Choosing where to enrol for pilot training is a big decision. It’s your dream -and a significant investment. So you want to get it right. From small, local flying clubs to international pilot training academies, there are lots of options. So, how do you choose the right school and find the best course? Firstly, take the time to thoroughly research every organisation you’re considering. We recommend visiting in person, taking a trial flying lesson and attending independent careers events such as Pilot Careers Live or the European Airline Training Symposium. Courses and schools can differ, even though the final qualification (within the same territory, eg Europe) will be the same. For example, in the way that training is approached, and in the quality and content of the course, as well as how that training is delivered.
So, to help you conduct your research, here are 13 questions to ask potential training providers:
- What courses are available? Integrated, modular, distance learning, degree? There are advantages to each training pathway, so consider them all. A modular course can be more flexible, allowing you to complete your training in stages, allowing for work or family commitments. An integrated course will usually be shorter and more intense but may be more expensive. University degrees are not usually required by airlines, but provide an alternative qualification should a professional flying career not work out for any reason.
- What’s included? Look at the number of hours of instruction included, accommodation costs, if there is student support, and what materials (ground school books, uniform, headset?) are included. Plus flying time, exam and landing fees. Calculate the value for money as well as the headline price: are there extra costs, is anything omitted?
- Entry requirements? What is needed in the way of entry qualifications? Is there a pre-course selection or assessment? If so, what does it consist of, what’s the pass rate and what preparation is recommended? If your maths and physics knowledge is a bit rusty, brush up with our free book.
- Payment options? Does the training provider offer a payment plan or payment modules? Are there any loans or scholarships/bursaries available? (Never pay for the entire course up front!)
- Is there a training guarantee? Some providers offer remedial training at no extra cost should a student struggle with part of the training process. Ask what happens in the event of a student failing one or more phases of the course.
- How is ground school conducted? Theory education is an important part of flight training and, at some schools, can be an overlooked element of the course. But we know that having a sound base of theoretical knowledge makes you a better aviator. So get a feel for how the organisations you’re researching approach ground training. Ask what books and materials they use, whether teaching is in person, virtual or distance learning, and how much time is devoted to it? We recommend choosing a Padpilot ground school partner in excellence.
- What are the student-to-instructor ratios? Find out how many students will be in each ground school class and what the student: flight instructor ratio is. Ask if you’ll always fly with the same instructor. Being in smaller classes makes asking questions easier, and flying with the same person helps with continuity and progress.
- How about the fleet and facilities? Compare the training aircraft and facilities at each of the flight schools you’re considering. What’s the safety record like? Be aware that more modern equipment doesn’t necessarily mean better training, but newer aircraft may be more reliable, comfortable and fitted with up to date technology. Check out the classrooms, common areas and accommodation too. Are they well maintained and welcoming?
- Is there an on-site maintenance department? Some schools have on-site mechanics which means that aircraft are checked and repaired more quickly, reducing time spent waiting for an aircraft to become available to fly.
- What are the pass rates? What are the ground school pass rates and average exam scores? And ask about first-time passes for the commercial pilot licence and instrument rating skills test. Some airline recruiters will be looking for high ATPL exam marks and first-time skills test passes.
- What career preparation is offered? In order to apply for your first airline role, you’ll need a CPL/MEIR plus APS MCC (commercial pilot licence, multi engine instrument rating and an airline pilot standard multi-crew cooperation course). That’s quite a mouthful, so it’s commonly referred to as a ‘frozen’ ATPL. But many training providers also include some professional development alongside the regulatory training, in order to build soft skills and other competencies. Ask for the details on what and how this training is delivered.
- Where do graduates go on to? Ask if the school has any formal airline agreements, how long it takes graduates to find professional flying jobs and who they now fly for. Research what employment preparation and support are offered by the school. Is it part of the course or are students expected to do their own research?
- Location. Where you’re based can make a big difference to your flying training. For example, the UK has some of the world’s busiest airspace – which can be challenging to learn in – but is ultimately very useful experience. But warmer climes, where the weather is more favourable and reliable, means a new pilot can make faster progress. Also, consider also the school’s location in terms of lifestyle. You’ll be inside an aircraft or a classroom for much of your training programme, but you need to relax and have fun occasionally too!
Training to become a pilot is a challenging and exciting journey and it starts with finding the right training organisation for your own budget, location and preferences. Good luck!
Want more training advice? Check out the Student page. and browse Padpilot partner schools here. You can also find us on social media where we share news and updates from our training partners.