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Joe Echo-Hawk CFII, MEI, AGI, IGI

So you want to become a pilot?

Figuring out where to start on your journey of becoming a pilot can be a daunting task at first. There are more than a few routes to take, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The way that works best for you may not work best for someone else. The purpose of this article is to help someone who is just beginning the process of deciding how to go about their training so they can end up as a career pilot.

The days of career commercial pilots being made up of a group of ex-military pilots is no longer here. Many of the pilots who fly for a living are civilian trained. With many flight schools in existence, both large and small, there are many options available for the training you need to become a commercial pilot.

The certifications that a pilot accumulates throughout their training are federal certifications that meet standards set forth by the FAA. While it is possible to obtain better training from one school to the next, a commercial pilot license granted by the FAA will give you the same privileges no matter where it was earned. As with any other product or service, the cost of flight instruction does not always directly reflect the quality of the instruction received. Being a good pilot is as much or more up to the individual being trained as it is up to the organization conducting the training. If you have the desire to become a pilot, you need to have the desire to be good at what you do. Being self-motivated is mandatory. I have never met a pilot who makes a living at flying and does not have an inherent ability to self-motivate. If you possess that skill you are starting out on the right track. If you do not possess that skill and are not planning on changing your behavior, please do not contact me or any of my CFI friends for flight training.

If you have been looking into various schools, you may have come across schools that advertise they are Part 61 or Part 141 schools. What's the difference? One of the main differences is that a Part 141 school has gone through extra processes of setting up their school under an FAA approved syllabus. A part 141 flight school has a syllabus that must be maintained with a rigid adherence to the order and structure that it is laid out in. A part 61 flight school has greater flexibility on how the student is trained. Both schools have their advantages and disadvantages with this. Much of it comes down to the quality of the instructors conducting the training and the overall tone of the flight school. I have instructed students who have come from both schools and I have been trained by both types of schools.

Many people seem to think that a Part 141 school is able to train someone to a higher standard than a Part 61 school. This is not the case. I have worked with pilots who are the products of both types of schools. I have seen Part 141 students struggle with crosswind landings and small airstrips and I have seen Part 61 students struggle with radios and checklists. Being a good pilot involves committing to ongoing training and the desire to continually learn. If you have that desire and commitment, you have the important part of your flight training figured out already.

Here are some practical advantages to Part 141 vs. Part 61. Part 141 generally has higher chances of granting college credit as some part of the flight training. If it is not one of the major aeronautical universities, it may be a local 141 flight school that has teamed up with a local community college to offer a 2 year degree in aviation science. Since 141 schools are paired up with colleges to offer college credit, many times it is easier to find funding for your flight training in the form of school loans. If you qualify for the GI Bill, many times you can use your benefits at a 141 flight school. However, when the flight training is all said and done, Part 141 flight training is often more expensive than the Part 61 alternative. Those school loans have to be paid back at some point.

Advantages to Part 61 training generally have to do with overall cost. There are many Part 61 flight schools that conduct quality flight training at a significantly lower cost to the student. Finding a way to receive college credit for your flying is more limited, but possible. It generally comes in the form of receiving the credit after you have earned the license, which does not help you when you are looking to fund obtaining the license in the first place. If you are able to obtain your funding through a source other than school loans, Part 61 flight training can be a great option for many people.

Here's some things that are important no matter what flight school you decide to train with. The airplanes must be well maintained. The people running the operation should be friendly and concerned about the quality and safety of your training. The instructors should be committed to giving you quality training and preparing you properly for the license you are obtaining. The availability of instructors and aircraft should be flexible enough to conduct your training in a reasonable timeline. The rates you are paying should be competitive with the surrounding area flight schools.


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