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Tips for picking a flight school

Look for a winning combination

You’ve taken the big step and decided to launch the flight training program you have longed to commence. Now comes the big question: Who should you trust with your training?

Finding the right flight school and instructor is important. If you want to find a great place to train, check out the schools and instructors that AOPA has honored. Brenda Tibbs (pictured here) is owner of Bravo Flight Training in Frederick, Maryland, and was honored as the 2016 Best Flight Instructor in AOPA's Flight Training Excellence Awards. Photo by Chris Rose.

Picking the right flight school or individual flight instructor might seem daunting, especially for a new member of the aviation family. Recognizing that, AOPA has taken steps to identify some of the top-tier flight training professionals across the nation, based on the comments of their customers in an annual AOPA survey.

To find out who deserves those honors, AOPA’s You Can Fly program to get pilots flying and keep them flying conducts the annual Flight Training Experience Survey. We encouraged anyone who has taken flight training in the past 12 months to candidly share their training experiences. A winning combination of qualities for a flight school or instructor included professionalism, enthusiasm for the teaching mission, a willingness to work as hard as their students work, an ability to connect with flight students as people, and always making flight training’s intensive learning experience as fun as it is a challenge.

Survey results are used to select winners of the Flight Training Experience Awards, which were last presented last October during Redbird Migration at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. The 2018 survey generated 6,310 complete responses providing customers’ reviews of 954 flight schools and 1,849 flight instructors.

The awards are issued in two categories that honor the best flight school and the best flight instructor. Also honored are the top scorers in the survey from the West, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast regions.

To help you choose a training provider in your area, take a look at the results of last year’s survey. Even if you are not located near our winners, the results should help you evaluate qualities to look for in providers closer to home.

Honored as the national best flight school in 2018 was Take Flight Aviation of Orange County Airport in New York. Named the national best flight instructor was Mike Biewenga of Blue Skies Flying Services at Lake in the Hills Airport in Illinois.

Word gets around when you know your stuff, and we noted that Take Flight’s trophy shelf is getting crowded because the Montgomery, New York-based training center has received past honors including 2017’s AOPA Best Flight School in the Northeast.

Take Flight’s co-founders, Ryan Mayo and Chris Graessle, teach New York City students to fly from the nontowered general aviation airfield a short drive out of the big city. They use newer Diamond aircraft and count “culture, organization, and updating the fleet” as keys to their success. They say Diamond’s pilot-friendly lineup made it easier for pilots to “see themselves picking a travel destination and embracing GA to get there.” Mayo also explained that the school seeks to make students comfortable.

“We want them to be relaxed and enjoy the learning process,” he said.

Customers of Biewenga, whose flight school took Midwest regional excellence honors in 2017, praised his dedication, professionalism, knowledge, preparation, and “uncompromising high standards.” They added that he was a “consummate professional pilot” with an “unbelievable work ethic.”

You’re making an investment in a life-changing project that you expect to be challenging, gratifying, and endlessly fun. If a flight school or instructor you are considering seems to have captured that spirit, likely you are in good hands.

Visit AOPA Online to see a complete list of the 2018 Flight Training Experience Award winners and the winners from 2017 to find a school or instructor located near you. The 2019 Flight Training Experience Survey will open in early summer.

AOPA's You Can Fly program is funded by generous donations to the AOPA Foundation.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: You Can Fly, Training and Safety, Training and Safety

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