You Must ask these 11 questions
Helicopter flight training does not come cheap. Most of the today’s pilots pay anywhere from $45,000 to $120,000 to complete their course to get licensed.
Experts in the piloting industry are willing to offer to advise to anyone passionate enough to want to spend their money and time on getting trained in helicopter piloting.
Here are 11 questions recommended by an expert pilot that students should ask their helicopter training school before ever enrolling:
1. What is the cost?
Pilots will not only need to inquire about the total cost of completing their education but also request a detailed itemized list of the costs involved.
Nine of the subjects discussed on the list need to be cost of the helicopter, cost of the instructor, cost of the fuel, cost of the insurance, cost of the take off and landing briefings, cost of ground school, cost of equipment and study materials, cost of the final exam (both written and flying), cost of safety gear, and cost of travel and hotels.
All these things add up and tend to conveniently go overlooked when a representative from school is talking to a potential student. It is the student’s job to make sure each topic on the list is thoroughly addressed.
2. How must payments be made?
Usually, schools will require a down payment at the time of enrollment of at least $1,000. Students should not be surprised if the school they wish to attend does not offer to finance.
Typically helicopter training schools are run by professional pilots with years of experience. They likely have money, but not the type of money it takes to loan out to every student that signs up.
Would-be pilots should never agree to pay for the entire cost of their schooling upfront. In case that the school incurs financial problems and has to close down, that could leave a student pilot at a serious fiscal loss.
3. What happens if a student chooses to leave early and not complete the course after paying money in?
As in every career schooling, sometimes students sign up, attend the classes for a while before deciding that it’s just not their cup of tea. In that case, will they be refunded, and if so how much?
What happens if they have to move far away or become seriously ill? What is the process of retrieving the money that has not yet been used in helicopter training?
Future pilots shouldn’t just accept a verbal answer to this question. They should have paperwork in writing and notarized detailing how the school will refund money, under what circumstances, and how much.
4. How many functional aircraft are available at the school?
Not only is it important to know how many helicopters are available for student use, it’s also important to know how many students are currently enrolled.
There need to be more available helicopters than students. The reason is simple: helicopters like every other vehicle will need maintenance and repairs from time to time and students won’t want to have to compete to get in their practice.
It’s also important to note that when a part is needed for a helicopter, rarely can it be acquired immediately. Because helicopters are a somewhat uncommon craft, resources are limited and it could take weeks for the part to be replaced.
5. What types of helicopters are available to students?
New students may not be aware that every different type of helicopter that they are authorized to operate must be listed on their license.
Students endorsed by the Bell 206 or MD500 will often be more valued in the job market than those with any other type of endorsement.
Though it is good to have to train on more than one type of engine, having too many may look bad on a resume for someone who has just graduated.
It would be understandable for someone with two decades of experience piloting to have four or five types of their license, but for graduating students it could appear that they only achieved a basic understanding of each, but did not have the time to master any of them.
6. How many instructors are employed by the school and what class instructor ratings do they have?
Research has shown that when a helicopter piloting student is taught by one instructor for the life of their training, they go on to be a more competent pilot after graduation.
Though this scenario is ideal, it is not always possible. Students need to be informed of how many instructors are available and what are their hours, rating, and skill set.
In the case that the instructor that they were to begin working with were to take ill or leave the school, a student will need to feel comfortable with another teacher taking their place.
Students should also look for a school that has a Designated Pilot Examiner on staff. This is a great advantage to students because teachers can confer with the DPE about new requirements to passing the test and make sure that their students are well versed in whatever techniques they need to work on in order to pass the test.
Furthermore, when the student has completed their schooling and is ready for the final exam it’s best if they don’t have to wait.
If a student cannot book the final test with a DPE at their school because the school chose not to hire one, it could take weeks before they can get an appointment.
That leaves an allotted time to forget things and get nervous, so it’s best to enroll in a school that has a DPE on staff.
7. When is the school open?
Ideally, the school should be open year-round and on the weekends. Since most schools do not offer financing and student pilots don’t generally have $50,000 in the bank, most students will have to work while in school.
Having the 7-day-a-week benefit isn’t just beneficial to the students that have jobs, it’s also a safety net for when weather conditions are bad.
Having the extra days at their disposal in case they fall behind in getting their hours completed because of heavy rain or being sick can be very helpful.
8. Can the non-flight part of education be taken on school grounds?
If at all possible, students will want to complete all areas of the education at their flight school.
If they have to go off campus to take classes, chances are the teachers of their other school will not be as involved in working around their flight schedules, nor will they take the interest of the flight students to heart the way an on-site instructor will.
By having all the instruction done at the flight school, teachers can relate their lessons to flying, not just give general information.
Students also need to know what is included in the ground schooling and what resources are accessible. Finding out if there is a library, tutors, recorded presentations, and simulators at their disposal is good to know.
Helicopter flight students should also ask about current and former students. They need to know what the percentage of students pass the written and flight final exam.
Has any student failed in recent months? How do they try to help students who fail the first time?
They should ask if students are offered to sit in on classes or get additional help from teachers. It’s also good to know if this kind of special attention will cost extra money.
9. What is the average time it takes a student to complete his helicopter training?
Look for schools that answer between three and seven months. A school that boasts that their students have everything done in 3 months is likely giving their students just enough attention to get by.
If they answer longer than seven months, then there is an issue somewhere.
Either the school is not open very many days out of the week, there are not enough instructors for everyone, they don’t keep their aircraft maintained, or they are having financial difficulties keeping everything up to code.
10. Does the school own a helicopter flight simulator and an IFR helicopter?
Canadian law dictates that for pilots to get licensed they need at least 10 hours of successful training using these two forms of equipment. Instructors may also have ratings when it comes to IFR skill levels.
It is a good idea to find out how well equipped the instructor is at using these types of apparatuses, since those who teach this are not legally required to have a rating at all.
11. Will the school work to find its students a job after graduation?
Though it is impossible for a school to guarantee a brand new student a job following the completion of their training, it’s good to find out how many of their students they have helped.
If the student is training through a company charter program, keep in mind that is in their best interest to keep the students they train.
Reasons why they may not hire a student they train could be the student’s attitude, availability, and willingness to take direction.
If a high percentage of students aren’t getting hired following licensing, the prospective student needs to know why and consider getting their helicopter training elsewhere.
It may be best for students to write down these questions as well as others that they might have to bring to their interview. It may seem like they are asking a lot, but anyone willing to drop $50,000 on their helicopter training deserves answers.