Learning to fly can be one of life’s most rewarding adventures. The freedom of moving in three dimensions is not only fun but can lead to interesting career and travel opportunities. To take advantage of aviation’s rewards, you must make sure you get the good, solid information and aviation training that you’ll need to be a safe, confident pilot in the air. One of the most important steps in that process is finding the right flying school.

Without any aviation experience on which to base your decision, selecting a good flight school can be a formidable task. Aviation is procedural and not well suited to impatience. Whether you’re flying an airplane or picking a school, making rash, hurried decisions can have negative consequences. Checklists are an aviation mainstay that ensure all procedures are accomplished and, therefore, make for safe flights. This same procedure can be applied to selecting a good flying school.

Learning to fly: How to determine what aviation training you need and want

At the beginning of your flying school research, it helps if you have a general idea of what you want from aviation. Why do you want to learn to fly? What is your ultimate, long-term aviation goal? Do you want to fly for fun, or are you seeking a flying career? Will your flying be local, or do you want to use general aviation aircraft to travel? Do you want to own an airplane or will you hire? These are questions you should answer before you start considering flying schools. And you should consider whether you’ll train full time or part time; that can make a big difference in your flying school selection criteria.

Compile a list of flying schools

Once you’ve given some thought to what you want, start putting together a list of possible flying schools. Then request all available literature from each. Ask them to send an outline of what they can expect from training and how they can help you achieve your goal.

Don’t base your decision on the literature alone! You’re looking for informative substance, and this can be found as well in photocopied sheets as it can in full-color catalogues. While scrutinizing the material, take notes for use during the flying school visit, when you’ll check the veracity of its claims. Some things to look for:

  • The school’s professionalism, goals, and objectives, and how they match your needs.
  • How long has the Chief Flying Instructor been flying for and what type of experience has he had in aviation?
  • What type of aircraft will be used for your instruction?
  • Does the flying school portray a professional standard and what are the school’s briefing rooms like? Are they just a desk in an old hangar from the old ultra light days or are they air-conditioned with modern teaching aids and equipment?
  • Does the Chief Flying Instructor come from a Recreational/Ultralight background or from a General Aviation (Professional) background?
  • Has the Instructor/Chief Flying Instructor obtained his instructor rating from a recognised Instructor Rating School or has he been “given” an instructor rating just because he started flying rag and tube aircraft years ago? If your instructor has not completed a formal “Instructor Rating” by a recognised training facility I would suggest finding another Instructor.

Take a first hand look: It’s your money

If you do nothing else in your flying school search-visit the school!

Your first contact will likely be the Chief Flying Instructor. Listen closely and ask questions about everything. Don’t be shy. If you don’t understand something, ask! During your tour, ensure that no area is left unvisited, from administrative offices, briefing room to the maintenance area.

Interview the school’s Chief Flying Instructor. Some questions to ask:

  • Do you conduct pre and post flight briefings? Unbelievably some schools don’t so it will cost you more in the long run trying to learn the theory while you are trying to learn to fly the plane.
  • What is your experience and what can you offer me?
  • What are the insurance requirements of the school, and how do its liability policies work? What is your coverage as a student pilot?
  • Who keeps your records? (This is important because poor documentation can cause you to repeat training.)

After the official tour of the available flying schools, get away by yourself and have a good think about who came across as the most professional and who could offer you the best training.

The training aircraft

The training aircraft is where you practice in the air what you’ve learned on the ground. A high wing aircraft is a must in the Far North due to the extreme heat and humidity experienced especially in summer. What’s important is how well the aircraft is equipped and maintained.

Because training aircraft are flown often and sometimes hard, how a flying school maintains its training fleet is important for safety. Asking questions about maintenance policies and procedures should be part of every flying school interview.

Flying school instructors

A good flight instructor is important because your life will depend on what he or she teaches you. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the training and experience of the flying instructors.

Your primary instructor should be at least a Senior Flying Instructor (SI) and preferably a Chief Flying Instructor.

A good way to get acquainted with your flight instructor is to take a Trial Introductory Flight (TIF). During your TIF, assess your instructor’s attitude, professionalism and if you think that you can work with him. Have a look at how he is dressed… does he wear a type of company uniform or just an old singlet and thongs? Only you can determine what personality best fits yours, but you want an instructor who expects perfection, who will work with you until it’s achieved, and who cares about you as a person as well as a student.


Compared with most of your current activities, learning to fly and earning your pilot certificate may be expensive. But remember, you’re investing in your education, in skills that will open new worlds and opportunities. Flying is an activity of purpose, productivity, and pleasure. It’s also a never-ending learning process, and as with all education, your initial pilot training provides the foundation for all that will follow.

Looking at the bottom line, you’ll notice that, adjusting for location and differences in training programs, flying schools more or less charge about the same. Only you can determine if what you get for your money is fair. As with any other major purchase, if a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is.

When comparing costs, make sure you’re comparing apples with apples. Be very suspect about schools that offer you a fixed package price. Some schools say that you’ll earn your pilot certificate for a fixed price no matter how long it takes. Read the fine print carefully, because many of these guarantees expire after so many flight hours. If you haven’t achieved your goal in this time, the school will still train you, but you’ll have to pay for the flight training that takes place above the guarantee’s ceiling. Will they really keep training you for no charge if you are not ready? Will they sign you out even if you are not safe?….. possibly.

Some flying schools base their prices on the RA-AUS minimum-time requirements, such as 20 hours for a pilot certificate. Others base their prices on a more realistic figure that’s the average of what their students accomplish (like we do). Some include pre/post flight briefings….. others don’t. In other words, read the fine print, and ensure you’re making a comparison of equals!

The final flying training decision

What flying school you ultimately choose depends on the quality flight training you desire in a method convenient to your schedule. In earning your RAA pilot certificate, you will have achieved a license to learn. Aviation is an ever-changing activity, and good pilots are always learning.

Perhaps the final deciding factor between several schools that are running in a dead heat is personality. Like people, flying schools have personalities. Some are deadly serious, while others are more easy going in nature. Only you can select the one that matches your personality.