Gary Joachim and his wife, Georgia, came to AOPA’s Learn to Fly seminar at AirVenture in search of a cool spot and some solid information about what it takes to earn a pilot certificate. They got all of that, and Gary got something more—a free introductory flight at the flight school of his choice.
The Joachims, of Owatonna, Minn., came to the seminar because Georgia wants to learn to fly. She’s already bought all of her ground school instructional materials. Living in Minnesota, where the weather can be quite frigid, she specifically wondered about the prospect of visiting an accelerated flight school to complete a private pilot certificate in a shorter amount of time in a warmer climate. When her husband won the introductory flight, he said they might have to start training together.
One of the most frequent questions about learning to fly is whether it is safe, said Jennifer Storm, AOPA director of flight training initiatives. “I will be up front and honest with you,” she said. There are 6.6 accidents per 100,000 hours flown in general aviation aircraft; 1.3 accidents per 100,000 hours flown are fatalities. For instructional flying—typically a student pilot and a flight instructor, or a student pilot flying solo—there are 5.45 accidents per 100,000 hours, and 0.45 fatal accidents per 100,000 hours. “These are real numbers,” Storm said. AOPA’s Air Safety Institute monitors these numbers and does what it can to drive the numbers down, she added.
There are risks in nearly every activity, Storm noted. Flight instructors teach student pilots from the first lesson how to manage the risks involved in flying.
Learning to fly can take anywhere from “two weeks to 10 years,” Storm quipped. Several criteria will affect the time it takes, including where you learn to fly; what type of aircraft you learn to fly—the more complex, the more training may be required; and most importantly, the student’s commitment, attitude, and proficiency. Your schedule and the flight instructor’s schedule also come into play here, Storm said. If your instructor or the aircraft is unavailable for long periods of time, that can cause delays.
Storm listed several tips to save time and money when learning to fly:
When shopping for a flight instructor, ask numerous questions, Storm said. Are they part-time or full-time? What type of students do they teach (primary, advanced, both)? “Don’t feel weird about meeting several instructors before you select one,” she said. “I encourage you to be selective.” Flying is an intensive environment, and it’s important to find a good match. That said, if after a few lessons you discover the flight instructor is not a good match for you, don’t be reluctant to switch, she said, emphasizing, “You are the customer.”
AOPA has numerous resources for people interested in learning to fly. If you want to know more but are not quite ready to start, visit AOPA’s Let’s Go Flying website, where you can receive free information, a resource guide that includes a flight instructor database, and a monthly newsletter. If you are already training, you can receive a six-month introductory membership to AOPA free of charge, entitling you to all the services and benefits of full membership plus six issues of Flight Training magazine. See the website for more information.