Choosing Your School and Career Path

 

In over 30 years of being involved in the flight training industry, it still amazes me that people still equate certain schools with certain airlines. Whenever I hear this my first question is, “How do you know which airline you are going to work for before you even begin your flight training?” Usually, they tell me that someone else told them who to work for or what to do.

You see, aviation is a dynamic and ever-changing industry with greater opportunities in more diverse areas than perhaps any other industry. The problem is that when most people talk about becoming a pilot they immediately think of the airlines. Most of the time this is because they simply don’t understand our industry or the vast amount of opportunities available.

AOPA recently published its Report on General Aviation which shows that over “65% of general aviation flights are conducted for business and public services that need transportation which is more flexible than the airlines.” This goes on to report that more than 90% of the roughly 220,000 civil aircraft registered in the U.S. are general aviation aircraft. 

What does this mean to you, the aspiring pilot? This means that there are more opportunities available to you than you probably realize. So if you’re not aware of the opportunities, why would you want to commit to a position right now? The answer is, you shouldn’t.

As with many things in life, you need to begin the journey and look for different opportunities along the way. You will find that the airlines make up only a small and narrow path of this journey. When you begin to understand and factor in all of the uses for general aviation aircraft, you find a tenfold increase in opportunity, fulfillment, contentment and long-term career success. 

Your flight training experience should be focused on learning how to fly, how to understand aircraft systems and performance and most importantly, how to become the best all-around pilot possible. Determining which school to attend should be more about quality of education than cheap hourly rates. Let’s remind ourselves of the famous quote, “You get what you pay for”. This is especially true in aviation. The quality of your primary flight training will determine your long-term success. Remember, what works for someone else may not work for you. Do you need a program that allows you to work at your own pace or do you want to go through your training with a group in an academy style setting? 

Don’t fall for the old advertising tricks of “we guarantee interviews” or “we guarantee you a job if you go to this school.” Think about it, how can anyone guarantee you anything before you even begin flying? Do you really want to go to a school where the instructors are there because they were guaranteed a job? I hope not. 

Pick any aviation jobs board and look at the opportunities. Aviation can take you anywhere in the world. Let your imagination run wild and you will most likely find a pilot job to go along with your dream. The beautiful thing about our industry is that you can take multiple paths without long term commitments. By keeping an open mind and taking opportunities as they present themselves, you will begin to experience the best of what this industry has to offer. Remember, airline pilots make up only a small percentage of professional pilots. You owe it to yourself to see why so many more pilots take non-airline jobs than those who become airline pilots. Once you are aware of all the options available, then you can decide which path to take.

How do you know how to pick the right school? There are several factors to consider when picking a school. While the price is important, it should not be the first consideration. Let’s look at the individual components that should be considered when picking a school.

When visiting a school make sure that you speak with the students. Are they happy and motivated? 

Speak with the instructors. Are they serious and professional or immature and happy-go-lucky? Do they look the role and take it seriously or are they wearing shorts and flip-flops?

 

Will you be learning from an instructor on the ground or placed in front of a computer to learn for yourself? Many schools do this to keep the cost down. The problem is that in doing so you won’t realize how much you are missing until it’s too late. These types of programs usually only provide you with just enough information to pass a check ride and nothing more.

Every school will have airplanes and, unless you are a mechanic, it is difficult to determine the quality of those aircraft. However, take a step back and look at the fleet. Are the airplanes similar and presentable? The ideal fleet should consist of a mixture of both round dial and glass avionics. If your training is conducted using both types of aircraft. you will become a much stronger pilot.

Does the school use flight simulators to augment the training that you do in an airplane? This is essential to a successful program. A quality school will believe in teaching the information in a classroom, introducing and practicing it in a simulator, and then perfecting it in the airplane. 

You will also need to determine if you will have the support that you need should a problem or concern arise with your training. An easy way to determine this is to take a look at the schools’ refund policy. If you are unhappy with your training you should not be penalized. A quality school will refund 100% of your unused tuition. No penalties or fees should be applied. 

Safety should also be considered when selecting a school. Does the school have an active safety program that is also proactive in its purpose? How is the training of new instructors conducted? Does the school have a continuing education and development program for its instructors? Does the school have a program to evaluate incidents that may occur to prevent them from occurring again in the future? If so, how? Does the school have a plan to identify weak areas in a student’s progression before they become an issue? If so, how does that work?

As you can see, there is much more to planning out your career than you may have anticipated. We hope that this article provokes you to keep your options open and ask more meaningful questions about the school that you are considering.