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Flight School Spotlight: Blue Skies Flying Services

Part 61 hybrid

By Jim Pitman

Does being Part 141 automatically make flight schools better? The truth is that good and bad instruction takes place at both Part 61 and Part 141 schools. Yes, the FAA’s oversight of 141 schools does help keep them operating at a minimum standard, but the elements that make great schools great can be implemented by everyone, regardless of the regulations we operate under.

I recently visited founder/owner Mike Carzoli and chief flight instructor Mike Biewenga of Blue Skies Flying Services. Carzoli has been operating this successful flight school for more than 25 years at the Lake in the Hills Airport (3CK), about 30 miles northwest of Chicago, Illinois. Blue Skies was named Best Flight School in the Midwest and Biewenga was named National Best Flight Instructor in the 2018 Flight Training Experience Awards. Biewenga will be profiled in the February 2019 issue of Flight Training magazine.

I observed that the school has voluntarily implemented many of the positive elements of Part 141 in its Part 61 training.

“We didn’t necessarily set out to mimic Part 141,” Biewenga said. “We simply asked questions like, ‘What can we do to improve our training programs?’ The result is a Part 61 program that includes many of the useful aspects of Part 141, while giving us the freedom to avoid Part 141 bureaucracy that can impede training.”

As our discussion continued, we identified five elements for success:

  1. Chief flight instructor
  2. Training course outlines and record keeping
  3. Ground school
  4. Stage checks
  5. Oversight and quality control


Under Part 141, the FAA has set specific requirements for each of these elements. With our industry currently experiencing an instructor shortage, it’s more difficult than ever to find qualified people who meet the strict requirements to be a Part 141 chief flight instructor. Operating under Part 61 helps alleviate those requirements.

“We chose to call Mike (Biewenga) our chief flight instructor, but the title really isn’t what’s important. It could be flight school director, training manager, or whatever. The important thing is to have someone who is an effective leader. I needed someone to focus on managing the training so I could focus on running the business,” Carzoli said. Whichever titles you choose, it’s critical to have one or more people to lead and manage your school’s training department.

In the Part 141 world, the training course outline (TCO) is the FAA-approved document that contains all of the information related to how and where training is to be conducted. The TCO includes specific rules that must be followed, as well as the syllabi to be used. Depending on how well the TCO is written, this is where much of the red tape can be found that makes Part 141 training difficult to adapt to the needs of different customers.

“It’s easy to see the FAA’s intentions with the TCO requirements set forth in Part 141; however, much of what is found there just isn’t needed to provide quality training. We developed our own training curriculum that includes standardized procedures and checklists. We also enjoy the flexibility of being able to quickly adapt to the needs of each customer without the arduous requirements of Part 141,” Carzoli said.

For most Part 61 operators, the customer’s logbook is the only official record of training, while Part 141 requires records to be maintained by the school. “Since we operate under Part 61, each customer’s logbook is his/her official record of training,” Biewenga said. “We also have our own in-house records to help track each customer’s progress. This is an important part of our leadership and mentorship strategy. We also want to have back-up records in case a customer ever loses his/her logbook. Those records are an integral part of our overall quality control,” he said.

Blue Skies Flying Services offers a traditional classroom-style ground school that is taught one night per week for 12 weeks. Biewenga said, “We like to give our customers options to meet their individual learning styles and life circumstances. This is one of the greatest advantages to sticking with Part 61. For customers who prefer self-study, we recommend a variety of commercially produced DVD/online programs that provide different teaching styles. Many customers prefer the personal interaction of our traditional ground school class, and some people do both self-study and take our class. No matter the method, each individual flight instructor has the responsibility to evaluate the knowledge areas and provide the needed endorsements.”

Stage checks are one of the most beneficial elements required by Part 141. Many experienced instructors still believe they don’t need someone else to check their customers’ progress. That may be true, but the value of stage checks goes beyond just checking that an instructor didn’t miss something.

Stage checks are also extremely valuable for each customer to have the experience of flying with different people before the checkride. This is one of the most effective ways to help alleviate checkride jitters on the big day. Biewenga said, “With Part 141, it’s always the most experienced instructors that do the stage checks. Here at Blue Skies Flying Services, we take more of a team approach. I often ask our newest instructors to do stage checks with the customers of our more experienced instructors. The customers get the value of flying with different people, and the new instructors get to see how the pros prepare their customers for stage checks. And sometimes those new instructors do notice one or two little things that the experienced instructors didn’t. It’s always great to get a fresh perspective.”

The final element is oversight and quality control. Instead of coming from the FAA, this must be administered internally for Part 61 training. “As our chief flight instructor, Mike is primarily responsible for the quality of our entire training program. For everything from customer service issues to FAA compliance, I count on him to ensure we operate at our very best,” Carzoli said.

Which of these five elements can you better implement to improve the quality and effectiveness of training at your flight school?

Learn more about Blue Skies Flying Services at its website.

Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He currently flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website.

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