Choice of school PDF Print E-mail

Which school to choose is a very personal matter and each school has its own characteristics. The advice and suggestions given below is of course mainly based on my own personal experiences. So where one school fit me, it might not fit you and vise-versa.

But there are things that tell you if a school has a certain level of quality. There are things you need to check out before choosing a school and going to an "Open House" event does not tell you much about the school. An "Open House" event is just like reading an ad from the school. And it's not just the number of aircrafts or so that tells you the level of quality, but also the "soft values" you should look for.

I have trained at 3 different schools, or FTO's as they are referred too, and visited more. One turned out not to be what was promised, the other two were. My experience showed me that one should, among different things, look for and do these things:

Examples of "some 40 questions":

  1. Is the school FAA and/or JAA approved and what courses are approved?
  2. Does your school have their own examinators?
  3. Do you have foreign students? What is the mix of nationalities?
  4. Accommodation. What is the price for staying and who pays for what utilities?
  5. What are the prices for your different courses and what is included?
  6. Are progressive flight checks given?
  7. What is the instructor-to-student ratio?
  8. Who schedules lessons and how is it done? Who is responsible for rescheduling lessons and reporting maintenance problems?
  9. What are the insurance requirements of the school and how does liability and collision policies work? How do student insurance policies work?
  10. What happens when weather or maintenance problems cancel a lesson?
  11. How many students do you have? How many attend the different courses?
  12. What backgrounds do your instructors have?
  13. If a student needs more study and education on the theory lessons, does that mean a higher price?
  14. What is the percentage of first time passes?
  15. What happens if a student does not pass an exam? Is there any additional cost for the student?
  16. Does the school have any agreements with operators or companies to hire your students after graduation? Are there any  jobs at the school for graduate students?
  17. What kind of Cross-Country flying is done? Do you fly to other countries/states and who will pay for overnight stays?
  18. What about a uniform? Is that required and who pays for that?
  19. Are there any additional expenses that are not included in the total price?
  20. How are student payments done during the course?
  21. Is there an additional expense to change instructors should I feel the need?
  22. Landing fees. Are there any fees demanded, also at foreign airports during Cross-Country trips?
  23. Off-site refueling and maintenance costs. If needed, who pays for fuel and maintenance at a foreign airport?
  24. What is the average age of the aircrafts?
  25. In what flying condition are the planes, graded 1-10, where 10 is the best similarly to a new aircraft?

This list is by no means final. This is just examples of my initial survey when I knew nothing about the business and is shown to give you an idea of what topics and questions you could ask about.

  • Get a copy of the FTO's approval (scanned or paper), issued from the authorities. The sheet(s) that shows what the FTO is actually approved to train for an issue.
  • Ask the FTO as many relevant questions as you want to. The more the better. Those who do not respond could give you the clue that they are not a proper place to invest your money in. I initially made a survey and asked different selected FTO's some 40 questions on emails (see examples in box) and compared the answers in a spread sheet.
  • Look for a period of time on different pilot forums on the Internet and search for topics concerning the FTO's you are looking at. Remember, forums consist of truths, rumors, lies, hidden commercials and gossip. Be critical and do not believe everything that is written, especially from anonymous profiles. There exists many true helpful people on the pilot forums, but also strange people, I-know-all-you-know-shit people and I-need-a-shrink people.
  • Visit the FTO's, get a first hand impression and peak around the corners and not just go along with the tour guide and see what is shown. Spend some time on the premises on your own and get a sense of the atmosphere of the daily run. Each FTO has their own culture and way to run things and where that culture fits well to one student, another may not like it. Consider that you will have to spend a long time on the premises so it is necessary for you to feel welcome and comfortable with the place.
  • Talk to the students attending the school and ask them questions, see where they live, tour the neighborhood and talk to them while there are no employees around or near them. That is important to make sure to get the most honest opinion.
  • Make your homework the information that you have read, heard and received about the FTO you are going to visit. Then while visiting the FTO, listen to the person showing you around. Many FTO's are straight forward and honest but I have certainly also caught representatives of FTO's in letting out a lot of bull !! - A LOT !! - Steer well clear of those FTO's, there are certainly some black sheep's in this business. Remember that the FTO's are in it for the business and they want to make a profit of your money. Some schools are just more honest than others.


Size of the school:

Another aspect of choosing the right FTO for you is the size of the school. As they say, size does matter - or does it ..

I have tried a small (1-5 aircrafts), medium (10-20 aircrafts) and a large (40-50 aircrafts) FTO. Some say that the larger the FTO, the higher the chance is of feeling "just-being-a-number" instead of being an individual at a smaller FTO. And there can be some truth to that.  But I felt as welcome and spoken to as an individual at the large FTO as I did at the small one. At the medium FTO we were all just a number. My conclusion must be that it all depends on how the management runs the business.

Another saying is that the larger the fleet is, the better the chance is for flying. The smaller, the higher the chance is of being cancelled due to maintenance or so. My experience showed me that I got cancelled as many or few times at the small FTO as I did at the large one due to maintenance or weather reasons. So the number of available aircrafts did not change anything significantly. And notice I wrote "available" aircrafts. It is important to know how many of the total fleet in general terms is available to fly on a daily basis. Aircraft that are grounded, or the number of aircraft that are in for general maintenance, will affect the availability.

Billund AirCenter Robinson 22 Beta II

I experienced that it is a lot more important to know how close the maintenance facilities are to the FTO, does the FTO have an agreement with the maintenance facility for quick assistance in case of a sudden failure or question during your walk-around, or maybe the FTO does the maintenance themselves. It is also a lot more important to know how loaded the aircraft are. Do they just fly 2-3 times a day or do they fly around all day, and are thereby occupied all day? This is good information to know in case you need to be rescheduled due to maintenance, weather or other reasons.


Bottom line:

In short: Choosing a pilot school is like buying a second-hand car. Just as there are hundreds of car models to choose from with a large variation of quality, condition and facilities, the same thing goes with the pilot school.

So the question is: Do you know of any used car dealer, whom is a stranger to you, that you can trust 100% ?? - I do not, never heard about such thing. If you do, I tend to believe that you are having a blond moment. Be critical and be objective.

Hopefully the mentioned advice, suggestions and thoughts can help you to sort out the good FTO's from the bad ones. If this website has made you start thinking of all these things I have brought up, not necessarily agreeing with me, but made you think about them and feeling the need to look into it further, it has done its’ purpose.


Loss Of License/Training:

One last thing is a smaller, but important issue, the LOL.



FTO: Flying/Flight Training Organisation is the avionic term for a pilot school approved by the authorities to train and issue certificates and ratings according to their approvals from the authorities. Walk-around: A walk-around is a task where you walk around the aircraft you are going to fly to check out if it is airworthy according to a checklist, that is you can approve it is ready and safe to fly. LOL: Loss Of License (or Loss Of Training while under education), is an insurance that depending on its terms cover your expenses you have had during your pilot education if your medical certificate has been withdrawn permanently. Or if working as a pilot it will on its agreed terms pay out a certain amount of money in certain installments.