Choosing a flying school
Home or abroad? Getting the right environment and school is vital
If you want to learn quickly, an intensive period of instruction abroad in a country that has predictably good weather can get you trained quickly and often at a competitive cost. Some people treat it as a holiday and thoroughly enjoy it. However, others don’t like the pressure involved with getting a licence in a fixed (sometimes quite short) space of time nor the extent to which they have to drive themselves. Another downside is the additional training you might need once you get back to the UK – not least, to learn to cope with British weather. Then there are the potential extras such as the cost of flights and accommodation.
Learning closer to home will probably take longer, but it is generally more relaxed and easier to fit in with ‘the day job’. You will also have the time to develop a deeper understanding of flying and be able to spread the cost of your training over a longer period of time.
Both choices have their advantages and disadvantages: the one thing Pilot would always advise is never to pay too much beforehand – clubs and schools do fail once in a while...
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. Long road journeys also add to the cost of learning to fly.
If you have a lengthy daily commute to work, consider a club near your workplace rather than one near your home. If you have family commitments at the weekends it could work out better to have your lessons in the summer evenings immediately after leaving work – assuming your employer allows you to leave at a reasonable time.
Town or country?
The rural airfield is typically accessible down minor roads, surrounded by open countryside and a few scattered villages and farmhouses. It will probably have fewer instructors and aircraft, little air traffic and a relaxed approach to expecting ‘Captain Perfect’ calls on the radio. Urban airports are quicker to drive to, can be close to controlled airspace, have a busy circuits 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, 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.
Which aircraft type?
Microlights are the cheapest to learn on, however these will only get you a National Private Pilots Licence. The next step up from these are two-seat Very Light Aircraft, which will take you directly an EASA PPL.
You can also choose between learning in a two- or four-seat aircraft. If you plan to fly family and friends afterwards, 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 tell between the two for learning. High wing Cessnas give you a better view of the ground, and low wing Pipers might be a touch less stable and more manoeuvrable.
Old or new aeroplane?
Some clubs have aeroplanes with many thousands of hours of flying behind them and airframes that might be 20, 30 or 40 years old. Others have aircraft that are nearly new, but the club is still paying for them and has to charge accordingly. The older the trainer, quite often the cheaper the hourly rate, so if your money is tight you may prefer to learn in well-used aircraft.
It’s a good idea to pick several schools and visit all of them. See how the road journey works out in practice. Assess
the atmosphere – some clubs are very relaxed, others brisker and more business-like: see what feels right for you. Check out the facilities, too. Some schools have career instructors and make a point of seeing that you always have the same instructor for your lessons.
Ask about ground school to help with your exams and whether it’s included in the price. You have a right to receive at least half an hour’s one-to-one briefing in a classroom for every hour in the air.
Take a trial lesson
Unless there is an obvious front-runner, ask for a trial lesson with at least two schools. See how much of the lesson time is lost in taxying across the airport and queuing to get on the runway. See how you feel about the instructors, do you get plenty of hands-on instruction flying the aeroplane even though it’s ‘only a trial flight’, see how you feel about their aircraft.
Some schools might have a more relaxed atmosphere than others, some might have aircraft that you prefer or have an instructor with whom you ‘click’. The most important thing is that you find an environment you feel comfortable with.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that you need to enjoy the process of learning to fly. There is nothing else in life that quite matches your first lesson, your
first solo, your first solo cross-country and the moment when you finally get your licence and become a pilot.