Choosing a Flight School: Questions you should ask

There are many people who look up to the sky every time an airplane flies over, and when you finally give in to this desire to fly, the next questions to be answered are “Where do I learn?” and “How much does it cost to learn to fly?” These are very serious questions and should not be considered lightly. Once you decide to learn how to fly, not only will it change you as a person because now you will be able to fly an aircraft, it will also cost a lot of money.

The question of “how much does it cost to learn to fly?” at first seems like a simple question but it could give you a variety of answers. You may find out what the hourly cost for the aircraft is. You may find out what the specific cost for a licence is (for example: $7894). You may also find out what the entire cost from Private all the way to Commercial IFR is. With these answers, the price quotes you get from different schools will vary greatly. Although all of these answers are essentially “correct”, it is better to ask more specific questions. This way, whomever you speak to does not mislead you from a vague question to a vague answer—even if they do not mean to do to this.

When you initially make contact with a prospective school and are inquiring about training, whomever you are speaking with should ask you what kind of training you are looking. This way they can customize their answer. For example, if you are looking into flying for fun, there would be two options for—not just one. You could go with either the Recreational Pilot Permit or the Private Pilot Licence. At this point, you would be wondering what the difference is so that would be what you would want to ask next. If you tell the person you want to pursue this as a career, then they will guide you in the most efficient way of accomplishing that. Once this has been established, then you can ask your questions. Here are questions that you should ask to find out about your prospective school:

How much does it cost for (Recreational, Private, Commercial, Multi, IFR, Instructor) training?

If you ask this question, you will likely be quoted the base cost. The representative of the school should then mention that this cost is based on the Transport Canada (the licencing body for Aviation in Canada) minimum hours and that all students will vary in the time that it takes to complete the training. As a result, it will likely cost more then this quoted price. You should also find out what type of aircraft this is on and if there is a cost difference between each type. A better way to word this question to avoid any confusion may be to ask “I would like to learn how to fly. What are the costs involved with that?”

What is included in the cost (hourly and for the licence)?

This question could change the amount that you pay considerably. For an hourly quoted price, does it include the instructor, headset, insurance, fuel, tax, when does this charge begin (from the time first meeting with the instructor or when the engine start)? For the entire licence, does that include medical exams, licencing fees, exam (ground and air) fees, books, ground school, accommodations, tax, landing fees? All of these could increase your cost considerably if they are not mentioned initially, so you will come in thinking it will be cheap and then you pay a lot at the end because of these “hidden fees”.

What are the differences between Instructors and is this reflected in the cost?

In Canada, there are 4 Classes of instructor which will be briefly outlined here:

• Class 1: This is the highest level of instructor. A Class 1 instructor is a Supervising Instructor who not only train people to be pilots, but can also train people who wish to become instructors. To become a Class 1 you have to have 750 hours of instructing time, pass a written and a flight test to the Class 1 Standard.

• Class 2: This is also a Supervising Instructor. To become a Class 2 there is again a written and Flight test to be passed along with having completed 500 hours of instructing.

• Class 3: An instructor becomes a Class 3 after having completed all requirements from Transport Canada while they are a Class 4 instructor which include a specific number of students who have gone solo and successfully passed flight tests, along with 100 hours (in most cases have done more) of instructing.

• Class 4: This is the most novice of instructors, having recently completed their training with a Class 1, and successfully passed the written and flight tests. They are under direct supervision of a Class 1 or 2 instructor and cannot send anyone solo or on a flight test without the approval or a Class 1 or 2.

All instructors are accountable to the Chief Flight Instructor (CFI), who has been deemed suitable to fill the position by Transport Canada. The biggest difference between instructors of differing classes is experience. While you may fly with a newer instructor, a good instructor will ask questions of a more experienced instructor so that you, the student, will not be affected by their inexperience as compared to a more experienced instructor.

When you are questioning about instructors, find out if there’s a price difference between each Class. Some schools may charge differently for each class or have a different way of paying their instructors. For example, perhaps some are on a salary while others are based on hours that are flown. This could change how you are being trained because if someone is only getting paid by the hour, then there might be a desire on the instructor’s part to have you fly more with them so that they can make more money. Sadly this is a reality in some schools. This is something you should consider. If a school has a very good student population, then the instructors are not as worried about the next pay-cheque, whereas schools that do not have a good student population may have a lot of competition over who gets the next student. It may also be prudent to find out what the instructor’s relationships with each other are. Generally, people who get along with one another will work better together.

What type of airport is the school at?

For those with no prior knowledge of much in aviation, if the representative you are talking to doesn’t describe the differences of airports, it could leave confused. Be sure that they tell you what this means. In Canada, we have controlled and uncontrolled airports. Controlled airports have a tower or someone on the ground that is telling you what to do, or directing you in someway. Uncontrolled means that there is no one on the ground, so it is up to you—the pilot—to determine the best course of actions while you are flying. Controlled airports are generally busier—with not only commercial traffic but general aviation (ex. Flight training), and several runways. The priority in these airports is the commercial traffic, flight training is secondary. Uncontrolled airports are generally less busy and normally only have 1 or 2 runways, but if you are at an airport where the school owns the runway, then the training aircraft have priority.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both learning environments. Learning in control means that you get used talking to the tower, which if you pursue a career in commercial aviation, you will be doing 99% of the time. It also offers the advantage of multiple runways so potentially more flying days because you will be less affected by the wind. Some disadvantages are longer taxi times because of the larger aircraft (and when you’re paying by the hour and you have to taxi 15 minutes every time, that adds up), and the practice area is not very close to the airport. If the practice area is farther away from the airport, then time will have to be spent each flight going to and from there which will take away time to work on other skills. A good instructor will use this time to their advantage to see that it is not wasted thereby making this “disadvantage” less of one.

For uncontrolled airports, some advantages are learning without the benefit of control where you have make decisions based on what you know with out any assistance from someone else. The practice area may also be very close to the airport so there is less time spent commuting. The flight training aircraft also have priority so there’s not as much waiting, and the taxi times would be shorter because the airport would be smaller. In Canada, about 98% of airports are uncontrolled. While all the major city will have a controlled airport, a great number of smaller cities and towns have their own airport that are uncontrolled. You would also learn in more adverse wind conditions because you don’t have the other runway options. This is also a disadvantage because if the wind is beyond the design limit and pilot ability, then you would not be able to fly. Another disadvantage may be that the airport is not close to a controlled airport so learning in that environment would take time to get to. If there’s an airport that’s uncontrolled but close to a controlled airport, then training in both would be easier, less time consuming, and ultimately less expensive.