Pilots have many different career options. You can operate cargo flights, become a full-time instructor, choose a military career, fly helicopters or private jets, become a commercial pilot, etc. Your ultimate career goals will help you decide which flight school fits your needs, and it begins with choosing the type of program you want.
1.) Part 61 vs. Part 141 Flight Training
When choosing a flight school, two different types of programs are available. You can build hours in a Part 61 or Part 141 program. Both have their advantages and respective minimum standards for training set by Federal Aviation Regulations.
Part 61 programs are more informal, and your local flight school likely falls into this category. This path is suited to part-time students. You have more control over your flight instructor; although, choices may be limited at smaller schools. You may also need more flight hours to accomplish your career goal.
If you’re looking to earn a degree in a structured environment, check out Part 141 programs. The FAA regularly audits schools in this group. Courses are also FAA-approved, and the school must meet a minimum threshold for pass rates. Larger schools like Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University or Western Michigan University are more likely to fall into this category; however, they may also offer a Part 61 program.
Captain Avreet Randhawa, a former instructor, shared her advice and said, “Each student has different training preferences, and these programs can help [you] choose the pace [you] want to work at. Also, it is good to check the fleet type. It can make a difference when [you] are transitioning to jets.”
Depending on your career goals, you may opt for one path over another. We covered this topic in our blog “Choosing Your Path to Becoming a Commercial Pilot.” It’s worth a read if you need more insight. Rest assured, you can become a commercial pilot regardless of which program you choose. Your requirements will just be different.
Unfortunately, becoming a pilot isn’t cheap. According to the pilots we surveyed on Twitter, the main factor to consider when choosing a flight school was a tie between cost and location.
Some student pilots choose schools in warmer locations to fly more throughout the year and complete their FAA required hours faster. If you’re a part-time student, building hours at the local flight school is exceptionally convenient. Perhaps you want a degree and choose a school near family or friends. Once you talk to other pilots about their journeys, you’ll hear many different stories. As a pilot, you’re essentially reading a choose your adventure book. Build the path that’s right for you.
While researching flight schools, you’ll realize that some schools and universities have affiliations with different regional or mainline carriers. Choosing a school with a pathway that lands you at the airline of your dreams is appealing. Some people find it comforting to have a blueprint for their pilot journey. That being said, note that some pathways require a contract while others do not.
Air Wisconsin’s Airman Trainee program was an example of the latter. We haven’t made any announcements yet, but we plan to bring an enhanced version of this program back, allowing student pilots a quicker path to flying for us.
If you’d love to fly for United one day, check out the Aviate program. United teams with various schools and regional airline partners, like Air Wisconsin Airlines, offering the fastest route to the United flight deck. You aren’t required to sign a contract if you enroll in the Aviate program and can apply to other airlines. Other mainline carriers have pathways too.
5.) Quality of the Instructors
Learning to fly in various types of conditions is fun and stressful. Quality instruction is critical. Once you learn bad habits, it’s difficult to unlearn them. Finding an instructor or instructors you connect with makes a difference and leads to a more pleasant experience.
If you can attend an open house or meet the CFIs (Certified Flight Instructors), go. Ask about training styles and see how they fit with your learning style. You can also learn a lot by talking to former students.
6.) Reputation and the Experiences of Others
Our Assistant Chief Pilot Doug McEnerney highly suggests talking to current students or alumni at any school you’re interested in attending. “When choosing a flight school, try to reach out to alumni or current students and hear what they have to say about their experience with the program. If you find that they generally have positive things to say and you like talking with people who went/go there, it’s probably a good fit!”
It’s easier than you think to get this feedback. Facebook has numerous groups where pilots share advice. Join one and pose the question. You can check out pilot mentorship programs like Professional Pilots of Tomorrow or reach out to active pilots on social media. Ask around; you may have a fellow aviation fan who knows someone who went to the school you’re considering. The flight school itself is also a resource. Ask for names of current or past students that you can talk to about their experience.
Build Your Path
As you talk to other pilots, you’ll hear lots of advice. What matters to one person may not be the most important factor to consider in your eyes. If you do the research and listen to your gut, you’ll make the right decision.