How To Pick The Right Flight School

Flight Training, How to Become a Pilot, Student Tips



There is a lot of information online about different types of training, different types of flight schools and even different types of licenses. We have been through it all and know how confusing it can be. If you have read our other articles you know that I am Dutch Caribbean American. I finished my highschool on the island of Curacao, got my bachelor degree in the Netherlands and completed all my flight training in the States. Now that I have 1500 flight hours. Let me help you out with picking the right flight school, and explaining other things along the way.

Flight Academy or flight school?

First off, what is the difference between a flight school and a flight academy? A flight academy is a large school that is certified by the FAA and often the US Education Department through accreditation called ACCET, think about Embry Riddle, FIT, L3 and Wayman Aviation Academy. Flight schools on the other hand, often are not accredited or certified by the FAA.

“Have you gone on different sites of flight schools and was wondering why the prices range so much?

A flight school can be a ‘Mom and Pop’ school. Privately owned by an individual or family who have a couple of airplanes and hire instructors to fly with and get their customers to their ratings. This is usually done under part 61. A part 61 school is not FAA certified. It is a group of instructors working together, but it is not inspected nor supervised by the FAA. There are great independent instructors but lack the supervision and rigor of Accreditation or 141 inspection. Being accredited and/or certified you know that every instructor has to go through a consistent program and quality control in order to start teaching.

Safety & maintenance

Aircraftwise flight academies usually have a large fleet of more than 20 airplanes, while flight schools have a smaller group of 4-14 aircraft. In regards to safety this is really important. Think about all the maintenance that has to be done in order to maintain the fleet. Many academies have in-house maintenance while smaller schools often need to outsource their maintenance. This might bring delay in your flight training here and there. A dedicated maintenance component means they’re not bumping your Cessna to work on a King Air or other private aircraft that has come into the hangar.

Through the certification process that a flight academy goes through it is also of vital importance that there are established safety programs, SMS, which stands for Safety Management System , are not required by the FAA for flight schools but the large academies see the value is putting a formal safety program in place. As a commercial pilot every chart and airline will have an SMS. 

Tip: check if your school/academy has inhouse maintenance, is accredited or certified and has safety programs.

“You may be planning to come back to your home town but could the city where you train become a platform for your first job as a pilot?

Where do you want to live?

When I was considering schools an uncle suggested I consider “where do you WANT to live?” Will you be happy to spend 1-2 years or more in a rural town in Texas? Or do you come from a metropolitan city and prefer access to restaurants and culture when you’re not flying? If you become an instructor at the school of your choosing you may end up spending several years there. Consider the climate as well. Students from warm environments may not be comfortable in the far frozen North of Canada. Are you comfortable in an arid desert climate like Arizona or would you like to have a beach nearby?

While it is nice to live in an isolated small town and focus on your studies, what happens when you graduate? You may be planning to come back to your home town but could the city where you train become a platform for your first job as a pilot? For example Miami and Ft Lauderdale are a huge international aviation hub, with multiple international airports, cargo operations, and executive aviation. Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas have similar benefits. If you can find a regional airport to train at on the outskirts of a large airport, you’ll have better experience and opportunities.

Real Price?

Have you gone on different sites of flight schools and was wondering why the prices range so much? We are left wondering; “Isn’t it all the same?” We understand that you might be confused. There are a lot of flight schools marketing very low prices for flight training. Here’s the thing; this is all based on the minimum amount of hours that you need to complete your license or rating. Let’s take a look at the student pilot guide from the FAA: “One difference between a part 141 school and a part 61 school is that fewer flight hours are required to qualify for a pilot certificate in a part 141 certificated school. The requirement for a private pilot certificate is 40 hours in a part 61 school and 35 hours in a part 141 certificated school.”

What you really have to know here is the following; it is really unlikely that you get your license at such low hours. I can tell you out of experience that almost everybody that’s going through their training needs about -/+70 hours of training to get their Private Pilot License. If we look at data that came from AOPA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the US average is at 73 hours. As an example Wayman is very transparent and budgets 71 hours for your Private Pilot License. There are not a lot of students that exceed these hours.

Which brings me to the initial investment; with flight academies you can expect to pay anywhere between 50K to 100K for your basic flight training. At flight schools expect somewhere between 40K and 75K. Bigger flight academies often also have a student affairs department where students can stay on top of their budget and progress. While also having a formal refund or complain process. Wayman recently started working together with WeFly loans in order to help students financially to finish their training.

It often takes about 240 to 260 hours to complete the program on average, regardless of which school you choose. I would suggest that the best way to compare prices is to check airplane rental and CFI rates.

Tip: Check how the school/academy is budgeting their courses.

Good luck on your journey to the cockpit! If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, feel free to post them in the comment section.