Selecting the Right Flying School

The spectrum ranges from larger entities based at bustling regional airports to smaller establishments operating from grassy airfields. The question is, how do you determine the perfect fit for you?

The school you select will inevitably become your second home during your training, so the travel time to and from the school plays a pivotal role. Most flying lessons span one to two hours, including pre-and post-flight briefing. When you account for, say, an hour’s drive each way to the airfield, you’re potentially looking at half a day committed to each lesson, which could test your dedication.

Moreover, the UK’s weather is famously unpredictable. Occasionally, you arrive at the airfield only to discover non-flying weather conditions. Although this time can be utilised to pore over theoretical knowledge books or practice radio calls, you may often find yourself driving home. To counter this, some flight schools have invested in flight simulators, offering a cost-effective solution to practise procedures such as radio navigation during unfavourable weather.

Choosing between a sizeable airport-based school or a smaller airfield-based establishment is a critical consideration. Each offers its unique advantages and drawbacks. The larger airport will acquaint you with radio calls, procedures, and interactions with air traffic control due to likely controlled airspace. Such larger schools are also likely to provide a more extensive array of aircraft and instructors, offering flexibility. However, these schools tend to focus on progressing pilots through their training, often at the expense of a social atmosphere, which smaller airfield clubs might foster.

Smaller airfields, being less bustling than larger airports, ensure that your investment goes towards airtime rather than queueing. Spend some time observing the comings and goings of aircraft at the airfield to gauge the time it takes to get airborne.

It’s worth noting that flying schools also use other airfields in their vicinity to diversify your experience and circumvent potential restrictions on circuit training at larger airports.

Regardless of the school you select, exercise caution when considering paying a substantial portion of your training fees upfront. While this may entitle you to a slight discount, there have been instances of flying schools closing down, causing students to lose their paid fees. In the rare case that you might not gel with the club or school and choose to shift elsewhere, ensure all your paperwork is up-to-date and accessible. When it’s time for the CAA to issue your licence, they must review your training records.

Whichever school you opt for, a regular lesson schedule with as short a gap as possible between each – ideally no more than a week – can facilitate smoother progress. Remember, learning to fly should be a thrilling journey, and if you’re not enjoying the experience, don’t hesitate to find another school that suits you better.

For a PPL(A), a minimum of 45 flying hours is mandatory, with up to five hours allowable on an approved flight simulator. Don’t be disconcerted if you exceed 45 hours – most people do, and it won’t impact your Skill Test negatively.

Initially designed for full-time, funded military pilots, the pilot training syllabus may prove challenging for civilians learning in their spare time. Hence, it’s recommended to budget for around 55 hours. The course comprises a minimum of 25 hours of dual instruction and 10 hours of supervised solo flight time.

Solo flying includes a cross-country flight of at least 150nm, necessitating two landings at different aerodromes away from your home airfield. The minimum of 25 hours of dual instruction will mainly take place in your local training area, broken down into set exercises including:

Selecting a flying school

Theoretical Knowledge Acquisition

Simultaneously, you’ll navigate the Theoretical Knowledge portion in ground school. To aid in this, you’ll require the appropriate textbooks, readily available individually or in sets from pilot shops, as well as on DVDs or online platforms. It’s crucial to ensure that the textbooks you utilise are up-to-date, as changes occur regularly.

The PPL(A) necessitates the successful completion of nine exams. As of 2021, these exams transitioned to an online format.

To increase your chances of passing the exams on your first attempt, meticulous preparation is key. Books containing typical exam questions are accessible and can help you pinpoint frequently examined areas, boosting your confidence.

Preparation and Skill Test

Flying lessons are a considerable investment, so optimising your funds is crucial. Aim to fly at least once a week during your training to avoid lagging.

Maintaining structure and organisation throughout your training is vital. Familiarise yourself with the upcoming lesson’s content, study the relevant textbook sections, and arrive prepared for the session. Arrive early, notify your instructor of your presence and ensure you receive a pre-flight briefing.

Pooleys publishes valuable guides that aid in tracking the various exercises in the syllabus and your preparation. These guides also have space to document your lesson experience and the areas requiring further practice, serving as an effective self-monitoring tool.

Use your spare time to rehearse checklists, particularly those applicable in-flight, such as the en route and downwind checks, until they become instinctive. Practice radio calls and attempt to visualise the probable scenarios when you make them.

Ground procedures, such as the overhead join, can be practised by visualising and walking around as if you were in the air (don’t fret about looking silly – even aerobatic pilots perform this before a flight to cement the routine in their minds).

Such unpaid ground preparation will ensure you reap the maximum benefit from your costly in-air time.

The ultimate goal of the PPL training course is to pass the Skill Test, a rigorous flight with an examiner you’ve never flown with before.

Before your flying school registers you for the Skill Test, you’ll have completed the whole flying and ground school syllabus, passed all exams, and adequately practised all elements. The examiner will scrutinise every aspect of your flying, from flight planning, navigation, diversion, aircraft handling, and various landing types. While it may seem intimidating, your instructor wouldn’t have recommended you if they weren’t confident in your ability.

Pass the Skill Test, and congratulations, you are now a pilot!

Ready to take to the sky?

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