Some background on flight schools.. and how I arrived at my choice
Some of you have asked me to share my experiences with you regarding my flight school and how I was able to narrow down my choice in the end.
But first some background. My folks drove up from the coast in March this year and we started talking about my dream of becoming a pilot, again. At this stage I had pretty much given up on the SAA/SAAF cadet pilot programs because I was now already older than 25. I knew in my heart that I would jump at the opportunity if given half the chance. In reality I was terrified!! I had a good job, a very comfortable life for a 25 year old and the prospect of resigning and taking up flying full time scared me a little bit. Don’t get me wrong all I want to do is fly, but once one has become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, the thought of perhaps having to have to give that all up would scare anyone.
I was not scared of the end goal but rather of the journey to get there. Being a typical engineer I needed the mathematical proof that I would have a good commercial pilot job once I completed my CPL. This is of course not a given at all in the industry. This is what I was scared of, I am completely risk averse!
One month later, almost to the day I signed up for flight training at FTS. I realized that if I didn’t take the leap right then and there I would never to it and regret my choice for the rest of my life!
Obviously a complete analytical study would have to be taken before I decided on a specific school. I poured over data that I sourced from the web, I spoke to numerous pilots, I did everything I could think of. This way I would have peace of mind in the decision that I ultimately made.
Midway through my investigation I realized that I would be able to still work full time and do the PPL, at least, after hours. Being a financial burden to anyone was not my idea of the independent lifestyle that I had built up thus far. I visited 43rd air school in the Eastern Cape and was impressed; however, I would not be able to work if I decided to re-locate there for a year or more! Plus they are VERY VERY Expensive. You do have the advantage of living in an aviation community but the price put me off but the location even more. In the end, when you are sitting in front of the chief pilot and HR manager, they don’t factor in the choice of school you chose, they are more concerned with the TYPE of experience you have built up.
Don’t get me wrong, if I had a sponsor that would cover all the costs I would gladly join 43rd. At this moment in my life, they are just not what I am looking for.
Everything happened quite fast, naturally, plus I had a full time job as well. I was quite impressed with FTS (Flight Training Services) in Midrand and they beat all the other schools I was looking at in the following criteria: Price, IFR traffic at base airport, number of instructors vs full time students vs planes available, location w.r.t. weather, distance from home, interactions. Now there are of course things one notices once you start flying at the school which could sway you a little bit in favor of another competing school. But I regarded this as perfect information; I was not privy to this before I started.
Some of the things I was looking for in the various criteria were:
Price: They had to be affordable, I was looking for, in particular, no landing fees, no approach or circuit fees. I wanted overall value for money.
IFR: It would be awesome to have a Kulula 737 waiting for me to take off first at Lanseria but IFR traffic is given preference, ALWAYS! Long taxi times to the active runway, delays due to IFR traffic is not something I wanted to pay for. Believe me, you will pay for it by sitting on the ground while your prop spins and chows up the cash.
Number of instructors vs students: This is obvious, the ratio should always be in the favour of a prospective student otherwise you will forever battle to get slots.
Location and weather: Fog and mist is horrible for a VFR pilot in training.
Distance: Closest to home of course.
There were many other criteria of course, each to which I assigned a certain weight of importance. I used the AHP (Analytical Hierarchy Process) to determine the school with the most overall weight. The choice in the end also utilized a whole lot of gut feel! And of course the VERY FIRST THING you do is check with the CAA that the school is actually registered with them. That is obvious right?? I just had to say that since some families lost quite a bit of money due to lack of due diligence.
To sum up, I am quite happy with my choice. No school is perfect at all but if you can see them actively involved with the running of their business it does give you hope that you have made the right choice. Let’s hope so…