A walking, talking tour is an important part of your evaluation of a flight school. If someone at the school takes the initiative to escort you on an inspection tour, so much the better. It's a good indication the school believes in and practices good customer service.
The tour is your opportunity to ask questions that occurred to you, or were not answered, when you reviewed the school's literature. This is the time to get detailed information about the school's fee policies, instructor core, training aircraft, curriculum, and ground school program. How long has the school been in business, and how many students has it trained? Experience counts for a lot, both with a school and an instructor. Think you are the only one who is having a tough time learning a particular maneuver? Experienced flight schools and instructors have seen it all in terms of ability, personalities, and learning styles. They'll know what to do to break the learning logjam.
What is the school's performance in terms of its students successfully passing the FAA check ride on their first attempt? The best source for this information is the examiners who administer the check rides. They may be willing to discuss pros and cons of the school's teaching methods and the quality of its instructors.
Along with asking questions, be sure to visit all areas of the school that pertain to your training:
- classrooms. Are there instructional aids such as airplane models; a chalkboard; slide projectors or videotapes; explanatory charts and graphs; a cockpit procedures trainer to familiarize students with the location and function of instruments, switches, and gauges; even an airplane engine and accessories? These are a great help in gaining an understanding of the sometimes arcane concepts and components that make flight possible.
- Library. An endless variety of books, magazines, videotapes and other publications and products are available to support your training effort. A well-stocked aviation library is a valuable addition to a flight school
- Student-instructor briefing rooms, or instructor offices. This is where you will do pre-and post-flight reviews of each instructional flight and retire to for private conversations. Flight schools are busy places, with lots of people milling about. It's important to be able to find some privacy.
- Flight planning area. A dedicated, quite area to consult charts, call for a weather briefing, consult a computer for real-time weather radar and other weather maps, and file a flight plan is highly desirable.
- The hangar. The condition of the hangar, and shop if maintenance is done in-house, tells a lot about the school's professionalism and pride.
- Pilot shop. Some larger schools also operate a retain "pilot shop" filled with useful and desirable aviation products for sale. This can be convenient if you are in immediate need of a chart or text.
- Lounge area. A flight school is a great place for students to hang out and "hangar fly" when they are not taking a lesson. Sharing experiences, questions, and concerns with instructors and other students in informal chat sessions is a valuable way to learn and build confidence.
- The airport. The size and level of activity at the airport, and the school's location on the field, all can affect your training. If the school is tucked away in a far corner of a busy tower-controlled airport, you're likely to spend a lot of time taxiing to and from the runway, and waiting to receive a takeoff clearance. The policy at most flight schools is that the meter starts running when the prop starts turning. In other words, you are paying for airplane and instructor time even as you wait in line to takeoff. The congestion, frequent radio communications, and complex airspace often associated with busy airports add to the challenge of learning to fly. On the plus side, you'll be well prepared to operate in almost any airspace and at any airport once you earn your certificate.