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Choosing a flying school

It's one of the most important decisions to make — and we're here to help you.

So you've decided what kind of pilot licence you need and what type of aircraft you want to fly, now you need to decide where you are going to train.

It's a good idea to start by picking three or four schools near you and to visit them. You'll want to see what the aircraft are like, meet the instructors and get a feel for the school or club atmosphere. Try not to travel too far, perhaps no more than an hour, because a long journey to and fro can make the joy of learning onerous. You can find your nearest schools by looking in our online directory of flying schools.

For many people who choose to fly for recreation rather than as a career, it takes around six months to a year to gain the coveted Private Pilot's Licence in the UK and be free to roam around the sky.

Even if you have no prior knowledge of flying whatsoever, a flying school will quickly get you on your way and in the air. Most people try to have a lesson once or twice a week, especially in the spring and summer months because it makes the learning process and gaining the licence that much quicker.

Which type of aircraft?

Depending on which type of licence you want to get, you might be able to choose between learning in a two- or four-seat aircraft. If you plan to fly family and friends when you get your licence, it can be a good idea to learn on a four-seater (rather more expensive on an hourly basis, but it does avoid needing to convert at the end of your basic training).

Two-seaters are generally a little sportier, with lighter controls. Finally, you can choose between high- or low-wing. Each has its adherents, but there is probably little to choose between the two for learning. High-wing Cessnas give you a better view of the ground, and low-wing Pipers a better view of the sky around and above. Town or country? Rural airfields are typically accessible down minor roads, surrounded by open countryside and a few scattered villages and farmhouses. They will probably have fewer instructors and aircraft, little air traffic and a relaxed approach to expecting ‘Captain Perfect' calls on the aircraft's radio. Urban airports are quicker to drive to, can be close to controlled airspace, have a busy circuit with a lot of instructors and aircraft, and expect students to quickly become professional on the radio.

Rural airfields are fine if you want to take time over getting your licence and have a limited budget. Urban airports can be a little more expensive, perhaps a little less personal and sometimes rather overwhelming, although they still deliver a good service and can be more convenient. They are a particularly good environment for those heading for business or an airline career.

Your first visit

Generally speaking, the nearer the club to where you live, the better. You will be less likely to set off in good weather to find that it's raining when you arrive. You won't be tired out by a long spell fighting traffic before beginning the lesson. On your first visit see how the road journey works out – you'll be making that trip frequently. Don't forget that long road journeys also add to the cost. Also, assess the atmosphere – some schools are relaxed, others are brisker and more business-like.

Ask about ground school (to help with your exams) and whether it's included in the price. If everything is rushed and unprofessional, look elsewhere. Also, talk to others who may have learned to fly at the schools you're interested in. After doing all this, unless there is an obvious front-runner, ask for a trial lesson with at least two of them.

Book a trial lesson

This is where every pilot begins. Most of the schools listed at the back of this guide offer a trial lesson. The trial lesson is taken in the same aircraft in which you'll learn to fly and many people are surprised to get hands-on control for the first flight. The instructor will keep you safe, but also allow you to have a go at climbing, descending and turning.

The trial lesson is logged as the first of your 45 hours so this won't be a wasted lesson. You must schedule regular lessons so you retain the skills, otherwise you risk falling into the two steps forward, one step backwards syndrome. This is just as important when you have your licence because you'll need to fly a minimum number of hours legally to keep flying. You'll work out with your school when each subsequent lesson will take place; they are flexible and will help you to fit them around your life.

Stopping flying for a while is allowed, but it may take you more training later on if you have a long period away. Throughout this, see how you get on with the aircraft and, more importantly, the instructor. If things aren't gelling or the teaching style doesn't match the way you like to learn, then you can try a lesson with a different person.In Conclusion Schools might vary in what they can offer, even though the aircraft and syllabus may be similar, but it's really the people who make or break your time there.

Finding an instructor you like and feel comfortable with makes all the difference. Some schools have the latest aircraft whereas others have older fleets that do the job just fine at a reasonable price. Decide what's best for you and your budget, and then settle on one you like. It's timeless advice, but as valid now as when it was first coined – make sure that you enjoy the process of learning to fly. Nothing else in life quite matches your first flying lesson, your first solo, your first solo cross-country and the moment when you get your licence and finally become a pilot.

Town or country airfields?

Rural airfields are typically accessible down minor roads, surrounded by open countryside and a few scattered villages and farmhouses. They will probably have fewer instructors and aircraft, little air traffic and a relaxed approach to expecting ‘Captain Perfect' calls on the aircraft's radio.

Urban airports are quicker to drive to, can be close to controlled airspace, have a busy circuit with a lot of instructors and aircraft, and expect students to quickly become professional on the radio.

Rural airfields are fine if you want to take time over getting your licence and have a limited budget. Urban airports can be a little more expensive, perhaps a little less personal and sometimes rather overwhelming, although they still deliver a good service and can be more convenient. They are a particularly good environment for those heading for business or an airline career.

Your first visit

Generally speaking, the nearer the club to where you live, the better. You will be less likely to set off in good weather to find that it's raining when you arrive.

You won't be tired out by a long spell fighting traffic before beginning the lesson. On your first visit see how the road journey works out – you'll be making that trip frequently. Don't forget that long road journeys also add to the cost.

Also, assess the atmosphere – some schools are relaxed, others are brisker and more business-like. Ask about ground school (to help with your exams) and whether it's included in the price. If everything is rushed and unprofessional, look elsewhere. Also, talk to others who may have learned to fly at the schools you're interested in. After doing all this, unless there is an obvious front-runner, ask for a trial lesson with at least two of them.

Book a trial lesson

This is where every pilot begins. Most of the schools listed at the back of this guide offer a trial lesson. The trial lesson is taken in the same aircraft in which you'll learn to fly and many people are surprised to get hands-on control for the first flight.

The instructor will keep you safe, but also allow you to have a go at climbing, descending and turning.

The trial lesson is logged as the first of your 45 hours so this won't be a wasted lesson. You must schedule regular lessons so you retain the skills, otherwise you risk falling into the two steps forward, one step backwards syndrome.

This is just as important when you have your licence because you'll need to fly a minimum number of hours legally to keep flying.

You'll work out with your school when each subsequent lesson will take place; they are flexible and will help you to fit them around your life. Stopping flying for a while is allowed, but it may take you more training later on if you have a long period away. Throughout this, see how you get on with the aircraft and, more importantly, the instructor. If things aren't gelling or the teaching style doesn't match the way you like to learn, then you can try a lesson with a different person.

In Conclusion

Schools might vary in what they can offer, even though the aircraft and syllabus may be similar, but it's really the people who make or break your time there. Finding an instructor you like and feel comfortable with makes all the difference.

Some schools have the latest aircraft whereas others have older fleets that do the job just fine at a reasonable price. Decide what's best for you and your budget, and then settle on one you like.

It's timeless advice, but as valid now as when it was first coined – make sure that you enjoy the process of learning to fly. Nothing else in life quite matches your first flying lesson, your first solo, your first solo cross-country and the moment when you get your licence and finally become a pilot.

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