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Red flags

We talk about relationships where one person’s actions are described as “red flags”: signals that there may be trouble ahead. Did you know flight schools can have red flags too?

Here’s a list of red flags offered to a curious flight student on Reddit, who wanted to know what warning signs he should look out for when researching flight schools. There were quite a few suggestions, but these were the red flags the flight training industry has unfortunately earned.

Asking customers to pay a large amount up front: If any flight schools were doing this in good faith, I’m afraid Silver State Helicopters ruined it for everyone else in 2008 by leaving more than 2,000 students on the hook when it asked for money up front and then declared bankruptcy. Asking for large amounts up front tells students a couple things: You probably need the money to keep the electricity on; and you have no incentive to train them once they’ve paid you.

Fortunately, most flight students seem to understand the concept of block time, and how it differs from paying up front. Nobody’s leery of block time once they understand how it works.

Student to instructor ratio; student to airplane ratio: Exactly as it sounds. People who can do simple math can figure out that 50 students and 3 airplanes probably isn’t going to work out well in terms of scheduling.

Student scheduling: The student pilot was advised to look at the flight school’s online scheduling system. Is there room on there for another student in the next week? If not, he should keep looking.

Maintenance: A potential client probably isn’t going to have an airframe and powerplant certificate, but it doesn’t take an A&P to notice duct tape used to hold things in place and screws missing from cowlings.

The 40-hour charge: This is potentially a tough one for flight schools. Clients want to know how much to expect to pay, when there’s really no way to know how quickly the student will learn. So the flight school defaults to quoting a price that includes 40 hours of instruction and aircraft rental, because that’s the minimum under the federal aviation regulations. But savvy student pilots know that 40 hours is just that—a minimum—and most people will take longer. The flight school can appear to be disingenuous if it relies on this type of pricing information.

What’s a flight school to do? Don’t ask for money up front. Have sufficient airplanes and instructors. Keep airplanes in good shape. And be realistic when discussing costs of flight training.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who is part-owner of a Cessna 182Q.

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