BIG schools vs. Little schools?

TripleSticks

Well-Known Member
After 13 years of mechanical engineering I'm ready for a change but.... I have to admit. I'm bewildered. There's just so much information out there and I can't decipher it all so I need some opinions. I'm trying to decide on a school and need some advice on what to look for.

I'm comparing the "academys" to the smaller schools and I need some advice on why I should or shouldn't go a certain way. I know that the cost of the academy's is more (and it is a consideration) but let's throw that out for now. What I want is a good solid education. I've also noticed quite a few schools (large and small) affiliated with the UVSC degree program.

I've done some preliminary looking at bigger places like FSA and Pan Am but also looking in to some smaller places like Professional Flight Instruction and Great Western Aviation in Utah. I'm trying to figure out the benifits and drawbacks to each of the options.

Is name recognition that important after all the flight hours are there?
Is the degree from UVSC valuable? Does it gain you anything?
Should I go to a smaller school that hires more of their students as instructors or stick with an academy even though it's possible that I would be put on a waiting list?
How many planes should I look for?
Do smaller schools take longer? Is that really a bad thing?

I guess what I'm looking for is a little clarification from some students. I can talk to the people at the schools all day and they can tell me a reason why their school is the right one to go to but it they are biased.

What do you all think?

Thanks in advance for your advice.
John
 

Alchemy

Partner, Ally, Friend
Depends on your time and money restraints. Can you spend 5 months away from home and are you willing to put down 40k up front? If so, I'd reccomend ATP. They have locations throughout the country.

I have not personally gone there, but most of the instructors at my flight school (including mine) did and they all seem to be very sharp pilots. ATP now has an ab initio program that will take you up to Multi-Engine Instrument instructor in a matter of months. http://www.allatps.com

I, on the other hand, decided to work on my licenses gradually because I'm attendeding the university of my choice and flying on the side. I train at a local FBO which works out great for me since the schedule is flexible, I work at my own pace, and I pay as I go.

Side by side, with identical numbers of hours and ratings, I doubt that a guy who trained at ATP would have a significant advantage over someone who trained at "Billy Bob's flight school". However, your typical ATP grad will have more multi-engine time than most, so they have an upper hand over most applicants in this area. I think you can expect to pay somewhere in the range of 40k to get all your ratings at ATP....small-time FBO training can be done for 80% or less of that amount if you do it right.

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Is name recognition that important after all the flight hours are there?

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Not particularly....I would say Flight Safety and ATP are probably the most "recognized" non-university flight schools. However, having those names on your resume won't make or break you. It does give people slightly more reassurance that you were trained thoroughly. However, every pilot at all schools must adhere to pretty much the same standards on FAA administered written tests and checkrides, so flight school name-recognition advantage is marginal at best. Flight Schools are not analagous to universities because the FAA factor narrows the gap between the "Harvards" and the "Arizona States" of the flight school worlds.

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Is the degree from UVSC valuable? Does it gain you anything?

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If you already have a 4 year degree or better in engineering (or most any other usable degree for that matter), you're set education-wise. An aviation-specific degree is really not necessary at all for a career as a pilot.

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Should I go to a smaller school that hires more of their students as instructors or stick with an academy even though it's possible that I would be put on a waiting list?

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Getting hired by the school you graduate from is extremely valuable, and should be a MAJOR consideration. Most small FBO's will be hesitant to tell a student pilot who walks through their door "yes we promise to hire you as a CFI when you get your license". That early in the game, they have no idea if you'll be a complete flake in the air or a good pilot. If you can get them to promise you a job, then more power to you, but you will probably have a hard time finding many schools on the FBO level that will do this.

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How many planes should I look for?

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Tough to say, but I like to see at least 3 planes of the same type so you have adequate backups and can rotate between them freely if one is down for maintenance. You also want to make sure they have a complex airplane and multi-engine airplane available for the advanced ratings.

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Do smaller schools take longer? Is that really a bad thing?

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Yes, they usually take longer because you get all your time in the air rather than doing a good chunk of it in simulators. Naturally it will take more time to go up and actually fly that it will to walk in a room with a computer and take a sim ride. It's not completely bad because loggable flight time is a valuable asset on your resume. The downside is added expense, especially on advanced ratings like the instrument and multi-engine. In the end, you still usually come out cheaper at small schools though.
 

DE727UPS

Well-Known Member
Is name recognition that important after all the flight hours are there?

No...ratings, hours, and experience are what's important.

Is the degree from UVSC valuable? Does it gain you anything?

Being able to check the box on the application that says you have a degree is what's important.

Should I go to a smaller school that hires more of their students as instructors or stick with an academy even though it's possible that I would be put on a waiting list?

Being able to get a job after getting your CFI is very nice...big school or small.

How many planes should I look for?

2 or more. I would have said 1 but my one just recently broke and caused a problem for students. I'll soon have a second plane. Honestly, I guess the more planes to choose from the better but if a small school takes care of their equipment and their equipment is reliable, then your inconvience with the small school should be minimized. I will make my 172 available at 152 prices whenever the 152 is down...let's see big school do that... Obviously, a small school can't take on as many students as a big school.

Do smaller schools take longer?

How long you take should be a function of your motivation, time, and money. I don't see why a small school couldn't train you just as fast as a big school.

Is that really a bad thing?

I think training fast is better, you retain more between lessons the more you fly. I've been working with a guy who fly's twice and week and a guy who can fly every day. The twice a week guy loses a noticable amount between lessons but rapidly catches up.
 

PhotoPilot

New Member
If you're looking for a "little big school" and would be willing to head to California for about a year, you should look at Mazzei Flying Services.

www.flymfs.com

I made the rounds and looked into almost every school mentioned in the threads on this forum, but was very impressed by Mazzei even though they aren't mentioned very often.

My disclaimer is that I haven't attended Mazzei or any other academy and am just sharing information that I would have appreciated someone else sharing with me when I was beginning the search for a school . . .

Good luck in your quest and I'll see you in the sky!

Best,

PhotoPilot
 

TripleSticks

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the info everyone. It is much appreciated.

Re: the Mazzei site. I just took a look and the site is nice. I'm definitely going to call and talk to them tomorrow. Thanks.
 

pscraig

Well-Known Member
I'm going to add a few thoughts as well. I've been to all three types-small FBO, large academy, and ATP. I liked and disliked certain aspects of all of them, but having just finished ATP's program, I am glad I did it. It's fast, and I never studied so hard in college. The experience I received flying long trips (Chicago, NJ, MS, etc, from Florida) in changing (=bad)weather was valuable. We also had to meet changing schedules and had some very long days, away from home, living out of a suitcase, finding hotels and dinner at 11:30pm. Very real-world. I just don't think I could have that same experience flying out of an FBO that doesn't even like to rent planes out overnight. And as a bonus, all that time was in a twin.

The large academies are great and have a heavy emphasis on academics and standardization. You will spend as much time as needed to master each skill, and therein lies a double edged sword: you'll be good, but it will cost you. The better academies do give fair estimates, but events beyond their control can cause the price to increase. An extra lesson or two here and there adds up. The question in my mind which I later answered was this: do I want to get really good at this just for a checkride, or do I want to get good enough to be safe, then put those skills to work and refine them through practice?
 

sixpack

New Member
Big schools generally offer better airplane availability. If they have a fleet of 50 planes and their own maintenence, you probably won't have to worry about delays in scheduling aircraft. I've talked to instructors at smaller schools who are trying to teach multi-engine students at an FBO with one or two planes... it just doesn't work!

Another thing to consider is whether or not the school is financially healthy. I once thought that big meant secure, but ATA proved that this was not so. Make sure you check out the company before putting down a big deposit.

One trick I used when selecting a school, was to see who owns the planes they were flying.
Did you know that you can look up the owner of any plane registered in the US. Just go the the FAA website and follow the links.
 
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