Learning to fly, or thinking of learning? Post your questions, comments and experiences here

Moderator: AndyR

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By SimFlyer
Hello all! Fair warning, long post! :D

New member here but have been lurking for a short while now. I'm considering taking up flying for real and maybe even a career later on, but due to the high costs, I'd rather not look at the end goal right now and just focus on PPL and maybe getting a few friends on a few sightseeing flights, spread the love for aviation and stuff.

A bit of background: I've wanted to fly since I was little but somehow it never happened so while dealing with RL responsibilities, I naturally turned to PC gaming and flight simulations. However, most of my flight sim time is with combat flight sims and very little GA flying at all. I'm now in my mid-30's and somehow I managed to get a couple of trial flights and some glider experience and something in my brain just clicked and now I'm thinking of doing this for real one way or another.

So for the past few years, I've been looking around at flight schools in my local area. My local airfields are Durham Tees Valley (20min) and Newcastle (45min) airports. I've attended the Pilot Careers event in Heathrow last November and, along with what I've observed in my area and have read on various sites, I'm a bit worried about taking the first step in my training.

Basically, how do I choose a flight school?

Please keep in mind that I would very much love to have the option of going commercial later on, but just focusing on one-step-at-a-time so PPL for now. However, I've read/seen a lot of posts about dodgy schools, some of them going out of business after a few years due to the owner running away with the money or poor business sense (two of which happened in Durham Tees, I think!) but even more worrisome is how some of them are still operating!

So please allow me some silly questions:
  • What should I look for in a flight school to know that it's good? It seems like shiny offices and clean aircraft aren't the cues to look for!
  • What questions should I ask and whom? Talking to the PR lady and talking to students can give very different results but how can I contact students? Just hang about the school?
  • What are the cues that would tell me to stay away from a flight school? I've been to a couple of open evenings from flight schools that ended up closing shop soon afterwards and I had no clue about it until I either read about it on a forum site or visiting the airport again only to find the school gone!

Part of my flight sim hobby is assembling my own PC and knowing how to pick parts for it and I've had a few friends come to me for advice and I would facepalm at their choices or their reasoning, but this is coming from a proper enthusiast vs. someone who just reads the spiel on a glossy website. I expect me to be the "stupid friend" here so please be gentle and I apologize in advance for any facepalm reactions I elicit. I appreciate that some things can be blatantly obvious for those with significant knowledge in the subject and here I am totally clueless :lol:

Thank you for reading!
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By LD1Racing
I would say that in your (our) part of the world there is a limited choice of schools to begin with. We can't really afford to be too picky. There are schools at Durham-Tees, Newcastle and Carlisle. I'm closer to Newcastle so that is where I started my training. I would be reluctant to travel any further than I had to for training without a very good reason, as all those extra road miles and traveling time will add up over the course of 45+ hours and ground school, last minute cancellations etc.

The other option is to do an intensive residential course somewhere away from home but that may or may not fit your own personal circumstances. Personally, with all the hassle I've had training in the UK it is something I wish I had done years ago.

Other than that, look at aircraft types - perhaps you have a personal preference? Check for 'hidden' costs - are landing fees incorporated into the hourly rate, or an extra? How much are T&Gs? Will you have a regular instructor or is there a pool from which lessons are allocated? How many aircraft do they operate? What is the availability once you are qualified? How busy is the airport at which school is based? Do you want to spend 15-20mins of each lesson waiting at a holding point or orbiting at the end of downwind leg during peak summer-holiday season?

I think the best option is just to visit a few, ask a few questions and see how you feel. You will know your own learning style and will be the best person to make a decision once you have the facts.
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By Nick T
All of that ^^^

Also - don't be afraid to go and do a trial lesson at a few of your potential schools. It's not 'dead time' as it's all loggable, all counts towards the training and the first few hours will be about learning the basics anyway. That way you can get a feel for how the school runs, what it's like at that particular airfield, 'gut feel', how you feel about the instructor etc.

Also - bear in mind that if you learn at a 'Big Airport' with commercial traffic and full ATC you'll still need some familiarisation when you eventually qualify and start visiting smaller fields. The reverse is equally valid.

I learned at East Midlands, then got a share at Nottingham. Took me a fair few trips in and out of Nottingham to get used to how an A/G field worked (and circuit familiarisation too)

Good luck :)
Personally I'd go for the places that have the smaller, circuits because a lot of your ab initio training will be circuits and the more you can do in an hour the better.
Sorting out the big airfields with full ATC etc. can come later and I think it will come faster once you have learnt the basics.
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By Nick T
Whereas I was completely the opposite - my thoughts were that I'd rather learn 'correct' RT and how to operate in and around controlled airspace first, then spend a little time getting used to the 'free for all' afterwards ;)

But that did mean that an hour of circuits at East Mids often meant 4x takeoffs and landings along with some orbiting on downwind leg.

Potayto / Potarto though, imo. I don't think there's a 'correct' point of view and it depends entirely on personal preference :)
By SimFlyer
It is quite sad how there is little choice of flight schools in the area but there seems to be dozens further south! Is Carlisle airport the one at CA6 4NZ postcode?

It seems that in the local area, there are:
  • Eden Flight Training
  • Scenic Air Tours NE
  • Purple Aviation
  • Carlisle Flight Training

There are other schools but they do only microlights and NPPL(A). I don't think there's still a flight school in Newcastle airport with the closing of PTT?

No particular aircraft preference and I think I'll be stuck with the usual C150/152/170/172 PA28/38 stable of aircraft anyway. Even if I get to train on the newer Cirrus or Tecnam aircraft, I'll still end up going to the Cessnas and Pipers for hour building so can't afford to be picky.

Thanks for the questions I can add to my list! Regarding costs, I have an Excel spreadsheet that allows me to plug in the numbers and get an estimated cost assuming 45 hours training. I know training may take more than the minimum, but if a school is expensive at 45 hours, it'll only get more expensive at more hours! I'm not looking for the cheapest school, mind, but it'll take some convincing to get me to pay £200/hr dual when there's a school that charges £160/hr dual.

As for the question regarding aircraft availability, is there an ideal ratio of aircraft to students? Something like 1:20 and any more means it'll be hard to schedule a flight?

I remember talking to people in the past and most say that Durham Tees airport is a good place to train; basically an international airport with barely any flights. Is this true?

LD1Racing wrote:I think the best option is just to visit a few, ask a few questions and see how you feel. You will know your own learning style and will be the best person to make a decision once you have the facts.

Unfortunately, I don't quite trust myself as far as "feel" goes. I've actually seriously considered starting with PTT last year only to have them close down less than 3 weeks after I visited the Durham Tees airport school and I also attended one of their open evenings in Leeds airport and nothing felt wrong the whole time. The school where I had my very first trial flight years ago also closed down and it was only after reading on various sites that I found out about a dark past with regards to the owner; again, nothing felt wrong and I visited that school at least 5 times and the spidey sense never tingled.

@Nick T:
I don't really think I can get a feel of how the school runs or what the airfield feels like with just one trial flight. I may also be doing the school a disservice if I do a trial flight and then pass on them due to the instructor, not knowing that he was probably the worse instructor or was just having a bad day. Am I wrong in this line of thinking? I will still do trial flights, just saying I may not be able to get a good feel of things after just one flight.
By johnm
First ask yourself do you like the people.
Second does the place look workmanlike, no flashy offices just reasonably tidy with a place for everything and everything in its place.
Ask to talk to an instructor and ask them to talk about how they structure the lessons to cover the syllabus in the air.
Ask about ground school and exams.

Then go away and ask yourself do I understand what I ‘ve been told.

If all of the above works and you pay as you go you should be able to get going and then it’s about whether you enjoy the training and feel that you are progressing.
By SimFlyer
Thanks Bathman! I wonder why it didn't show up on the Google search? Nice to have another option though!

Thinking back to the two previous schools, it is a yes to all those questions so again, I don't really trust myself very much to be able to smell if something is fishy or not. I really did not understand very much about the lessons and the ground schools examination structure (at the time) but it was more to do with me being unfamiliar with how things are done; the people I talked to (owner and instructors) have done their best to explain it to me, I feel.

There is one school in Durham Tees where I found the layout a bit odd, but I think they were just starting out so I'll have to visit them again to see if things have changed. However, they only have one aircraft so I'm not really sure if they're all that serious about themselves being a flight school?
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By A le Ron
Whatever you decide, pay by the lesson. Don't pay for blocks of lessons up-front.
Remember, if you travel a little further afield, the choice is much greater. Yorkshire has a large number of airfields with tried-and-tested flying schools (Bagby, Sherburn, Breighton, Full Sutton, Sandtoft, Doncaster).
By SimFlyer
I was just looking at prices and the other school at Durham Tees offers 0-PPL for just under £7K on the PA-28 which is really tempting depending on the details of this deal.

I do not mind travelling further out, but that would probably limit me to the summer months of flying. Is there any particular school around that area you'd recommend in particular?
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By Nick T
A le Ron wrote:Whatever you decide, pay by the lesson. Don't pay for blocks of lessons up-front.

Now, you see, everyone says this but whilst I agree with the sentiment I don’t agree that it is always right.
When I decided to properly do my PPL I paid upfront. Block booked over £4k worth of flying, gave cash, did everything that everyone advises against. Got a nice discount for it too... that was after I forced them to take my money, because they really didn’t want to :lol:

Why? Well, I knew they’d been there for over a decade, I didn’t think they’d go bust in the next 12 months. Plus the discount was nice. Plus the fact I’d paid for everything and could just rock up and have a lesson at lunchtime or after work (I worked about 400m from the school) was great. Allowed me to condense everything and just get it done without worrying about money. And it worked. I passed just within the amount I’d block booked (on 52hrs - not bad for a 39 year old at the time ;) ) The school’s still going. And you know what? I block booked another couple of grand with them when I did my IR(R) last year and had no problems there either. Even had some left over which I used against a night refresher.

So, (and don’t get me wrong, I know where people are coming from when they advise not to pay up front) it can work out quite nicely if you know what you’re doing.
By SimFlyer
I'm somewhat of the same mind regarding paying blocks to get a discount. I like getting discounts! I fully understand why the advice is against paying in advance. However, in the £7K example above, doing 45 hours with maybe 30 dual and 15 solo plus all exams, that's maybe £800 difference there? Nothing much to scoff at. I'll need to get the details regarding this offer, sounds too good I think!

I wonder if paying by credit card would offer any protection should the school fold or disappear?

Speaking of exams, does anyone know where I can get the costs for sitting the exams? Is there one price or is the price dependent on the school that administers the tests?
User avatar
By Irv Lee
Paying by UK credit card should get you protection if it is extremely clear what you are buying and what you received. If it were a large payment for something vague like "a flying course" then it could be debatable how much you had had if a school collapsed... a course is more than just flying hours. However if it were receipted as something specific, say 20 flying hours under instruction, then should be able to show you had not had what you purchased, if you needed to.
Also: There was once (years ago) a Flyer magazine "Special" on learning to fly, which included picking a school, but I don't know if it is still up to date and available.
User avatar
By JReading
If you are prepared to travel and maybe do an intensive course/semi-intensive consider Beverley

£134 an hour dual, no landing fees, all books can be borrowed etc

It is the cheapest in yorkshire and of a very high quality!

Sent from my SM-G955F using Tapatalk
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