How to choose a flight school for your PPL
The most crucial factor in a pilot’s success is where and how they get their training. There are many factors that determine what flight school is best for you. Any beginning pilot who intends to make a career out of it or is very serious about flying will want to start their flight training with the private pilot’s license. Choosing the right school can make all the difference in whether you finish your PPL and how much time and money you spend on it.
Before going to flight school, note that many people will not be able to pass the medical requirements to become a pilot. I strongly recommend that all prospective pilots get the medical exam for their target license, so if you want to be an airline pilot, get a first class medical certificate. Commercial pilots need the second class certificate and private pilots need a third class. Getting your certificate early will let you know if you have any medical conditions that might prevent you from getting your pilot’s license.
Aviation colleges are primarily intended for people who are focused on flying eventually for a major airline. While they are a good fit for some people, you should avoid these kind of schools unless that is your dream because they can be very expensive and there is no guarantee of employment in the piloting industry.
Every branch of the U.S. Military has pilot training programs and this is another good option if you want to become an airline pilot. Keep in mind that this option requires a bachelor’s degree in most cases, because pilots are commissioned officers. There are many stories of people who were told they can apply for the pilot program by a dishonest recruiter only to find out later that they are ineligible because they don’t have a degree. The one exception is that in the army, there is a warrant officer program for pilots so it is possible to fly army helicopters joining with a high school diploma.
Fixed Base Operators
FBOs are businesses based usually on small airports that provide many services, usually including flight training. FBOs have the advantage of being the easiest to find and are the most common flight schools that pilots use. AOPA has a great tool to find flight schools in the U.S. based on your location.
It is possible to find a certified flight instructor who is unaffiliated with any flight school. This is a perfectly valid method provided their certifications are all current and has the potential to be a bit cheaper than the other options, but your training can suffer due to scheduling or maintenance problems because a single pilot will have fewer options for planes etc. than an official flight school.
Flight schools are designated part 61 or part 141 by the FAA. The differences are minor and will not make a significant difference for private pilot license. We will come back to the differences in commercial license, where they can affect your training more substantially.
Ground school is a vital part of any flight training and a large enough flight school will have ground school courses that are offered in an actual classroom. The FAA allows home study and online courses, but your flight instructor will have to approve your ground instruction and sign off that you are ready to take the knowledge test.