Silvering Aviation - Pricing vs. Value
THIS IS A VERY ROUGH DRAFT - CHECK BACK OFTEN AS IT IS UPDATED
Being a business operator for decades, the absolute most pressing concern that everyone has is PRICE; with the first question asked nearly always being “How much?”. I promise that by the time you finish going through this with me you will see how, ESPECIALLY in aviation, VALUE, is absolutely tantamount over price.
But is value really the most important metric in flying? I sure hope for you it’s not the most pressing metric! Shouldn’t SAFETY be the most important metric? Of course it is. Is saving five, ten, or even twenty-five dollars per hour more important to you than safety? And while talking about safety should be where we start the discussion, I know most of you will skip over that. So I will talk about it later.
But before I do that, I want to inform you on how to get THE ABSOLUTE BEST VALUE of your flight training dollar. In PRECISELY the following order, the MOST important way to get your training completed for THE LEAST COST is as follows:
- Frequency of flight Training. The absolute most important factor in saving you the most money is in your frequency of flying: the more frequently you fly, the quicker and more efficiently you will progress without having to refresh and relearn the same information. Why is it that PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY PLAYERS practice every other day? Because they will get rusty, their skills will diminish, and their overall skill -just like a muscle- will atrophy. In addition, their decision making will be slower, or be lost all together. How much more for a student learning a new skill - particularly one as demanding as flying an aircraft?
- Complete your training in as short a duration as practicable.
- Maintaining continuity through securing the same flight instructor throughout the training.
- Maintaining continuity through securing the same aircraft throughout the training.
- Having a good flight instructor.
- Having a reputable flight school.
- Being prepared for the lessons.
- Having the requisite aptitude for flying.
- Flight credits.
- Maintenance and safety.
- Symbiotic relationship.
The above list is very, very short, and easily and quickly read. But you have to understand that underlying each and everyone of those bullet points, is an ENORMOUS fount of exceedingly detailed information that absolutely MUST be taken to heart if you are to comprehend to even the slightest degree the ramifications of each point. Try to imagine how each of these points, if not attended to, can result in a training period protracted over months, and even years, if not heeded and thereby multiply your costs by many times.
Please note that of the major points above, in HALF of them the onus is on YOU! If you want to save yourself money in the long run, you will try to fly as frequently as possible, you will try and complete your training as quickly as possible, you will be prepared for the lessons, and you will have the requisite aptitude for flying. Notice that nowhere in the list do you see the actual price per hour for the training. Why is that? Because, even if one school has a MUCH higher price per hour than another school, in the long run it plays virtually no role in how much more you are going to be spending. Let’s say that it costs you as much as $25.00 more per hour for one flight school; if you go to a flight school with the lower cost and have to do even one extra flight to review exercises (for whatever reason - be it lack of frequency on your part, being forced to fly in a new aircraft, or having to get a new instructor up to speed) even one hour more in the aircraft is going to cost you what you saved in EIGHT flights. Now extrapolate that over many, many flights, and you will see how adhering as strictly as possible to the above list is the tantamount means to saving you money.
In the above, I said that for HALF of the points, the onus is on you. But for nearly all of them, the school will also hold the majority portion of culpability. So we will go through each of them, and see how the schools hold a tremendous amount of influence on how much it will cost you to get through your training.
1. Frequency of Flight Training
There are DOZENS of factors that play a role in the frequency of flight training you can obtain. Let’s see what a list of these factors looks like:
- What are the operating hours and availability? Some schools are shut down on Sundays and Holidays. These are the prime times for most people who work during the week.
- Operating hours. Many schools do not open until 09:00 and close at 18:00. In the summer, it’s light before 06:00 and not dark until after 22:00. These are perfect times to get some extra flying in during the summer daylight hours.
- Lesson duration. Most schools will only book two hours slots. This gives you, AT MOST, 1.2 hours of flight training. (usually 0.8 to 1.0). Usually you spend 0.2 to 0.4 (usually an average of 0.3) hours on the ground just running up the engine, doing your checklists, taxiing, and waiting in the line up to takeoff. This means that you usually get about 0.5 to 0.7 hours in the air. When you finally get to the practice area, you are now left with only about .3 to .5 hours of any meaningful training in the practice area. Don’t get me wrong, there is circuit practice and other procedures to be learned outside the practice area, but even so, 0.7 of actual in the air time is not very conducive to review and advancement of skills. We book 2.5 hour time slots to give you a very sure 1.2 hours in the air.
- Dummy bookings. Here’s a favourite of mine for the top of the chart on the slime-ball list: One local ultra-light school makes a lot more money by scamming the public through hidden additional fees he charges on Groupon flights. So to cater to those flights, he blocks off the prime times during the weekends and holidays thereby inhibiting the regular students from easily and efficiently advancing in their flight training.
- Double-bookings. While we are all human, and we ALL make mistakes. (And when we do, I sincerely beg your pardon.) One local Ultra-light flight school was infamous for its’ disorganization and poor management. Being an instructor for the school I was witness to time after time when an unfortunate student would show up for a scheduled flight, only to find out he had been booked in error, and someone else was already scheduled to use the aircraft. So, not only did you lose your opportunity to fly and maintain your proficiency, you lost your travel time, your vehicle expenses (which are WAY more than just your fuel to the 99% of you who haven’t grasped this reality); but you may also have lost time you took off work, or for other duties or events you may have surrendered your time.
- Bumped bookings. During my training I endured many, many bumped bookings - bookings where you had scheduled time with the aircraft, only to have them give the time-slot, the aircraft or the instructor (or any combination thereof) to someone else. And the reasons (excuses) I was given were all over the map, and nearly always dubious. There IS one situation in which ALL flight schools will bump a booking, but it IS extremely justified, and you will see is to YOUR advantage when the time comes, as well. That is for flight test in which a Transport Canada Flight Examiner is required. Due to having to accommodate the Flight Examiner’s schedule, if the examiner requires a certain time-slot you will be bumped. But be assured, when YOU are ready for your flight test, you will have priority scheduling as well.
- Multiple bookings. Many schools will promise you multiple bookings per day, but will later start to whittle away at your multiple bookings per day. (You know who you are, float training school that I drove four hours to get to, paid for a week of lodging and schedule two flights a day!). Note, however, while multiple bookings per day may beneficial for more advanced students, they may not be beneficial for everyone. We are constantly assessing your progress and will ensure you are getting the most out of your training.
- Encroachment. This is where your time slot is booked from 11:00 - 14:00, but the plane landed at 10:59. By the time it taxis back, and the previous occupants tidy it up, and get their gear and the logbook out, it’s now 11:15. All of a sudden your flight time is down to 0.5 hours (See iii, above.) Encroachment also occurs whenever the aircraft needs to be refuelled. We keep an eye on the schedule to ensure that encroachment due to fuelling is minimized. Larger flight schools can almost never monitor such things reliably.
- Planned maintenance. While this will also go in maintenance below, as many other maintenance point do - it also fits here. If there is known maintenance coming up, as so often the maintenance is planed, the schedule should preclude you from reserving a time, or at the very least provide you with notice that there is the potential for the aircraft being down for that planned time. But also, why not do the maintenance in the off hours? Because most operations do not have maintenance staff who work in the off-hours.
- First come, first serve booking. This, to me, is the only true and fairest way to ensure scheduling parity. As noted above, I’ve heard all sorts of reasons why someone else got greater priority over bookings, than another student. Wouldn’t you want to know that you have as equal a right to access to the training as someone else?
- Dubious other reasons. Another ultra-light school that operates in the Lower Mainland: “When the hockey/football/whatever game is on, I shut the business down for the day/afternoon/evening. Say what, now?? Despite having a very mature, competent, responsible, good-natured, well-liked, well-trusted, reliable, straightforward and honest instructor pilot on staff, if the owner went out of town, NOBODY went flying. Again, what?? At Silverwing Aviation, we are 100% committed to ensuring you the greatest success at the greatest value. We do not serve you well, by inhibiting you from flying on every whim.
- Aircraft availability
- Is the aircraft reliably airworthy? Poor maintenance, poor treatment, aging aircraft, and many more factors determine if an aircraft is “on the flight line” at any given time. Imagine time after time showing up to the airport to find the aircraft is not available to fly due to mechanical or airworthiness issues. It happened to me so often at one flight school, despite the staff being absolutely wonderful, I was compelled to change flight schools. We’ll be going into more detail on aircraft availability in later sections on maintenance, but if the aircraft is not reliably available, your frequency of being able to fly is going to be drastically affected.
- What is the student to aircraft ratio. If there are 35 active students for every aircraft, your chances of the aircraft being available to you are very limited.
- As mentioned under scheduling, is the aircraft fuelled, and ready to fly with a clean windshield, etc., this too impacts the frequency and duration of flights you might have.
- Instructor availability
- Is the instructor reliably available? I’ve seen extremely flakey instructors who barely showed up half the time, or were impossible to reach on the telephone.
- What is the student to instructor ratio? Even worse than the student to aircraft ratio, the instructor may be available to all 120+ current students. You thought getting the plane was hard? Try being able to pin down an instructor for a flight lesson; let alone the same instructor every time. Countless times I’ve looked at the schedule to find no available instructors.
- Student availability
- This one is totally on you. If you cannot commit to flying frequently, the simple fact is that your training will be prolonged. This goes to the “muscle memory” or “practice makes perfect” concept.
- If you don’t fly often (minimum of twice a week) it will simply cost you more in the long run.
- If you take long spells away from your training for many weeks or months, again, it’s going to cost you more.
- Remember, just like playing a sport, or playing a musical instrument, or any other thing that requires skill; over time those skills and muscle memories atrophy. Frequent practice is required to maintain proficiency, even more so, when you’re learning new skills.
- Weather is almost never as bad as you think. Sure, there are times when the clouds are way too low, or it’s too windy. But usually that lasts for hours, not the entire day. So if you think the weather forecast is for bad weather, chances are that about 80% of the time you would have been able to fly when you were scheduled, or if you have a bit of flexibility, sometime that day.
- Seasons - Part I. The vast majority of people wait until the sunniest hottest days of the summer to fly. This is COMPLETELY unnecessary. Particularly in the Lower Mainland you can start your training at any time, and the weather will likely have little affect on how often you flight train. True, there can be spells of several days in a row in the winter where the weather may preclude being able to fly, but chances are equally as likely that you’ll fall into a slot where the weather has lifted significantly enough to get just as much out of a flight lesson. AND nearly every month of the year can encounter a spell of several days of un-flyable weather. The great thing about the winter is that the performance of the aircraft is SIGNIFICANTLY increased in the cold weather! Better climb rate, more power, more positive control of the aircraft.
- Seasons - Part II. True, the weather in the winter and the shortness of days will have a small measure of impact on the factors of scheduling availability, but since everyone else is trying to fly in the summer, you have to vie with far fewer people in the winter. This gives you many more available slots on the schedule!
Listed above are just SOME of the factors that conspire to affect the frequency of flying at your disposal and the importance of flying frequently. The more frequently you fly, the less it is going to cost in the long run to complete your training. Fly a lot, and fly often!
2. Duration of Flight Training
Virtually ALL of the factors that play a role in the frequency of flight training also affect the duration of your flight training. So, add ALL of the above to the the following. But also consider that the shorter the overall duration of the flight training the fewer flights you will need, and the more you will save. Here are factors to consider in considering the duration of the flight training period:
- How long is the Groundschool course? Some schools take four to six months to complete the Groundschool course. Our course is a mere two and a half months (10 weeks).
- Can you start at any time, or do you have to wait until the next cycle? If you have to wait until the beginning of the next cycle, your flight training will be delayed that much more. At Silverwing Aviation, you can start at any point in the cycle.
- Can you repeat the course if necessary, and what is the associated cost? Yes! At Silverwing Aviation you can come back for the Groundschool courses as many times as you wish at no extra charge whatsoever (provided classes are being held).
- How many nights per week are required? Many schools require two, or even three nights per week for Groundschool. This is quite a commitment, and will often cut into most people’s available time for other things - such as actually being in the air flying! At Silverwing Aviation, we hold the Basic Groundschool Course one night a week. We do, however, also offer a second night per week for an optional Advanced Groundschool Course.
- The other Ultra-Light flight school in the Lower Mainland holds classes on Saturdays, in the daytime. Who wants to being sitting inside in the prime hours of flight training required to be done in DAYLIGHT? Why not do it in the evenings when darkness precludes us flying? But it’s not just the other Ultra-Light flight school; many other Flight Training Units also hold their Groundschool on weekends during the prime daylight training hours.
- Prolonged aircraft down-time
- Again, this kind of goes to maintenance, but there are many major maintenance items that can be done in the worst weather of the winter months. Poor planning and management often results in aircraft being out of service for weeks and months during the best flying seasons of the year.
- Aircraft in disrepair. I was witness to the owner of the flight school I instructed at neglect a minor repair on the aircraft that caused it to be down during THE prime flying months of the summer. The repair require only a readily available part, and fifteen minutes of time.
- Deferred flight training.
- As mentioned earlier, flight schools can devise all sorts of ways to defer your access to the aircraft. This prolongs the duration of your flight training. Weather policies play a large role in this. Some schools have absurdly hight standards when it comes to training, leaving you standing on the ground on all but the bluest sky days.
- I had one school try to convince me to wait until the worst time of the year for flight training. While there is very valuable training to be had in the appropriate level of limited weather conditions; their advice was entirely self-serving in that they could make more money off of charters in the summer.
- Our advice: start training NOW! While we will ensure we get you trained as efficiently as possible, we do hope weather conditions will occur as you go through your training, that will expose you to the experience of flying in less than ideal conditions.
- Student commitment.
- Again, the onus of this is completely on you! If you take prolonged breaks in your training, for whatever reason, it will contribute to protracted flight training, which adds more cost from refresher flights. Plain and simple.
- While we have heard that there are other priorities in peoples lives, we just can’t imagine a scenario where anything in life could possibly be more important than flying. Just kidding! Kind of. But not really. No, seriously, we’re just joking. Sort of. Kinda.
- We often forget how much of a positive impact flight can have on our mental, and even physical health. So get flying today, and it will help you continue flying tomorrow.
3. Flight Instructor Continuity
After frequency of flying, and completing your training over a little a time period as possible, BY FAR THE most important factor in saving you on needless excessive flights is using the same instructor all the time. While there are SOME benefits to getting a different perspective from another instructor or two occasionally; having one instructor whom you are familiar with, and who is familiar with you is by far going to offer the greatest value.
- Teaching style. Each instructor has their own teaching style. And while one is not necessarily better than the other, they may do things differently. It takes time (which equals more flights) to adapt to each style. Here are just a few things that you could encounter:
- Different approaches to checklists.
- Different approaches to air exercises.
- Different interpretations of flight test standards.
- Different approaches to procedures.
- Different skill and knowledge levels leading to contradictions.
- Instructor-to-student familiarity
- Just like it takes time for you to adapt to a new instructor, it takes time for your instructor to adapt to your style. You may do things differently than the instructor expects; but that’s not necessarily wrong. It may take him time to adjust.
- Air exercise competency. While a PTR record is kept for all students to monitor your progress, it is no substitute at all for an instructor to assess how proficient you truly are with any air exercise. It can take almost a couple hours to go through every possible air exercise, an instructor simply does not have enough time to complete all those exercises with you to discern your progress. So it will take time and several flights to determine.
- Moving target. The problem with ii. is that it is a moving target. Each time you fly your competency will likely vary (usually, and hopefully, for the better!). So if you are bouncing between instructors from flight to flight, it will be EXCEEDINGLY difficult to keep up with your progress. Inevitably it will hamper your progress. This cost you more!
- Instructor attrition
- Instructor longevity. The vast majority of instructors are simply building time to further their career to enter the airlines. As soon as they have the requisite flight hours and experience, they’ll be gone like the puff of smoke in a magicians act. How do you know your instructor is going to stick around long enough to see you through your training? It is far more common than not to have instructors be gone long before you are done your training. You could find yourself going through two, three, or even four or five instructors before you’re done your training! This is NOT conducive to instructor continuity and your efficient progression through your flight training.
3. Aircraft Continuity
Do NOT underestimate the importance of using the same aircraft for every training flight. Sure, when you are an experienced pilot it is not too terribly difficult to bounce from aircraft to aircraft within a given type. But as a student, the effects are highly significant. Let’s look at how each aircraft, even within a given type (ie.: make and model) is unique:
- Instrument Panel. Each aircraft will have a unique layout on its’ instrument panel:
- Different instruments. They may not all have the same instruments.
- Different styles of instruments. Even two attitude indicators may look different. Apply that to nearly every instrument - they all have the potential to have different appearances.
- Different navigation instruments. You may have an ADF and a VOR in one aircraft, or a VOR and an HSI in another aircraft. One may have a turn and bank indicator; another may have a turn coordinator.
- Glass vs. Steam gauges. One aircraft may have steam gauges, the other may have steam gauges. Transferring from one to the other is not at all completely intuitive.
- Different radios with different ways of selecting frequencies and switching between frequencies.
- Different layouts. One aircraft will have the tachometer in one place, and it will be in another place on another aircraft. You go to look for your vacuum gauge in one place, and it’s not there on the other!
- Feel and controls
- As soon as you sit in a different aircraft, you will notice the seat feels different. It doesn’t have the same height or angles. This takes getting used to. But going back and forth between even two aircraft is even worse.
- One aircraft may have electric flaps, the other mechanical flaps, or the switches may not be in the same place, or function the same way.
- One aircraft may have stiffer controls in one aspect compared to another.
- The engines may sound different or one may be more powerful than another. The power difference WILL affect the manner in which you are required to fly the aircraft.
- Flight characteristics. Yup even the flight characteristics will be different.
- One may have a pull to one side or another.
- Another may stall the left wing more often than the right wing.
- One of my favourites is an aircraft that was recently painted, though a Cessna 172 like all the others, was far more slippery. Landing much longer, and gliding much further than would be expected! Not saying it was BECAUSE of the paint job, but it likely was a factor.
EVERY single aircraft flies differently, feels differently and is laid out differently than every other aircraft. It takes as much as five flights, and often many more, to get accustomed to all the differences in each aircraft. Jumping between the two aircraft both gets you more familiarized with each aircraft, but also slows your overall learning - particularly as an ab-initio student pilot. Sticking to one aircraft 100% optimizes your training and SAVES YOU MONEY!
5. Having a GREAT Flight Instructor
It is difficult to place, in what order, the significance of the flight instructor has. Generally, because most instructors are indeed quite good at what they do and ply their craft at a fairly good standard, those instructors are not going to play the greatest factor (good or bad) in how quickly you train. HOWEVER, a REALLY good instructor, and to an ENORMOUS extent a BAD instructor, can have more impact on how quickly you progress through your training than aircraft continuity and or instructor continuity.
- Great Instructor Pilots
- The problem with the greatest pilots is that they are not likely instructors. They are off being great pilots somewhere! But being great at something and being great at teaching something are two entirely different things. So, don’t worry; many instructors are still very good, and sometimes (if you’re lucky) highly experienced pilots.
- The bigger problem with great instructor pilots is that everyone knows it! They will have so many students, it will be very difficult to book time with them. And if you’re to progress in your training, you will have no choice than to break the continuity of instructor advantage.
- Finally, that great instructor pilot is going to end up gaining so much flight experience that he will simply be priced out of the market and will soon be an airline that offers him double - or more - than what he’s making, in addition to benefits and an amazing retirement package.
- If you can find a GREAT instructor who can last long enough to get you through your training, you have indeed found a unicorn!
- Bad and Terrible Instructor Pilots
- There is probably no greater impact on your flight training than a terrible instructor pilot.
- Primacy. I have had instructors (one in particular) who would FREQUENTLY instruct completely incorrect information. So not only was it wrong it was confusing. You would then have to RELEARN the correct information, or the correct procedure. In my experience it was very much like algebra: a negative piece of information plus a positive piece of information equaled zero. But now it took at least one and often two more times to go through the information to ‘undo’ the bad training I’d experienced. So now, it was taking three and four times as long to complete the training. At least in those areas. Unfortunately with that instructor it was far too often.
- Instructor personality. You cannot underestimate how much of a role having a calm, reassuring pilot is. My ‘terrible’ instructor would yell, berate and belittle. It was such a horrendous environment that the stress caused unbearable tension. You can only fly well with a calm, relaxed grip on the controls. If you are gripping the controls so tensely from such a tense environment, you cannot and will not learn anything. Conversely a calm and reassuring instructor lets you know when you’re doing well with positive reinforcement, but also guides you away from your mistakes in a constructive fashion.
- Stress. When, subconsciously, you are afraid your instructor is going to metaphorically smack you across the head for the slightest deviation, you start to makes mistakes. In fact, you will end up making mistakes that are so out there, you would NEVER have made them in any circumstance. The enjoyment of flying is stripped away, you make absolutely NO progress whatsoever in your training, and you become discourage from all of the excessively harsh criticism you don’t want to go back.
- Unfortunately, the extreme opposite is also not helpful. I had two excessively taciturn instructors. Personally, one of the best indicators you are doing well with me sitting beside you as your instructor is that I need to say very little. But if the instructor says absolutely NOTHING, giving no feedback whatsoever, it is very difficult to know if you are doing well, or poorly, and what nuances of your exercises are being completed well, or poorly. SOME feedback IS needed!
- Inexperience. If the instructor doesn’t know, how can you learn it? I encountered a COMMERCIAL float pilot instructor who didn’t even know how to use a straw style dipstick to check the tanks. Not only are you not learning from such an instructor, but your confidence in them is so lacking you don’t trust them to be training you all the information you need.
- Inability. This one was not usually the case, and it is true that pilots ARE trained to a certain standard. But it is becoming more and more common that flight schools are turning out pilots and instructors that really do not have the superior skills required to be an effective instructor. If you can’t fly the maneuvers yourself, it is difficult to instruct them to others. Worse, is that due to the nature of students putting the aircraft into situations that are on the edge of being dangerous; the instructor has to have superior skills to recover the aircraft from these situations. Unfortunately, you hear of accidents where the instructor allowed the student to get into a situation from which either the plane, or the instructor was unable to recover.
- Dangerous Instructors: The instructor will perform dangerous maneuvers (such as unauthorized aerobatics, flying low, pushing weather limits, etc.). Encouraging bad habits with students is not conducive to efficient training, especially when many of these situations are simply the instructor using YOUR time to show off. In addition, if you feel nervous or scared by the actions of the pilot, it increases your stress level, and as mentioned above, is not conducive to providing the relaxed environment required for training. And, of course, there is the potential threat to your life.
- Believe it or not, there is something worse than inability or dangerous conduct. That is instructors who simply are a danger to everyone and themselves out of a sheer lack of pilot skills or awareness. This is different than inability; as usually a decent enough pilot will be self-aware enough of their shortcomings; and can, on some level, acknowledge their lack of skills. I am talking about instructors and pilots who have no self reflection whatsoever, and blithely fly around, cutting people off; lacking the skills or abilities to fly the aircraft safely; being completely ignorant of the rules of the air, and air regulations; the ramifications of aerodynamics and how their handling the aircraft can put them into precariously dangerous situations. I have encountered TWO pilots thus far who somehow got their instructor ratings who, one or the other, either had absolutely atrocious flying skills, or a lack of comprehension when it came to air-law and handling the aircraft.
- Disdain. I literally heard one instructor tell me that she could not wait until she got into the airlines so she could let the autopilot do the work and she wouldn’t have to fly the aircraft. I still can’t understand why she chose to be a pilot. Learning stick and rudder skills is THE number one factor in keeping you alive, as well as progressing through your basic training.
- Inattentiveness. This one is kind of funny - in a scary sort of way! I had a student tell me of one instructor he had who would fall asleep in the aircraft during the flight lesson. Leaving the student to just drone about without learning anything! Another instructor, as I previously mentioned, I would frequently find would either show up very late, or not show up at all! And this would happen FAR too often.
- Indifference. If the instructor doesn’t care about the job, or about you, he’s not going to put much effort in. And you need an instructor to be 100% focused on your training. A word of advice for you, though. If you don’t appear interested or prepared for your lesson, it will set up a feedback loop where the instructor may find it a chore to instruct a person who’s not putting their own effort it. Here’s a hint: show up AT LEAST 15 minutes before your flight, and show you are ready and eager to go. Any indication that you’re prepared, have preplanned, or have spent your off time studying or watching YouTube videos goes a long way in boosting your instructors morale. An instructor who is passionate about flying feeds off others with the same passion!
- Experience. Wait, wasn’t inexperience talked about earlier? This is the opposite end of the spectrum. The old grizzled instructors. Imagine spending hours and hours during your training having difficulty flying then the old salt instructor hops in the aircraft and with in 10 minutes says, “You’re posture is not correct, sit like this and you’ll fly much better”. After that training came fast and extremely easy. It happened to me.
6. Reputable Flight Schools
The flight school itself wields enormous influence on how much it is going to cost you to complete your license. From maintenance to policies to the training syllabus to predatory practices. There are many things a school can or will do to either help or hinder your progress which will directly affect you financially.
- Prepayments - I have no choice but to talk about the other Ultra-Light flight school that is still currently in business in the Lower Mainland. He usually DEMANDS that you prepay up front a bulk amount for your flight training. There are many YouTube videos that warn about schools that use such practices. Here is what happens when a flight school demands bulk pre-payment:
- Commencement of training. One student reported to me that he was told that it would be AT LEAST three months before he would be put on the schedule if he didn’t pre-pay. There was no valid reason for the owner taking that stance. It was simply a pressure tactic to get the money from the student.
- Scheduling. If the school already has your money, they have very little incentive to put you on the schedule if there is someone else with fresh money wanting on the list.
- Aircraft availability. It costs MONEY to operate an aircraft. The instructor has to be paid, there is fuel and oil that is consumed, and there are rigidly set schedules in which maintenance has to be done based on how much time the aircraft is in the air. If the school has your money, and they can avoid providing the services, then they’ve avoided the expenses of taking you flying.
- Maintenance when you could be flying. Another tactic to avoid scheduling you for flights is scheduling maintenance when you could otherwise be flying. If they were considerate of their clientele, they would do the maintenance when the daylight or weather conditions would preclude flight, regardless. It is ‘convenient’ that the maintenance happens to be done when it is both the best times (weekends and holidays) for people to fly, and the weather conditions are great for flying.
- I, myself, have WITNESSED the owner of that flight school mocking people for having given him their money and boasting how he was going to be able to get away with not providing them the flying they’d already paid for. I also know of specific persons who have fallen victim to both being excessively delayed in their training or never recuperating their “non-refundable” deposit from him.
- There is NO guarantee that the school will last long enough for you to use up your credit. Schools close, are sold, or change management more often that you’d realize.
- There is NO guarantee the aircraft will survive long enough for you to use up your credit. When a simple prop-strike could cost ten to twenty thousand dollars, or the engine suffers a failure requiring immediate replacement. Who knows if the school has enough money to cover these unexpected expenses? The aircraft may never fly again under that current ownership.
- As mentioned in the “Frequency of Flying” section, there are many ways that a flight school can avoid, defer and prolong getting you on the schedule. Once they have your money, they simply have no incentive to get you up in the air. Potential pilots who are so keen to follow their passion do not consider these things when they start their flight training. The lesson here is DO NOT DO IT! DO NOT PRE-PAY. Particularly if you don’t want to. Any decent school will accept any amount YOU wish to deposit, and set it up in an account for you to use to credit your billing.
- Hidden and Undeclared Fees
- Fuel surcharges. Personally, I find it quite inexcusable to have ANY “add-on” fees that are inextricably linked to the actual cost of providing the service. I believe in clear, concise up front pricing. Even a 2 - 5% fuel surcharge, I feel, is rather disingenuous. But our friend with the other Ultra-Light school was advertising $49.99 Fam Flights, and then adding a $75.00 “Fuel Surcharge” on top of that once you got there!
- Headset rental. When you’re flying in a small aircraft you NEED a headset. First and foremost it is necessary for ear protection fro the engine noises which if exposed to for prolonged periods WILL cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Secondly, a headset is used between the instructor and the student/passengers in order to communicate. Again, the OTHER Ultra-Light school will charge you for a headset rental after you get there for your “$49.99” fam flight. All of a sudden your hourly rental is almost FOUR TIMES what was advertised! We do NOT charge for the basic headset rental, it IS included in the price. However, we do encourage you to own your own headset if you plan on doing training or a lot of flying. We also have “active noise reduction” headsets which actually sample the engine noise and then cancel out a majority of the sound. The difference is NIGHT and DAY. However, these headsets are usually around 10 times the price of the basic headsets. We do have ANR headsets available; but there would be an additional rental fee for these advanced, and very expensive headsets.
- The same thing applies to lifejackets as does headsets. If you are operating over water, beyond gliding distance to land, you are required to have a life-jacket. We provide a basic one free of charge. This SHOULD NOT be an add-on fee. We do, however, also have available a high quality life vest for a nominal hourly rental rate.
- Any other fees that are directly related at a set rate. If they are going to charge you 5% more for “X” fee, and there is no opting out of it - and even worse, it is a direct rate or percentage comparison to their ‘quoted’ rate; why is it not included in the base price? Because they are being dishonest. Would you not prefer to be told up-front it is going to cost “this amount” per hour? Rather than have them tack on all these extras in the hope you won’t grasp how much different the pricing really is?
- Guaranteed Maximum Flight Hours
- Telling you it takes 12 Hours to complete your license. And it will therefore cost $2400.00 hundred dollars. (Or whatever numbers they feed you).This is COMPLETELY FALSE. Those numbers they give you are Transport Canada MINIMUMS. The ONLY people who ever finish in those times is if they already have the flying experience in some other way. (Ie.: they grew up with their dad taking them flying all the time, etc.).
- You WILL NOT solo, and you WILL NOT be licensed until YOU are ready.
- I’m going to state the above point again, because it is vital you understand it, and that you have no misconceptions: It is not “How many hours are required to get a license?”; it is “How many hours do YOU require to be a safe and proficient pilot? How many hours are required for YOU?”.
- In the U.S. the average Private Pilot License require 65 - 70 hours. It would be quite similar here. For the Ultra-Light Pilot Permit, it takes roughly half of that. (Unfortunately, once you realize the true cost of flying, you may find it is too costly. This is the risk I take for being honest with you.)
- There is NO SUCH THING as completing your training in a guaranteed amount of time for a guaranteed price.
- Prolonged Flight Training
- Because there is no such thing as a guaranteed set/package price or guaranteed maximum flight hours, the schools can use this to their advantage and drag out the training.
- We mentioned several times already how the greater the period between flights, and the more often those delays occur, the more review your going to have to do on subsequent flights. This cuts into the time to learn new skills, results in more flights, and therefor more cost. But there are other tactics we haven’t mentioned they can employ to prolong the training.
- Deferring your solo. If you are CONSISTENTLY safe in your flying, there is no reason to not let you solo. The optimum procedure is to alternate between solo and dual flights.
- Deferring your flight test/over-training you. While it is ALWAYS better to have more training than less, there comes a point where you need to be learning on your own. Once you have the basic knowledge down, are safe and proficient, and have all the requisite skills; you are going to learn MUCH more building on that foundation by going out as a licensed pilot and gaining personal experience. Your skills do not need to be refined to 100%. A word of caution, though: You DO NOT know everything yet! It is vital you go for advanced training to increase your safety as a pilot.
- A flight school is always making more money instructing you rather than renting to you. They will do all they can to keep you as a student as long as possible.
- The policies of the school themselves can be designed to prolong your flight training. We talked about weather and opening hours before but there are often cases where they will “interpret” the air regs to their benefit. For example, the 300nm flight for commercial pilots. They will say it has to be done under their supervision, wherein it is only required to be demonstrated that it has been completed.
- The mountain course. I did a 2.5 hour mountain flight that gave me very little actual close up mountain experience. Due to the superficiality of it, it was a waste of a LOT of money. Do gain experience flying in the mountains, you need to be immersed in that environmen.
- Also mentioned before is the owner of the Ultra-Light flight school shutting down operations for the day because he wanted to go watch the sporting game.
- Mandatory pre and post flight briefings. It can be exceedingly helpful, and often is necessary, to have pre-flight briefings to prepare you for the flight’s flight lessons. But just as often as not, the maneuvers can be taught in the air without wasting any flight time. Likewise, post-flight briefings are often necessary when there are questions you may have. The problem is when it is obvious that the school is trying to milk as much revenue as possible out of you from forcing you to do pre and post flight briefings on every flight. The pre-flight briefings will go into so much detail that you can’t possibly remember it all whilst in the aircraft; and besides, your mind is on getting IN the aircraft, not working on theory. Don’t get me wrong, it can and often is beneficial, and also often necessary for a pre-flight briefing. But protracting it for 25 - 30 minutes while cutting into your flying time is not the most helpful time to be reviewing the material.
- There are other policies which I can’t remember off the top of my head, but will complete later.
- Poor management can be a source of enormous frustration and lost time and money. Remember, every flight that gets cancelled after you’ve arrived at the airport means you’ve lost all that travel time, the cost of the travel, the loss of income (if you took time off work); and the loss of your valuable time that you may have needed for other purposes. So whenever the management fails to be on top of things, then it could DIRECTLY affect you.
- One such thing is management who has substance or mental health issues. It is my belief that BOTH other ultra-light schools’ shortcomings were due to one or the other of these issues. But it is obviously not just unique to ultra-light flight schools where stresses on management can affect the school.
- Too many hats. If the management has to deal with too many aircraft, and too many duties, things will get neglected, whether it be maintenance, scheduling, instructor availability, etc.
- Too many times I showed up to the airport to find there was no coolant available to top off the system.
- Too many times did I show up to the airport to find there was no oil available for the aircraft.
- Fuel. THE most basic necessity for the ongoing use of the aircraft - fuel. Too many times I have arrived at the airport to find there was no fuel available for the aircraft! This is absolute insanity. You obviously cannot fly if you do not have fuel. And the school will certainly not be generating any revenue, either. This will set up a spiral of losses from which there is no recover. And that is the exact fate which befell that school.
- Daily inspections. While this will also fall into the category of safety and maintenance, the school’s emphasis on ensuring inspections are done by school staff at the end of the day (to ensure the aircraft is ready for the first flight the following morning) is tantamount in avoiding preflight cancellations. But there is more to it than management doing nightly inspections:
- Student “walk-arounds”. Just like Daily Inspections, this also falls into the category of maintenance and safety. But nearly every school I’ve encountered has been far too lax in ensuring student adhere to strict, detailed, thorough walk arounds. Time after time I would show up to the lesson and find an issue that would ground the aircraft. The reason my flight would be cancelled was a DIRECT result of lack of diligence on the part of the previous students. And that as a trickle down effect of management not demanding hight standards of inspections from students on their walk-arounds. You will get frustrated at how many times you are fully prepared for your flight, but it is all for nought when your session is cancelled and the aircraft must sit idle until it is repaired. Whenever that might be!
7. Being prepared for the lessons.
This one is almost completely on you, but there are a few things that the school can do to help you out. The more prepared you are for you flight, the more you will get out of it. Being ready and prepared on your end will be the what you have the greatest control over in ensuring you get the most out of your flight lessons second only to scheduling frequently.
- Physical and Mental Readiness. Make sure you’re physically and mentally prepared for the flight. There is the “IMSAFE” acronym that acts as a GREAT starting point.
- I - Illness - Make sure you are not feeling unwell, or are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or have an upset stomach. Nasal congestion and plugged ears can result in extreme pain with gains and losses in altitude.
- M - Medication - Ensure any medications you are taking are approved for pilots.
- S - Stress - Make sure the stresses in your life are not going to affect your flying judgement. Perhaps in here I can point out to ensure if the traffic on your commute is cause for stress and frustration, arrive early enough for you to calm down and get in the proper mindset. The right type of stress has been shown to be acceptable and in certain situations beneficial. Make sure you understand which is which.
- A - Alcohol - We have a strict alcohol and substance use policy. MINIMUM 24 hours from the last consumption of alcohol and 30 days for cannabis use. Other drug use is disqualifying.
- F - Fatigue - Make sure you’re well rested.
- E - Emotion and Eating - Make sure you’re well nourished and watered. And ensure you’re emotionally ready for the flight.
- Make sure you are ready for your flight on time. This means arriving EARLY for your flight. Get your books, documents, charts headset and other gear ready to go.
- The earlier you arrive, the more you demonstrate your willingness to learn. A good instructor is passionate about flying. If you demonstrate the same passion, it makes it so much easier to be excited about teaching you. You will find he will naturally go out of his way to help you out even more if you demonstrate that same desire learn everything aviation!
- Again, arrive early so that you can get into the proper head-space. I used to ride my motorcycle to the airport an hour and a half away. The adrenaline is pumping. Get yourself calmed down and mentally prepared for the flight.
- Make sure before you left home you got all your stuff together. Headset, logbook, etc.
- Make sure you have read up on the requisite lesson material. Watch videos, ask questions. If you don’t understand the material - ask!
- If your instructor doesn’t tell you what to prepare for the next lesson - ASK! I’m often so caught up in the moment I can forget to tell them what they should be ready for on their next lesson.
- Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the flight. If you are going to go into the mountains have appropriate clothing in the event you land out.
- Have sunglasses and if you feel you need it, a hat.
- If the lesson requires a navlog, have it ready, and your route drawn on your chart.
- When the aircraft gets back, get in as soon as possible to get set-up and start your walk-around.
This is a hard one to talk about. Almost anyone can learn to fly. But there are some who, despite their dreams, are either not cut out for it, or will simply take longer than others. Having a good flight school and instructor will do wonders in developing your abilities.
- Intellectual knowledge. We will cover in the Groundschool the broad general base of topics. There will always be more to learn! Some of the topics you will need to have some aptitude in, are:
- Air Law
- Meteorology (Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think! Even I learned it!)
- The Phonetic Alphabet - An absolute must!
- Strong English language skills
- Physical fitness. While strength is not very necessary, you do need to be able to pass a medical exam and be able to physically be able to get into and out of the aircraft, and manipulate the controls.
- Intuitiveness. There is a certain amount of intuition into how the aircraft reacts and also how the airspace (air traffic control) system works. But most of that can be taught and is an acquired skill.
- Airmanship. The more you can think like a pilot the better you’ll be.
- Piloting skills. It just comes more naturally to some than to others. I was one of the latter, and it took me quite some time to become a decent pilot! But with perseverance it comes to almost everyone. Hang in there!
8. Flight Credits, In-House Services, Symbiotic Relationship and Future Plans
There are a lot of benefits to starting off flying Ultra-Lights in many ways. Here are a few other items to consider, our plans for In-House services, the Symbiotic Relationship and Future Plans:
- Lower rates. Generally, Ultra-Lights are cost less per hour for both your dual, and especially your solo flight training.
- Stick and rudder skills. I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is to gain the stick and rudder skills before having to concentrate on the myriad of procedure skills you will need. If you are not skillful in managing the aircraft, and you concurrently try to learn procedural skills, both will suffer. In the long run this will simply add more (much more!) very expensive flight time to your costs. We are 100% committed in you becoming a stick and rudder pilot as efficiently as possible. Training in Ultra-Lights, where there is less focus on procedures allows you to excel in the art of flying before worrying about the added complication of the additional procedural work. We believe this will provide you the most efficient path through all aspects of flight training.
- Flight credits. Here is where there are actual solid NUMBERS on saving money. That is through credits - so basically free flying! Credits from your experience in Ultra-Lights can be applied to future upgraded licenses. The credits apply to all experience in “3-Axis Ultra-Light Aircraft”: i. Recreational Pilot Permit (RPP) - 100% of your Dual and Solo time can be credited to the experience requirements for the Recreational Pilot Permit
- Private Pilot Permit (PPL) - 10 hours of your pilot-in-command (PIC) time, can be credited toward the PPL flight experience requirements.
- Commercial Pilot License (CPL) - 25 hours of your Ultra-Light Pilot Permit (UPP) PIC time can be credited toward your CPL, but not to the minimum 100 hour pilot-in-command flight time in aeroplanes requirement.
- In-House Services. We are working on adding many additional in-house services to best help you complete your training as efficiently as possible. Including:
- Becoming a Transport Canada “Authorized Person”. Allowing us to sign you off on your UPP and Passenger Carrying Endorsement.
- Becoming an Industry Canada exam invigilator. Allowing us to conduct your Restricted Radio Operators Certificate (Aviation) written exam, in house.
- Becoming a Transport Canada exam invigilator. Allowing us to conduct your Ultra-Light Pilot Permit written examination.
- Becoming a Transport Canada Flight Test Examiner for the Ultra-Light Passenger Carry Endorsement and Ultra-Light Pilot - Flight Instructor rating.
- Symbiotic relationship.
- It is through our working the hardest we can to provide you the best service and training possible that makes the services we offer so valuable.
- It is through your loyal, consistent and committed patronage that we can continue to provide the aforementioned superlative services and reliable aircraft.
- So it is very much a symbiotic relationship. The more committed you are, the more committed we can be in providing the best flight training possible - bar none!
- This allows us to further advance our expertise, and provide you more services in the future. And allows us to continue you on with viability so we will be there in the future for you.
- Future plans. Provided a robust symbiotic relationship with our valued clientele we have long term goals of:
- The Chief Flight Instructor (Ultra-Light Category) becoming a Certified Flight Instructor (Aeroplane). Allowing our students to progress from the Ultra-Light Pilot Permit all the way through the Commercial Pilot License with the continuity of one instructor!
- In addition to being an Ultra-Light Flight Training Unit; becoming a Certified Flight Training Unit (Aeroplane) and offering training on Aeroplanes. Thus providing the full spectrum of training from Ultra-light Pilot Permit through Private Pilot License and Commercial License.
8. Safety and Maintenance.
Finally we get to talking about safety and maintenance.
- Intellectual knowledge. We will cover in the Groundschool the broad general base of topics. There will always be more to learn! Some of the topics you will need to have some aptitude in, are:
- Culture of safety, not just satisfying a flight test