There are many factors to be considered, and ultimately your choice of school will be influenced by personal preference and your selected training route. You should take into account the type of course on offer, aircraft types used, location of school, whether all training can be accomplished in the UK, cost issues, and very importantly, the overall feeling of the school or Flight Training Organisation (FTO).
Try not to be overwhelmed by excellent marketing, sparkling facilities or the promise of flying modern aircraft. There is no point in flying wonderful aircraft if the instructors are poor or the aircraft type is temperamental, resulting in excessive downtime with maintenance work leaving you on the ground unable to fly.
Always visit a school before signing up to any course. When on the tour, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Try to dig beneath the surface of the glossy marketing, and get an idea of how the other students are really feeling.
If you are lucky enough to secure some form of sponsored training, generally there will be no choice of FTO as the airline will probably have struck a deal with the approved training organisation they feel best meet their needs.
The fleet of aircraft used by the FTO is very important; one thing to consider is the number of different types you will have to fly during training. If there are many, coping with the differences can put more pressure on you when you least need it.
At some point you will have to convert to a twin-engined aircraft, and some FTOs employ aircraft types that are almost identical inside to the single you will have been flying. The nearidentical cockpit layouts will make the transition easier.
Note the age and state of the aircraft. Are they falling to pieces or in good repair?
Sit it in one, and look around the cockpit. Is everything working? Are they offering glass cockpit or standard instrument-based layouts? Don’t be swayed simply because an FTO has an all-glass cockpit fleet. It might be nice to have, but it makes no difference to your chances of being recruited by an airline. Having a glass cockpit does ease the training process and allows for smoother conversion between types, but it should be only one of many factors bearing on your choice of school.
Try to get a feeling for how the instructors operate. Do they seem nice people?
Do they have a student-centred approach, do they understand different learning styles and invest in the students and their training? Flying training is hard and you will make mistakes. The way in which the instructors deal with your mistakes is important; some instructors shout, some are reassuring and comforting.
Generally the latter type is preferred by most students, though some respond well to the shouting approach. You will not generally be invited to fly with an instructor when visiting an FTO, so ask the students how the instructors behave in the air and decide whether that’s the way you wish to be taught.
Overall, when visiting the FTO trust your gut feeling; if it doesn’t feel right for whatever reason, do not sign up. There are plenty of FTOs to choose from; finding the one that best suits your needs and personality calls for a methodical and meticulous approach.
Some key questions to ask when choosing a training school are:
1. Does the school require payment for all training up front?
Try to avoid this, but if it is unavoidable, be very careful about the refund policy and ensure that you pay by credit card so if the company goes into liquidation you are protected.
2. Are they a financially sound business?
Thoroughly research the school including checking their financial accounts on Companies House. We have sadly seen the collapse of several FTOs and this has left students displaced and out of pocket for large amounts of money.
3. Does the school give a breakdown of costs for each element?
If not, and you decide to leave or have problems with your training, getting an appropriate refund may be very difficult as it will be hard to ascertain the costs incurred. A school that is transparent with its scale of charges should be preferred.
4. Does the school quote minimum hours for training? (most do).
Realistically, many students do not complete each course on minimum hours; you can expect to fly approximately 10% over quoted hours, although it can be considerably more. This is often the case when completing modules during winter months in the UK due to weather delays. Lack of currency can cause significant progress delays and incur extra cost and delay. Find out the rates for overruns as they can be more than the rate offered in the course.
5. Find out exactly what costs are included in the course quotation or marketing material.
Most schools do not include costs for accommodation, travel to overseas training facilities, visas, examination entry fees, flight test fees, rating and type endorsements on licence, medical etc. These can add several thousand pounds to training costs so you must be clear about what is and isn’t included.
Remember to include living costs for the duration of your training. Any delays, examination failures etc will add to accommodation and living costs.
6. Does the school have enough instructors to cater for the number of students?
You must ensure that there is capacity for you to fly every day, otherwise your costs will mount up.
7. Are the instructors full-time professionals or young students trying to build hours to join an airline?
The quality of instruction varies widely – wherever possible you should aim for the highest possible level of instruction.
8. Are there enough aircraft to cater for the number of students?
Again, if there is a shortfall or no standby aircraft (especially multi-engine) then training days can be lost, resulting in increased costs.
9. Does the school also have airline-sponsored students?
Whilst this is a good thing in terms of quality, airline students may have priority for flying and instructors, and many self-sponsored students can find themselves delayed while airline cadets are prioritised. Get written guarantees from the school about progression and resources.
10. Will your training be properly scheduled and managed by the school?
Make sure you will be under the care of a member of staff who will oversee your training or progress throughout.
11. What would happen in the event of a flight test or ground examination failure?
Find out how that might affect your training path, as some schools could require you to recourse – there may be a gap before you were able to resume training, and undertaking some unnecessary repetition of modules will cost time and money.
12. What assistance can a school give with employment?
Some schools may overstate their connections and airline programmes; do some thorough research and ask past and present students.
For courses that have an overseas element, find out if this is conducted on the same aircraft types.
Changing type will almost certainly increase training time and cost. Importantly, too, overseas instructors are often locally sourced and not of an equivalent UK standard, possibly unfamiliar with UK procedures and training standards. Ask questions of the school about this, so you are confident of the quality of instruction you will be receiving.
14. Find out what the school’s pass rate is for flight and ground examinations.
Also find out how many students find commercial pilot employment and in what time-frame (obviously this isn’t necessarily direct reflection on the school because it will be considerably influenced by market conditions at the time, but may be an indicator of whether the school is viewed favourably by airlines).
15. Ask the school about its ethos.
Many schools seem to forget that you are the customer and are paying them thousands of pounds for your training. You should demand the same level of service as you would expect when buying a car, a house, or making any major purchase.