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Airline pilot training at the small flight schoolAirline pilot training at the small flight school

College and university aviation programs typically operate under FAR Part 141 pilot school certification. Some of these programs have partnerships with specific airlines. These partnerships almost always guarantee an airline interview and may have other benefits that are attractive to career students. Under these circumstances, is the small flight school a thing of the past for airline career training? Absolutely not.

Representatives from the training departments of several regional airlines have told me they have not been able to find qualified people to fill their new-hire training classes. If candidates are well-prepared they are just as likely to get hired from a small flight school as a university aviation program.

Hundreds of small flight schools produce pilots just as good as the university and college programs, and in most cases the smaller schools do it cheaper and better than the big guys. Whether you go to a Part 61 or a Part 141 school, you end up with about 300 hours total time when the basic certificates and ratings are earned. A small flight school typically can do the private through commercial multiengine and the CFI training for about $60,000. The larger programs charge as much as $100,000 or more for the same certificates and ratings. The cost of career flight training at a small flight school will average $170 per hour; at the larger institutions, the average cost per flight training hour will be in the neighborhood of $300 per hour. The difference between the Part 141 course and the Part 61 is $40,000 plus or minus a few thousand dollars.

As you know, in an FAA-approved Part 141 university aviation program, a candidate can apply to the airlines at 1,000 hours total time, whereas the Part 61 trained pilot can’t apply until he or she has 1,500 hours. After completing the basic career flight courses, the Part 141 pilot will need about 700 hours of time building, and the Part 61 pilot needs 1,200 hours of time building. A typical flight instructor flying three hours per day will fly about 700 hours a year. At 700 hours per year it will take the Part 141 pilot a year to meet the minimums for an airline interview. The Part 61 pilot will take about 18 months to reach the minimum for an interview. The additional half-year that the Part 61 pilot has to fly saves about $40,000. That makes the Part 61 flight school a very cost-effective career training alternative to the big university programs.

It is obviously very expensive to become qualified to apply to the airlines for a first officer’s job. First officer pay is not very much, so why pay an extra $40,000 to a university aviation program to get a first officer’s job six months sooner? The issue with the first officer’s pay is not the salary at age 25, but the salary and benefits at age 35 and beyond. A career-oriented flight student will need to consider that.

For the flight school owner, the opportunity to engage career-minded students is a consideration. You need to have a career training package for all the basic FAA certificates and ratings requirements priced out. Market yourself as providing flight training that can lead to an airline career. Point out that your students can have a personal, hometown flight training experience and get hired by the airlines. The airlines want qualified applicants, and it doesn’t matter if the applicant’s initial training was in a Part 61 or Part 141 environment. The economics are in your favor.

If your small flight school is going to enter into the career flight training market, your business needs a professional appearance. That also includes the structure of a flight training syllabus and periodic stage checks. This helps you market your program to potential students and their parents. Small flight schools can provide better cross-country flight experience because they have more flexibility than the large institutions. That can look good in the pilot’s logbook during the airline interview. Small flight schools and their students have a great opportunity in this era of airline hiring. —Ed Helmick