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Active member
Dec 5, 2001
First off I must say I have been logging on to this website for about 4 months now, and I am impressed with the way everyone presents themselves in a professional manner! I was scheduled to go look at PanAM and ComAir on 9-17, which was obviously deterred. I was wondering if anyone has any comments on a "good school" for the money. I think that for the money ComAir and PanAM will get the job done, but I am wondering if anyone knows of any schools that are comparable. Please feel free to send me a private message if you would rather not post a message on this board.

Also, I have been checking into Westwind School of Aeronautics if anyone knows anything about this school.

Flight Schools

I'd recommend FlightSafety in Vero Beach, http://www.flightsafetyacademy.com, if you're planning to spend the kind of money you might at Comair or Pan Am. I instructed at FlightSafety ten years ago and while I had my differences with the management's treatment of employees, I can vouch for the flight training as being top quality. You'll receive training at FSI that you might not find at other schools, such as spin training and unusual attitudes training. Facilities are first-rate. You'll earn your Commercial certification in their twins, which is a plus.

As far as the management is concerned, a new regime has taken over since I was there. I know three of the people who run the place and can vouch for them as being top people.

Didn't we already have this discussion on the old board? :confused: Send me a private if I can help some more.
There are many ways to become a professional pilot, and everyone thinks they know the "best" way (myself included.) My advice to you is to visit some schools that don't wear airline uniforms during their pilot training before you make your decision. Many local FBO's can provide training that is as good or better than the training you get at one of the big "airline" schools at a much more reasonable cost. In my opinion, (and I fear there will be those that take offense to this comment.) Any school that makes its students and instructors wear uniforms, does so as a marketing tool and nothing else. Most airline pilots don't even wear uniforms while in training. I'm not saying their training is bad; I'm just saying that they are probably selling you something you don't need.

My personal thought on the subject is that you will get much better exposure to the whole world of aviation at a local FBO. They are less likely to waste your money on things that you don't need. Keep in mind that by and large, AIRLINES DO NOT CARE WHERE YOU GOT YOUR RATINGS. Many local FBO's operate under part 141, and are owned or have close contacts with airlines and airline pilots. Try to find one that will give you hiring preference if you complete your ratings there. As an instructor at one of these schools, you will be doing checkouts for airline pilots and all kinds of other people who can be very useful contacts. You won't get this kind of networking opportunity at one of the big expensive schools because they typically don't rent to the general public.

These are just some things that I would recommend you think about as you choose a school. I am in no way "slamming" the big schools or any of their instructors/students/graduates. In fact I know 2 guys who instruct at PanAm, and I think they would wholeheartedly agree with my statements here. (they're on this board frequently, so maybe they'll chime in.) Just make sure you investigate all of your options before you decide what is right for you, and be suspicious of any school with a "we'll get you into a jet in 500 hours or less" sales pitch.
You asked if anyone knew any good schools, and I didn't really answer your question. Since it looks like you may have been looking into the Phoenix area, one such local FBO is Sunbird flight services
They are owned by a couple of Cactus check airmen, and two of the DE's they use often are also airline pilots/check airmen. The same DE's are probably also some of the only DE's in the world that can give a checkride in a B-17. They have a really great bunch of instructors there, and I think you'll find that you'll spend less money there, and get all the benefits I mentioned above.

Good Luck!
I attended Comair back in '92 - '93 and if I could do it all over again, I'd choose a local FBO. Those "big" schools cost a whole lot more money and you don't get any extra benefit as far as career advancement goes. Ratings are ratings. Doesn't matter where you get them.:cool:
I agree with FlyinBrian on the selection of a flight school. I went to college at Embry-Riddle in Prescott, AZ. The cool thing about Embry-Riddle is that I got my college degree along with all of my ratings(Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Science). The bad thing about the degree is that it is pretty much useless outside of aviation. You soon figure that out when you are about to be furloughed and can't get much of a job out there because you don't have something that is "transferable" into the real world. Trust me, I just got back from applying at Home Depot last night. Ah, from UAL to Home Depot, that is something I never expected!!!!

If you aspire to be an airline pilot, than I would definitely get your degree. And like I said above, make sure it is in something that you could use outside of aviation. Possibly business, marketing, engineering, etc. I've found that many of the guys that I have flown with didn't have aviation degrees. And they didn't attend a big fancy flight school like Embry-Riddle, ComAir Academy, etc. They attended some party school, howled at the moon while they drank beer, and got their degree in basketweaving or something similiar. Made me pretty jealous, actually. But the key thing is many of them got all of their ratings at the local airport.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the "Big Boys", but from my experience it really doesn't matter a whole lot where you get your ratings from. What matters is 1) that you've got your ratings 2) how much flight time you have and the quality of it 3) you have a good training record as far as passing checkrides 4) who you KNOW!!!! 5) That you have some kind of bachelor's degree(for a major airline job).

As FlyinBrian says, you will have a good opportunity to meet people out at the local F.B.O. And I would try to get one that is part 141 and has a charter department along with the flight school. This gives you the opportunity to meet more pilot's who could help you later on. You might even consider pumping gas for the F.B.O. part-time if you can. You might get a break on the rental fees while at the same time getting your foot in the door. Trust me, I know, it's how I finally landed my first job.

Because getting your flight time is important after you get done with training, look for a place that will make some kind of commitment to you about bringing you on as a flight instructor when you get done dropping $25,000 to them for flight lessons.
After I finished spending a lot of money at Embry-Riddle, I never got hired there. I was really bummed out. The competition was fierce as they kicked out a ton of brand new instructors there every year. I was just another number really in a sea of flight students. When looking for a C.F.I. job back home, most F.B.O's wouldn't touch me because "I didn't do my training with them". Be sure to get a commitment so you don't waste valuable time looking for a job when you get done(or something pretty close to it!!!!)

Also, go into the F.B.O. a few times along with a few others on the field. Talk with a few instructors and go with a laid-back, personable flight instructor. I've had my share of "militant screamers" on my hands, and take it from me, you won't learn a whole lot if someone is yelling at you all of the time. I'm sure many of the guys on this board have their share of stories as well. If you experience this at ANY point in your training, DROP the instructor!!! Ask around to see who is good. That is a luxury you have at an F.B.O.(A choice as to who YOU will fly with). At a big school, that may be limited, and you may end up with someone you don't get along with who was just "assigned" to you.

Don't fall prey to the markeing tactics of the big flight schools that you see posted all over some flying mags. I did, and although I went to a great flight school, I found out it didn't make much of a difference as to where I am now(United, not for long though)
What made the difference was that I had a degree in something, had a good training record, a lot of flight time(6,500 hours), some good captain experience, some good contacts who helped me get hired, and no skeletons in the closet(D.U.I., tickets-excessive, criminal background, etc.) If you do this stuff you will have no problems getting hired at a major, provided they are hiring, of course! This is solely my take on things, so hopefully some others will pipe in to give you some more insights. Good Luck!!!!
UALX727 makes some excellent points. I too got my start by driving the fuel truck. I went to ERAU Prescott for one semester after getting my private at a local FBO. When I realized how expensive ERAU was going to be, I moved back to phoenix, started driving the fuel truck again, and got my B.S. in polisci at ASU. I'm really glad I did, because now that I'm on furlough, I have a decent job that requires a "business related" degree. By the way, there was a Comair instructor in my interview class who came in with an "I instructed at a school that shares its name with an airline" attitude. He got sent home before we even went to the sim.

Also, the comment about finding a laid back instructor is more important than it may seem. In my experience, the flight nazi types are usually trying to compensate for their lack of real skill or knowledge. The best instructors you will find get along well with people, and are 100% comfortable and relaxed in the cockpit. If you ever get one of the nazis, find another instructor immediately, or you're going to spend a lot of unnecessary frustration that will ultimately hold you back and cost you time and money.
Big schools aren't all bad, however...

Big schools aren't all bad. First off, if you teach at a big school your more likely to get multi-engine time. While MEIs at smaller FBOs do get multi-engine time, it can be pretty sparse. Also, the instructor pay is higher then your average FBO at one of the big schools listed above. Finally, one more advantage of the bigger schools, especially those run by Comair and Mesa is that you've already got your foot in the door, so to speak.

When you look at cost, make sure to look at the whole picture. You need to figure out how much your going to lose by not working, how much living expenses are going to be, how much the training is going to cost, and finally how much you will make as an instructor. For example, let's look at the cost of a school like PanAm. Let's also assume you make approx. $30,000/yr now, and your living expenses are $1000/mo. Your cost of training, including the opportunity cost will be this. Training is about 8 months, $8000 to live, approx. $50,000 for the training, total cost is now $58,000. If instructors make about $25,000/yr gross, figure $20,000/yr net. After two years instructing you will have made back $16000, ($40,000 net income – $24,000 living expenses), for a cost of $42,000.
Here's another one, ATPs. Private takes three months, you do that at home. Making 30k a year again, you'll net $6000, minus $3000 living expenses, minus $4000 for your private, making the cost of your private $1000. If you then finish at ATPs, the cost will be $30,000 for training plus $600 for three months of living expenses (housing paid), for $30,600. If their instructors make about $18,000/yr gross, $15,000/net, and it again costs you $1000/mo to live, then your cost after two years will be $25,600 ($31,600 training cost - $6000 extra income).

Hopefully you can see where I am going here, don't just look at the training cost, look at the whole picture. Most of the numbers above are guesses, you'll need to look at your own situation and get realistic numbers from the school you're going to attend. (Hint: ask the students and instructors about costs and pay, the admission counselors will say most anything) If you make good money at your job now, I think you'll find your best option from a financial perspective is to keep your job and train at local FBO. I did train at a local FBO, but I quit my job half way through, and I'm wishing I'd kept it until I got my CFI. Also, plan for the worst case scenario, instructing for two to three years. If you can't survive on low wages indefinitely, then at some point you may be forced to quit aviation.

Finally, I'll throw my comments on uniforms. If you've read my previous posts on the topic, you'll see that I do not like schools that make you wear uniforms during your primary training. First off, some schools are charging students a couple hundred dollars or more for uniforms, and every dollar spend on uniforms is one less that can be spent on training. Also, since the cost of uniforms usually comes right out of your loan, the total cost of the uniforms will increase two to three times with interest, pushing the additional cost to over $1000 in some cases. Moreover, uniforms don't do anything to improve the quality of training, or increase professionalism. Like FlyinBrian said, even airline pilots don't wear uniforms during training, only when they will be seen by the flying public. Slacks and the polo shirt is a perfectly acceptable uniform.

What you have to do is take a look at the whole package. Costs, location, equipment, and time. Don't believe every line the schools will feed you, make sure to do some outside research. I hope you've found the above useful. :)
Wiggums is correct when he says that as an instructor, it will likely be easier to get multi-time at a big "airline" school, because all of their students will eventually get multi-ratings. Many of your students at a local FBO will not continue beyond their private. I didn't have a whole lot of trouble getting enough multi-time, but it was very sporadic. Somtimes I had tons of very motivated multi students, but sometimes that river ran totally dry.

Be a little careful about the Comair and Mesa programs. It's true you get your foot in the door, but they don't guarantee you a job. THey are a much better deal than the schools whose promises are totally empty, but it sure is a lot of money to spend to find out at the end that you are one of the ones that doesn't get the job. In addition to opportunity cost (as wiggums wisely suggests you consider) Also consider risk vs. reward. If you're sharp, Mesa's MAPD program can work well for you (assuming hiring picks back up.) I personally would not spend that much money and risk not getting hired, even though I consider myself a pretty sharp guy, but a lot of pilots have successfully gotten in this way.

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