How do I pick the right flight school?

Choosing a top-rated flight school that will fit your needs is not as difficult as most people think, but it does warrant some thoughtful consideration and a little bit of research. It’s mainly about impressions and using your common sense; in other words “trust your gut.” Look around and become an educated consumer.

A. The Atmosphere. First impressions are usually accurate. Does the school make you feel welcome, as if you’ve been invited into their home? Do they sit down with you and listen to what you want, answer your questions, explain their training program, and show you their school? Or do they just hand you a price sheet and critique the competition? If it feels like they are too big and antiseptic, or too small and disorganized, or simply disinterested, it won’t get any better and it’s best to move on. If the atmosphere is active, lively and fun, and you feel like you’ve found a school that can make your dream of flying come true, then take the next step.

B. The Aircraft. Does the school representative offer to show you their aircraft? You don’t have to be an aviation expert to assess a plane. Are they clean? Do they look fairly new? Do they give you the impression that they are well-maintained? It’s easy for a school to tell you their aircraft are well-maintained, but if they don’t look like it, they probably aren’t. In other words, does the airplane look like a vehicle you would buy if it were a car? Most people like to buy cars that are both clean and mechanically sound. You and your fellow renting pilots will treat good-looking planes better than an older model which shows wear and tear

C. The Flight Instructor. One of the best ways to gauge the quality of a flight school is their instructor staff. Ask to speak with one of their instructors. Does she/he look and act like a professional? Remember, you’re putting your life in his/her hands. Learning to fly is as much an emotional experience as it is technical. You want it to be enjoyable. The instructor you speak with should not only project themselves as knowledgeable and eager to answer your questions, but they should also come across as someone who listens and is sincerely interested in learning about your flying goals and dreams. Beware of instructors who only seem to be interested in telling you how great their program is and ‘bad-mouthing’ other schools. They should also be able to answer questions about insurance, scheduling, and general questions about the school. Finally, does the instructor seem like a person you would like to spend time with? After all, you will be spending quite a bit of time together.

D. The Training Curriculum. Does the school use and follow a standardized, nationally-known curriculum, or computer-based course (like Cessna Pilot Center , King Schools, Jeppesen, etc.)? Does the school representative or flight instructor sound organized when they talk about training you? When it comes to flight training, a ‘shoot from the hip’ approach is usually a disorganized course, and ultimately more costly. Most quality schools believe in “continuity in training” and will match you with the same instructor throughout your course. An organized program of periodic stage checks will give you the opportunity to fly with other more senior check instructors or the Chief Flight Instructor. If the school doesn’t really care which instructor you fly with, they most likely are not particularly organized and the training quality will not be up to the standards you want.

E. Community Investment. Does the school actively promote and sponsor aviation events for the community? Do they invest time and money in staying informed on local and national trends, as well as innovations in aviation technology? Your flying experience will be a richer experience if you select a flight school which strives to build an aviation community, rather than just crank students through a rating. You will become better exposed to other pilots, flying activities, and learning opportunities.

F. References. There is one last check you can make; talk to a current or former student. The school should be happy to connect you with one of theirs. If all the above checks out, then you’ve found a good school, and it’s now time to think about learning to fly.

Remember, you are learning to fly to fulfill a dream that you’ve probably had for a long time. You want to enjoy the training process and have fond memories of all of the “firsts” that you’ll be experiencing: first lesson, first solo, first solo cross-country, first FAA check ride, first pilot certificate and finally your first passenger to fly with you as a licensed pilot. Therefore, the best way to enjoy your flight training is to not be hard on yourself during training. Ask your instructor lots of questions and don’t be afraid to make mistakes – that’s how we learn. Your instructor will make sure all of your learning errors will be under the safety of his/her watchful eye. So, enjoy the ride

3. How often should I fly?

With any organized curriculum, you’ll learn the fastest by flying as often as possible. A recommended minimum is no less than once per week. Two lessons each week will most likely allow you to be ready for your final FAA flight check after about 55 to 65 hours of flying time. For every hour of flight training you should plan on an additional two hours of study and preparation. The important thing to remember is to pace your flight training in a way that fits your personal schedule, and don’t worry too much about how many lessons it will require. It’s the end result that’s important – a safe, competent pilot who had a great time learning to fly.

4. What does it take to get a pilot’s license?

First off, it’s technically called a “certificate,” not a license, but the FAA Minimum Requirements are as follows:

Private Pilot Sport Pilot
40 hours of flight time, including: 20 hours of flight time, including:

• At least 20 hours of dual flight instruction, including:

• 15 hours of dual flight instruction

◦ 3 hours instrument training

• 5 hours solo flight in a sport category aircraft

◦ 3 hours night training

Valid driver’s license

• At least 10 hours of solo flight

FAA written exam
FAA Third Class medical certificate prior to solo FAA flight test at completion of training
FAA written exam (score 70% or better)
FAA flight test at completion of training


5. How much does it cost?

Flight training is a very individualized endeavor; the time and cost depends a lot on the student’s background, experience, and level of commitment. We currently quote an “average” cost of about $7,500 to earn a Sport Pilot Certificate or $12,000 for someone to earn a Private Pilot Certificate. We’ve had students recently complete their training for somewhat less than that, but we’ve also had students who found that it required somewhat more than the average investment of time and money.

We’d be happy to sit down with any potential student to discuss our training program and their goals in becoming a pilot. Please give us a call at (970) 254-0444 and we can set up an appointment to talk in person.

6. How do I pay for flight training?

Learning to fly is one of the least expensive “lifetime” investments you’ll ever make. Similar to purchasing real estate, the cost of flight training may be tax-deductible if you continue your training and choose aviation as a second or part-time career. Whether you stop after obtaining your Private Pilot certificate or continue to advanced licenses, your pilot certificate will last for the rest of your life.

Payment for flight training is very flexible; most often it’s “pay as you go.” Ask your flight school about financial aid options , as some are made available specifically to pilots.

If you’re interested in obtaining a college degree, there are numerous university programs available , many of which are affiliated with local flight schools in your area. An increasing number of these schools also offer online aviation degree programs.

Most lessons will be about 2 to 2½ hours in duration; dual instruction lessons will charge for the aircraft hourly rental (when the engine is running) plus the flight instructor hourly fee; during solo flights, students are only charged for the aircraft hourly rental time

As with most things, cheaper alternatives exist. There are freelance instructors who operate outside the flight school environment using their own aircraft for flight instruction. Should you decide to go this route, get informed. A few questions to ask: does their insurance cover you? are they meeting the minimum standards set forth by the airport authority? are they up-to-date with the latest teaching techniques and the latest in aircraft technology? The answer is typically “no.” Because professional flight schools offer a specific curriculum with scheduled progress checks to ensure your training is advancing as it should, this is usually the best way to complete your training with the least overall cost.

7. Are there some helpful resources for student pilots?

Finding an experienced pilot to be a mentor during your training process is a great resource and support – and it’s free. An excellent way to find a mentor is to ask your chosen flight school to connect you with someone. Get to know other pilots and students who fly in the same airplanes and with the same instructors you do, and attend classes and seminars when they come to your area. They can tell you what worked for them and what didn’t, and they will also remind you not to worry when you run into the inevitable temporary ‘slump’ during your training.

Another great option is to join organizations that offer a wide range of resources and information. Organizations such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) are one of the best deals you’ll find. AOPA, specifically, has a wealth of information for all aviation experience levels, from the new student pilot to the seasoned airline transport pilot. AOPA has an excellent magazine designed for the student pilot called “AOPA Flight Training.” Your flight instructor should be able to get you a free trial subscription.

8. What can I do after getting my certificate?

The private pilot certificate, which allows you to take friends and family flying, does not have to be a stopping point. Although some pilots fly quite happily and safely with a Private Pilot certificate, many pilots opt to evolve to the next step in aviation by pursuing additional certificates and ratings. Although many types of flying will broaden your experience and help you get more enjoyment out of aviation, there is a pretty standard set of advanced ratings that virtually all would-be professional pilots pass through on their way to a flying career. Less glamorous than, say, seaplane flying or aerobatics, these ratings can’t be surpassed for increasing the utility and versatility of your flying. Even if you intend to fly only for fun, you may well decide to go after a rating in what is called “The Basic Four”: Instrument Rating, Multi-engine Rating, Commercial Certificate, and Certificated Flight Instructor.