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How to choose the right flight school

After I have selected which aircraft I wanted to train on, it was time to chose the flight school that best suited my needs.

Cost of school

When I lived in Edmonton I had the choice of a few different airports, but the City Centre Airport, right downtown, was impossible to beat in terms of location.  There were two flight schools there – Centennial and the Edmonton Flying Club.  The Edmonton Flying Club (EFC) they has an annual fee for being part of the club and learning to fly there.  I wasn’t sure how long I would be staying in Edmonton, so, I choose Centennial because they were slightly less expensive due to the absence of annual fee. They had several 172 which were well maintained, and I found the staff and instructors to be very professional.

Quality of Instructors, Planes and Facilities

I found the instructors at Centennial school impressive, and their planes were well maintained.   Much of the lower costs came from the fact that they did not own their own hangar (something that the EFC had). Hence, these cost savings were built into the rental prices.

Not having a hangar does make a difference when you’re learning to fly in a northerly, cold climate. I remember winter mornings when it was still pitch black at 8 am doing my walk around, peeling back the wing and cowling covers, while the bitter -25 degree C winter wind whistled past!  So, there is definitely a trade-off.

Make a trip to the school and meet some of the flight instructors. Do you like any of them? How about the culture of the school – is it rambunctious and unprofessional or is it quiet and friendly?  You don’t have to choose your instructor right away but you should definitely observe how the instructors interact.

So I finally settled on Centennial and my ground instruction began.  I enjoyed the theory part of it – what I like about flying is that it is so multi-faceted, there are so many knowledge areas:

  • weather
  • aerodynamics
  • aero engines
  • instruments
  • navigation

When you’re learning to drive, you don’t have to know the details about the engine you are operating (unless of course, you’re a commercial driver driving a transport truck). But in aviation, everything is tied together so intimately.  I found it fascinating.  Since I’m a climber and backcountry skiier, I already have an intimate relationship with and understanding of weather, since weather affects mountain sports very directly, but now I was entering a field where weather is even more important.  Aviation is very weather dependent, and understanding weather is key to being a good pilot.

Choose an instructor you like

The next thing you want to focus on is your instructor. Choose carefully and don’t be afraid to go up with several different instructors until you find one that suits you best.  Sometimes you will be lucky to find the first person you choose will be a great instructor for you, and it is definitely true that if you like talking to them on the ground, you’ll like them in the air, too.  You must really like your instructor – it is the most important choice you will make in your flight training.

Some instructors are just out to get their hours and move on to an airline job, others really love teaching. Remember, you are the paying customer and are paying big bucks, for your training and money talks.  So be selective and stick with someone who meets your needs. Switching instructors, especially early on in your training is time consuming and expensive. I switched instructors right as I was permitted to go up solo and it took my new instructor 10 hours of training before he trusted me enough to fly solo.

I met my instructor in ground school

My first instructor taught the evening ground school, and I immediately liked her teaching style and personality.  After a few classes asked her if she would take me up as a student. After many cancellations due to weather – it was springtime, after all, and the systems were shifting – we finally got up for the first time together.

Update on flight training in Edmonton

If you live in or around Edmonton, I’m sure you have heard about the closing of Edmonton City Centre Airport (CYXD).  My old school, Centennial, is now located at the Edmonton/Villenueve airport (CYZL) and Edmonton Flying Club is now at the Parkland Airport, CPL6. The other nearby airport is Cooking Lake, CEZ3.   Cooking Lake Aviation operates out of that airport.

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About Alicja

Learning to fly at CYBW, no 6 for aircraft movements in Canada. I live in the Rockies, economist, writer, skier, climber, obsessed with mountains & aviation!