Which flight school is right for me to train at?

Written by: Alwyn Vorster, a passionate instructor at Cape Town Flying Club

This is a question I hear a lot when speaking to future students. If you are thinking of doing a pilot’s license, one of the most important aspects of your training is to know where to complete the training. There are a lot of questions regarding this topic, but I will focus mainly on one great aspect and this will answer your question.  Is your flight school located at a controlled or uncontrolled airport?

Controlled or Uncontrolled?
An easy way to know is to check if there is an airport tower which means the airport’s traffic is controlled by an ATC – Air Traffic Controller. The greatest advantage to train at a controlled (manned) airport is that you will gain a lot of confidence from the early days of your training when it comes to radio communication, joining procedures, instructions from ATC, awareness of other aircraft around you and much more. Starting out with your PPL, it can be very overwhelming when you have to start chatting to ATC or other aircraft around you. Training at a controlled airport, pushes you hard in the beginning and you’ll have a great understanding about the procedures and communications very quickly, more so than you’ll have at an unmanned airport. Below is a picture of a controlled airport, Grand Central in Johannesburg, South Africa.

train at the correct flight school

Grand Central’s Control Tower

There aren’t many disadvantages regarding training at a controlled airspace but there are two that I will note very briefly.

The first one is landing fees. They might be a little bit more expensive than at an unmanned airfield, which might sometimes be free or minimal. Every time you land at a controlled airport, there will be a landing fee applicable, simply because the services rendered needs to be paid. This includes the support of emergency services, the runway maintenance inspections, the air traffic controllers, and many more. Imagine you train for circuits to perfect your landings and you do about six landings in your session. Each landing will add up to a relatively small amount, but over the course of your training, which may take some time, these landings can add up to a rather substantial amount at the end of the day.

The other small disadvantage I’d like to note is the busyness of the airport because of other traffic. Because it is a manned field, there will be other operators as well. These include charter companies, airliners, other flights schools and so on. So, you get into your training aircraft and start up. You make a radio call to get your clearance to start your flight that you have planned to perfection. While the engine is running you hear many other pilots talking to the tower, you wait your turn and you get your clearance. Same story before take-off. You wait in line for everyone before you to take off and you can’t switch off the engine to save engine time… So, the other traffic, whether they are landing or taking off, is causing you to have the engine run slightly longer and this costs money. These two disadvantages are really small. It is great to train at a controlled airfield as you learn a lot from a very early stage of your flying.

At an unmanned airfield you will experience a completely different environment. The airport is a lot smaller and the runways or taxiways are a lot more narrow. You will start up your engine and get going almost immediately. You’ll be in constant communications with other aircraft, air to air, rather than ATC. The flight school may also have a ‘club’ feel to it making it less formal and interactive with fellow aviators. You’ll pay less for landing fees and there is certainly less traffic than at a large commercial airport. The distances to taxi to the runways are also normally shorter, saving more on aircraft engine time before you take off. Although these are great advantages, there may be one or two small disadvantages. You do not have the luxury of emergency services on standby, ATC to separate air traffic, daily runway inspections or other good aspects from a controlled airport.

You can always combine the two in a very unique way.  Have a look at Cape Town Flying Club for instance. This is a club with great history and a fantastic environment. It is also located at a major airport, Cape Town International. You fly here amongst the big boys while you are also surrounded with great views!

train at the correct flight school

Our departure view for almost every training flight!

train at the correct flight school

Breathtaking view of Kalk Bay

Learn more about Cape Town Flying Club.

There are some other aspects that may influence your decision on where to train. Make sure it’s a school where you will fit in and get along with the instructors and fellow students. Also make sure they are organized, neat, efficient and most of all, transparent! The last thing you want is to spend more money than you bargained for. Aviation training is already a very expensive exercise and the last thing you want is to receive a bill after training completion before you are allowed to test for your license. Also check if the school has various safety evenings, social events and so on. This is great way to make new friends in aviation and learn about the other side of flying that is actually not flying… I have heard some pilots say that 80% of a successful flight happens on the ground and I tend to agree with them.

Thanks for reading,

Alwyn (Al) Vorster

You can meet Alwyn and the other great instructors at the next open day of Cape Town Flying Club: CLICK HERE

(Editing by Rozelle Blackie)