the Internet, and other local pilots to find your candidates. Then, Google your choices to see if there's any feedback you should be aware of. Find the local FAA aviation safety counselor, who will definitely be a knowledgeable source about your local flying community.
Ask each school for references and then contact those folks to determine what they liked and didn't like about that school. Did they actually fly at the school in question and complete a certificate or rating? Get their view on the instructors, how much individual attention they received, instructor promptness, instructional techniques, subject knowledge, and attention to personal needs. How about airplane cleanliness, maintenance, and scheduling? How many flight hours did they require to complete their training, and did they feel their lessons were well planned and executed?
Visit your target schools, first unannounced to see how they treat strangers. Wander around and ask questions. Later, make an appointment, dress nicely, and see if the response changes. Interview CFIs, talk to students, query their maintenance shop, and get detailed prices, including insurance packages for renter pilots.
Inquire about WiFi or Internet access for training and weather sources, visual aids in classrooms, simulators, and other training aids that can be real bonuses when the weather goes down and many student pilots are grounded. Is the facility open during the evenings for ground training and night checkouts? Are students restricted from to flying to certain airports or areas?
After you receive your certificate, what type of aircraft can you rent? Are larger aircraft available for complex and multiengine training? Does the school hire its own students who qualify for pilot employment? How about part-time desk or line service jobs? Do employees receive reduced rates on aircraft rentals? What type of payment plans or financing is offered? Does the school require prepayment for ratings? Are scholarships available? What kind of pilot supplies are needed or required for your training?
Finally, don't be afraid to switch horses (flight schools) mid-stream. All of your flight time can be logged toward your new certificate or rating. Remember that the hours required to complete your training will vary depending on how frequently you fly. Your job is to absorb and understand the information, fly safely, and have fun.
Captain Karen Kahn is the author of Flight Guide for Success: Tips and Tactics for the Aspiring Airline Pilot and a career counselor. A Master CFI and 30-year airline pilot, she flies the Boeing 757/767 for a major U.S. carrier.