Background I have done my JAA PPL with Orlando Flight Training (Florida) in september/october 2005. Since then I have answered a lot of questions about how this is possible, and how best to go about doing this. I have also written an article about this which appeared in the Dutch aviation magazine Piloot en Vliegtuig (January 2006). Since then I have gotten feedback, learned a few new things about this process, and also learned that some processes (particularly the TSA permission thing) have changed.
In this three-article series I'm trying to summarize the whole process, with the aim of helping other interested flight students make a good decision on whether to do JAA flight training abroad or not, and if they do so, help them along.
Four questions you should ask yourself
Question 1. Do I want to obtain a JAA PPL? Strange question? You want to fly in Europe, so you need a JAA PPL, not? Well, not necessarily.
It is absolutely undeniably true that the JAA PPL is the "golden standard" when it comes to private flying in any JAA country. It allows you to fly internationally in a JAA-registered aircraft without any hassle. You can fairly easily obtain a PPL from another (non-JAA) country, based on your JAA PPL, and then rent aircraft in that other country. You can add all sorts of valuable things to it, like an Instrument Rating (IR) or a multi-engine endorsement. And it is an absolute necessity if you ever want to fly commercially. But it is not the only license that allows you to fly an aircraft. And other licenses are cheaper and easier, sometimes even much cheaper and easier to obtain.
What other licenses you can obtain that allow you to fly an aircraft ("aircraft" in the broadest sense: powered or powerless, heavier or lighter than air) depends on the country you live in (as these are generally not internationally recognised certificates), but most countries have a "National PPL" which allows you to fly on the same aircraft as a PPL, but not internationally, and most countries have separate licenses for gliders and microlights. If all you want is to experience the magic of flying, perhaps these other licenses are good enough. They are certainly cheaper.
Oh, and let's not forget the possibility of obtaining an American (FAA) PPL. This allows you to fly, within the JAA member states, on an N-reg (US registered) aircraft. Depending on the exact type of aircraft you want to fly, there may be issues with getting it transferred from the N (US) to a European register, particularly if it's a vintage aircraft without a Certificate of Airworthiness. Also, the FAA IR is much easier to obtain than the JAA IR (at this point in time), so there are a lot of people who deliberately get an FAA PPL+IR, buy (a share in) an N-reg aircraft, and fly that N-reg aircraft, in IMC, on IFR flight plans, throughout Europe. Simply because they do not want to learn all the theory that the JAA thinks is required for a JAA PPL+IR.
Question 2. Do I want to obtain my JAA PPL through an intensive course? If you go to the US to do your JAA flight training, you're going to end up in an intensive course. But you can also do intensive courses at virtually any flight school local to where you live, if you ask. And there are a few European schools that specialize in these intensive courses. (Look in the back pages of your favourite aviation magazine to obtain a list.) Provided the weather is okay, such an intensive course will last about three weeks.
During these three weeks you've got to fly 45 hours. That means you're going to average 2.5 to 3 hours flight time (usually spread out over two flights) per day. Each flight requires preparation and a de-brief. In addition to this you will need to do seven theoretical exams and an R/T practical exam. The skill test itself will take half a day and you might need to visit the Sherrifs office and a doctor upon arrival - another half day gone. An intensive course really is a full-time affair and you should not expect to be able to do anything else besides flight training. Can you handle this? Is your family and your work OK with you being gone for three weeks? And do you have the funds available to pay for all this outright?
If that's the case, fine. If you do not have the funds available, if you cannot take time off work, if you get homesick quickly, do not go on an intensive course, not at home, not anywhere else in Europe and not in the US. Do your PPL part-time, one or two lessons a week, and you should be doing your exam after half a year to a year.
Question 3. Do I want to obtain my JAA PPL through an intensive course outside a JAA state (typically the US)? As said, you can do intensive courses everywhere, although flight schools within Europe typically do not advertise this strongly. But at most places, instructors can be booked by the hour and if you have a chat with them beforehand I'm pretty sure only few would object to being scheduled to fly with you twice each day for a period of 21 days straight.
Having said that, there are a few advantages to flight training in the US:
The flight schools that offer these packages are very used to intensive courses, have lodging available, have full-time instructors available, have maintenance organizations readily available and so forth, to make sure there's only limited chance for "snags" that hold up your training.
Flying in the US is much cheaper per hour than flying in Europe. Sales and fuel taxes are much lower, and virtually no airfield charges a landing fee for VFR flights. The current exchange rate of the Euro vs. the Dollar also helps a lot.
Airspace division, and therefore flight rules and R/T are simpler, when compared to the European situation. Also, air traffic control and air traffic services are much better used to and equipped to handle VFR flights. (1-800-WX-Brief, Flight Watch and Flight Following comes to mind.)
In the places where the CAA-approved flight schools are found (Florida and South California) weather is generally much more flyable and in any case better predictable than in most parts of Europe.
Undeniably, there are disadvantages too:
You're away from home, in a different timezone, in a different culture. Everybody speaks English (not a problem if you're from the UK, but if you're from, let's say, Italy, it might be). If you're homesick easily, well...
There's a significant amount of bureaucracy required: You need TSA clearance and you need an M-1 visa. Obtaining this may take two months from start to finish, and both are linked directly to the flight school you're training with. So you can't easily change flight schools if the one you happen to have selected doesn't suit you.
If anything happens that seriously upsets the schedule (like getting sick, falling out with the flight school, severe weather) you're stuck with not a lot of options than to go home without a PPL. How bad this is depends on what happened, and whether you can continue where you left off later or not.
Question 4. Is it really cheaper? How much money you spend on flight training differs greatly with the type of aircraft you fly, the amount an instructor charges you for instruction, the package deal you can get at a flight school and a load of other factors. In my case, I have found that the US route was significantly cheaper than training in the Netherlands. And that was before the rise of the Euro against the Dollar. But it is a good idea to work out the costs involved for yourself in any case and compare it to the cost of training locally.
Here are the factors that you need to take into account when you do the comparison:
Cost of the JAA/CAA study books and the PPL Confuser (about EUR 170-200 if bought online)
Cost of medical examinations: you need a JAA class 2 in any case (about EUR 350), and an additional FAA class 3 (about USD 100) if you go to the US.
M-1 visa: about EUR 100 altogether and half a day off work. More if you live a significant distance away from the nearest embassy or consulate.
TSA clearance, fingerprinting: about USD 155 altogether. More if you do fingerprinting in Europe, and need to travel a significant distance to one of the locations where this can be done. See below.
Cost of the flight to the US. But also take into account the cost of traveling to the local airport/flight school at least some 50 times, if you stay at home.
Base price of the package, for the ground school, use of facilities, theory exams and so forth
45 flight hours plus possibly a fuel surcharge
25 instruction hours (and does your instructor get paid for flight time only, or for block hours?)
Insurance, damage waiver
Landing fees if you stay at home (expect to make 100+ landings or touch & gos over the course of your PPL training)
Hardware like a headset, kneeboard, fuel tester (USD 150-200 if you buy it there, far more if you buy it in Europe)
Exam costs for the R/T practical and the skills test
CAA license issue fee and the conversion (if needed) of a CAA/JAA PPL to one issued by your own aviation organization
Cost of doing a thorough check-out, with a bit of ground school (see below) once you get back.
Most of this information can be obtained easily from the website of your flight school of choice, or from other sources. For prices that might not readily available I have listed (above) what I paid, end of 2005.
How does this JAA flight training thing work in a non-JAA country?
First a bit of background on the JAA (Joint Aviation Authorities). The JAA is an organization that has been started by the national aviation authorities of several European states, to obtain consensus over various aspects of aviation. One aspect of this is Flight Crew Licencing. The JAA organization proposes rules on this, and writes them down in the JAR-FCL (Joint Aviation Regulations - Flight Crew Licensing). These rules are then enacted into local law by the respective countries. In the UK for instance, it's the ANO (Air Navigation Order) which contains all the rules, but these rules will (largely) be the same as what can be found in Dutch or Spanish law, for instance.
Somewhere in 2008, the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) is going to take over Flight Crew Licensing from JAA. The EASA is an organization which is part of the European Union, and as such can make rules/laws which automatically become valid in all EU-countries. However, the practical aspects of Flight Crew Licensing are not expected to change much.
As part of the Flight Crew Licensing task, each national aviation organization certifies Flight Training Organizations (FTOs). Typically, these flight schools are local, but the UK CAA has also certified a few oversees flight schools. This means that these schools are certified to provide flight training and flight exams, according to the CAA syllabus, which is in turn derived from the JAA syllabus. If you pass all the exams and the experience requirements, what you get is a CAA issued, JAA (JAR-FCL) conforming PPL. Even though you've never flown in UK airspace. As all JAA countries recognise each others PPLs by default, this little brown booklet allows you to fly an aircraft registered in any JAA member state, worldwide.
The CAA is the only JAA member that certifies foreign flight schools. As such, the list of Approved Flight Training Organizations, which can be found on the CAA website (http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/SRG_FCL_APPROVEDFTOS.PDF) is the only definitive authoritative list of places where you can obtain a JAA PPL outside the JAA member states. At present there are four schools in Florida, one in Southern California and one in Canada but obviously those numbers will change over time.
This article is not a review of each and every school. Since nobody has been to all of them, nobody is in any position of authority to write such a review. Search the internet forums (www.pprune.org), read the reviews and bear in mind that somebody with a negative experience is more likely to write about it than somebody with a neutral or positive experience.
There is one general consideration though. If you go to Florida, try to avoid Hurricane Season, which runs roughly from April to October, or allow some 30% extra time in your schedule. Even a nameless, medium sized tropical storm can make flying hard to impossible for about three days. A hurricane may lead to the evacuation of the whole school for a couple of days. And we all remember what Katrina did to New Orleans, don't we?
Last edited by BackPacker; 6th Jun 2007 at 15:13.
First, contact the school and make a preliminary booking for the period that you want to go there. Get a confirmation that you're booked and at the same time you should also be getting information and the necessary paperwork for your TSA clearance and M-1 visa. From this point on you're going to get busy. Most of the items below will run in parallel, of course.
Get a JAA Class 2 medical If you can't get a JAA Class 2 medical, for any reason, you will not be able to exercise the privileges of your PPL in Europe. Bit of a waste of money, not? So get that JAA Class 2 medical before you commit any funds into this undertaking.
Note - Flying clubs may have discount agreements with aviation medical examiners. Ask for this!
Get TSA Clearance The Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) requires everybody who comes to the US for flight training, and who is not a US citizen, to obtain permission for this training. Getting clearance is described in great detail on the TSA website (http://www.flightschoolcandidates.gov - scroll down to where the background becomes grey for the instructions) and the process is relatively painless, but there's one thing that the website is not very clear and practical about: fingerprinting.
Getting fingerprinted is the last step you need to undertake to complete the TSA process, and the TSA has to acknowledge the receipt of your fingerprints before you're allowed to start training (as a "Category 3 Alien" - for other categories other rules apply). In the past, the TSA turned a blind eye towards PPL candidates on the rapid track, but this is no longer. TSA employees regularly perform spot checks at flight schools, have issued a number of large fines and as a result, the TSA regulations are now followed to the letter.
So you need to make sure the TSA has acknowledged the receipt of your fingerprints before you start your flying training. That seems easy, until you realise that getting fingerprinted for the TSA is not something you can do at the kitchen sink. It can only be done at certain official locations. The US embassies and consulates worldwide, although they have fingerprinting equipment, are (at present) NOT accepted locations for the TSA. (I have asked the TSA why, and this is because embassies and consulates are under the Department of State, while the TSA is under the Department of Homeland Security. Politics...)
You have two options. Either you go to one of the (very) few accepted locations in Europe (they can be found on the TSA web site) beforehand, or the first thing you do upon arrival in the US is to go to a Sheriffs office and get fingerprinted there. When I was there, this was still done using ink and paper, and then mailed to the TSA, so it took about five days for the TSA receipt acknowledgement to come back. I understand that some Sheriffs offices now have the ability to do this electronically, meaning that you will only have to wait a day (or less) before the TSA sends you the receipt acknowledgment, and you can start training. Your flight school should know the nearest Sheriffs office which has this electronic equipment, obviously.
Note: the FAQ and various other documents talk about "FAA training", "schools regulated by the FAA" and so on. I have asked the TSA about this and it is the interpretation of the TSA that, because your JAA training takes place at a flight school which is regulated by the FAA, JAA training is subject to the TSA clearance process too. So do not expect a loophole there.
Get an M-1 visa As a flight school student, you are NOT going to be admitted to the US on the Visa Waiver Program, which is only intended for short-term vacation or business visits. So you have to apply for an M-1 (temporary student) visa. This visa is "sponsored" by the flight school, meaning that they will send you paperwork which states that you have indeed enrolled on a course with them. This paperwork, plus some forms you need to fill in yourself, plus several photos of yourself that conform to the US rules (standard European passport sized photo's are NOT accepted), need to be handed in at a US embassy or consulate, together with your (valid) passport. This is then processed and your passport, with the visa in it, will be returned by mail within a few business days.
Two things to be aware of though. Getting a visa "interview" appointment may take up to two months in busy periods, as you will be regarded as one of the several thousands of temporary exchange students that visit the US each year to obtain their college degree or something. And the visa "interview" itself will take a long time as well: First waiting in line to enter the embassy/consulate (security, x-ray, you name it), then waiting in line to hand in your paperwork, then wait in line to pay your fee, then wait in line to get fingerprinted, then wait in the lounge until you're called for the "interview" (basically one question to which you answer "Cessnas" - guess what the question is), then wait for a few stamps and receipts. My "interview" took a total of three hours. I wish I had brought a book.
Note: Your visa and TSA clearance are directly linked to the flight school you enrolled with - they are your "sponsors". I have heard that in case of problems flight schools have occasionally threatened students with "cancelling the visa" claiming that that would lead to deportation. And on the other hand, students regularly threaten schools to switch schools if something does not go the way they want. Both of these are largely empty threats as it is definitely possible to have your visa and TSA clearance either transferred to a new school, or re-issued in name of the new school. However, the bureaucracy involved will likely take a day or two, and you should also expect something like 200-300 USD in admin fees. Plus, you've got to make sure that the other school has space available for you on short notice. So for all practical purposes it will not be possible to change schools during an intensive course, but neither side can or should use this as a threat to the other.
Learn PPL theory You will be flying training to the CAAs interpretation of the JAA syllabus. Also, your air law exam and parts of other exams will be specific to UK law and the UK situation. So make sure you have books that teach you how to fly according to that same syllabus, law and situation. That means the books by Jeremy Pratt or Trevor Thom. You can order these online from, for instance, AFE Online (http://www.afeonline.com).
The CAA does not mandate compulsory classroom groundschool, but that doesn't mean that it's forbidden. If you're not good at studying alone, without the guidance of an instructor, then studying in a classroom environment may well be a very good idea. Classroom courses are offered by virtually any flight school although you need to realise that if you do a classroom course and you're not in the UK, that you're going to be taught how to fly to the local syllabus, to local laws and situations. So make sure to read up on the differences between your home country and the UK too.
Another very good idea is to get the PPL Questions and Answers Simplifyer, or PPL Confuser, or another source of PPL exam questions, and study these as well. Not only will this help you judge where you have a lack of knowledge, but it will also help you get used to the sometimes tricky way of how questions are formulated by the CAA. (And here's another tip: if you don't know the correct answer to a multiple-choice question, it is either the longest answer, with the most legalese, or answer c.)
If you happen to live in the UK, then you can already do the seven theory exams at your local flight school. You then simply bring the paperwork over to the US, and this will be added to your student file. In any case, try to get the seven theory exams out of the way within a week of arriving at the school. The further you get into the flying training program, the more time it takes to prepare, fly and debrief your flights, so the less time you have for your exams.
Some schools in the US offer an evening groundschool program, usually as part of your package, which runs through all the PPL theory in three weeks. Do NOT rely on this as your sole method of studying. Three weeks is not enough to learn all the theory, and especially not if you're busy, full time, with actual flight training. At best, consider this ground school a refresher before you do an exam.
Listen to aviation R/T Get a (second-hand) airband scanner that handles the VHF COM frequencies (118-136 MHz in 25 kHz increments). Listen to the R/T of your local airfield to get used to the speed and phraseology that's being used. Try to build a mental picture of where each plane is, based on their R/T alone. Anticipate what is being read back and why. Bonus points for spotting the errors that all pilots make, professional or not.
Get a copy of MS Flight Simulator (MSFS) or X-Plane
...and use it to practice flying. Obviously not everything you're supposed to learn can be learned from playing MSFS or X-Plane. It's a game, most of all, not a trainer. But there are several things for which it can be very useful.
Learning the basic layout of the instrument and avionics panel, where to look for information.
Learning how to use checklists.
Learning how to scan and interpret aircraft instruments, and how to perform basic instrument flying.
Learning how to control various avionics, such as radio, transponder, GPS.
Learning how to do radio navigation. VOR intercepting and tracking, or VOR triangulation.
Learning how to plan and execute flights based on a navigation plan, and how to apply wind correction.
Learning how to execute circuit procedures.
Book your flight It is very tempting to hunt for a good deal, but whatever ticket you buy, make sure the return date can be changed, even if that means paying a small admin fee. Your own ability, aircraft and instructor availability, but particularly the weather can greatly influence the speed at which you go through the course. Make sure you have the flexibility to stay an additional few days if necessary.
Book your accomodation Typically, a US flight school has shared apartments in which they will place you for a small fee. Expect the standard of upkeep of a typical student place. Yes, there will be a cleaner, but he or she can only clean what he/she can get to. Be prepared to do your own shopping, laundry, cook your own meals, or eat out.
For a larger fee, the flight school will place you in a hotel. Easier with regards to privacy, cleaning, eating and so forth, but very boring in the evenings. Being in a shared apartment, with a fellow flight student or two, gives you a pal to talk pilot talk to in the evenings, at least.
I know people have investigated the option of renting an apartment or something else, independent of the flight school. They have found that this is generally not worthwhile if you're only going to be there for three weeks.
Arrange your funding Make sure the funding for your flying is available and accessible from the US. Remember that an international bank transfer costs money and takes time. Also, walking through customs with large amounts of cash is not something that makes people happy, and might require an explanation to a customs official. European debit cards might not be accepted by the school and the same might be true for Travellers Checks and other forms of personal checks.
I took the funds from my savings account and put them on my credit card so that it had a positive balance. I then used my credit card to pay the school. A very painless method of getting the money where it's supposed to go, but there might be an uplift for paying by credit card and the exchange rate might not be the best you can get. Another reason for me paying by credit card is that I would have the support of the credit card company behind me in case of problems.
If you decide to pay for your training by credit card, give the credit card company a heads-up call beforehand. Otherwise your payments to the flight school might be flagged as unusual and therefore suspicious transactions leading to all kinds of complications.
If you pay your flight training through other means, bring a credit card anyway. In the US, cash and credit cards are virtually the only accepted ways of payments in supermarkets, restaurants and so forth.
Organize your paperwork It has been said that no aircraft is allowed to fly before the weight of the paperwork equals or exceeds the weight of the aircraft itself, and this seems to be true for pilot licensing vs. pilot weight as well. Over the course of the next few months, you're going to accumulate all sorts of certificates, confirmation e-mails, forms to fill in and so forth. Buy a binder right now, keep the paperwork organized and bring the whole binder with you anytime you go to some official place, because there's always some additional piece of paper they will want to see. And remember that most official places will need to see a picture ID (ie. your passport) to verify it's indeed you. (The first place you need this paperwork is actually at immigration, and immigration, in most airports, is before you reclaim your luggage. So make sure you've got this binder in your hand luggage!)
Most schools have a service where you're going to be picked up from the airport. Sometimes that's treated as an exercise for a fellow student pilot (with an instructor on board, obviously) but mostly it'll be by car. You'll then get the tour of the facilities, get to shake hands with a lot of people, will need to go over paperwork, schedules and so, and will be shown your apartment. Here are a few things that are important:
Get fingerprinted If you did not get fingerprinted for your TSA clearance yet, make sure this is done ASAP. See above. Bring the e-mail with you that the TSA sent you with instructions, and bring your passport.
Meet people You will be introduced to a lot of people. Here are the ones that are going to be most important to you:
The Chief Flight Instructor (CFI) is the person to go to in case of problems. If you can't get on with your instructor, or something else is wrong, talk to him/her ASAP. Don't delay. You've only got 21 days and every day counts. A good CFI will check in with you regularly.
Your instructor is obviously going to do your flight training. Most likely he or she is not well paid and a lot of instructors are instructing as hour building before they can get an airline job. You are one of the several dozen students they train each year. Make sure you are special to them. For instance, promise them a real nice dinner if you indeed manage the PPL in 21 days. Spend some time with the instructor going over the schedule, and put in a few checkpoints for yourself. If you don't make these checkpoints, it's time for a chat with the CFI. One example schedule would be 15 hours max to first solo, 30 hours max to first cross-country solo. If you somehow can't get along with your instructor, say so. If it's a personality thing, switch instructors. If it's a teaching style thing, ask him/her to change it. You're going to be spending at least 25 hours with this person in a tiny cockpit, plus pre- and debriefings, so it helps if you get along.
You will be flying with other instructors every now and then too, to get an independent review of your progress.
The dispatcher is the person which really runs the place. This person schedules all the aircraft, instructors and so forth, and decides on priority if there's a conflict (an aircraft going tech, for instance). It's not a nice job to do, the rewards are low, but the responsibility is high. Be nice to him/her.
Behind the scenes there's other people working for you: line technicians (who do the refuelling), aircraft engineers (who do the maintenance and checks on the aircraft) and various admin people, managers and so forth. You might be introduced to them, but most likely not.
Review and sign the contract with the school You're going to have to sign a contract, and most likely the school is going to ask you to pay a deposit into your account, equal to the expected cost of your training. In other words, you've got to pay upfront. If you're a good negotiator you can try to avoid this, but I don't know how successful this is. In any case, you will be required to maintain a positive balance in your account throughout your training.
Arrange your FAA medical Make sure to get a confirmed appointment with an FAA aviation medical examiner (AME) for somewhere in your first week. You need an FAA class 3 medical, which doubles as your student pilot certificate, to fly solo in US airspace (and that's something that you can expect to do in about a weeks time).
The fact that you already hold a JAA class 2 medical is no help at all, even though the JAA class 2 medical is far more thorough than an FAA class 3. So pee in the pot, read the eyechart, donate a few drops of blood, and kick the AME when he hits your knee with that little hammer. Then pay the fee and you're good to go.
Don't forget to bring your passport to the AME though. If you're on medication or something, bring prescriptions and other paperwork.
Select an aircraft type Most flight school offer a cheap package deal based on 45 flight hours in a Cessna 152. Check these aircraft out and make sure that's what you really want. Production of the Cessna 152 stopped in 1985, so the aircraft you'll be flying will be over twenty years old at least. Obviously the engine will have been overhauled or replaced a number of times and the airframe is checked every 50 hours for safety. But it still remains a very cramped cockpit based on the size of a 1960s American citizen, and the flight performance will be adequate, but not great. Getting an upgrade to a newer, more powerful aircraft like a C-172 Skyhawk or PA-28 Cadet/Warrior might well be worth it.
A four-seater also gives you the ability to take another student in the back when you're flying with an instructor, and this generosity will generally be rewarded in kind. You can learn a lot from observing others.
If you're not sure what type of aircraft you want to fly, tell your instructor. They should be checked out on all aircraft types and can simply set your schedule so that your first few flights are in different aircraft, to allow you to make up your mind. The first few exercises are fairly identical in all aircraft anyway. But changing aircraft later in your training might not be a good idea since you need to get used to new procedures, new location of knobs and dials, and a different "picture" outside the cockpit (which is important for landing).
If the flight school is really busy, aircraft availability might also be a factor in selecting an aircraft type.
Go shopping If you do not have a headset, kneeboard and fuel tester, get it now. (Did you know that there are over 200 diseases that can be carried over via a shared headset? Get your own!)
Also, you need a current map of your local area and a pencil to mark it up, the Airport Facility Directory (little green book, issued by the FAA with info on all the airfields in your area), a protractor, a flight computer, a checklist and copy of the POH for the aircraft you're going to fly.
During Flying Training
Be assertive, but remain polite You are the customer, but you are not the only customer. If you generally behave as a nice person, acting as a team member with the objective of getting you and your fellow students their PPL as soon as possible, you'll get a lot more done than if you consider yourself a deity and everybody else your servants. So fetch a cup of coffee for the dispatcher if he/she is too busy to do it him/herself. Help a fellow student park the aircraft after a long cross-country solo. Clean up your aircraft after your flight, even if it means removing the trash of others. Bring cake or something else to celebrate your first solo. Have a bucket of water standing by to celebrate someone elses first solo (traditions vary with the school). Bring chocolade chip cookies for the tower people if you're allowed to visit them. If your flight is over and you're getting something to drink in anticipation of the debrief, get something to drink for your instructor too. If the frequency is not too busy, it's common practice to use "good morning", "thanks", "bye bye" and so forth in your transmissions. Don't leave personal items in the common room of the apartments. Clean the sink, shower, bathroom, toilet and the dishes after use.
If you have a problem or complaint, don't talk about it loudly in the lounge, but talk about it in private with the CFI first. Be open to compromises and be creative in suggesting alternatives. Don't threaten to leave (or sue) unless you really mean it.
All this should be obvious but I have found that it isn't, particulary not for younger students, straight out of highschool, first time on their own, on the professional track. Some of these are simply too impressed with themselves to have any consideration for others, and others are too impressed with others to stand up for themselves. Find a balance! (Funnily enough, when I was doing my training, a UK sergeant on leave from Iraq showed up to do flight training. Within a day or so he had both the arrogant and the timid types completely straightened out. Some people can do that...)
Keep track of the weather Not just the short term weather (for the next flight) but also the longer term weather, so that you can plan your flying activities accordingly. When I was in Florida, I found that the weather in the mornings was acceptable, the afternoon was horrible (moist air and intense sunshine is not a nice combination for flying) but the weather after sunset was great. So I moved a few of my lessons to very-early-morning (6 am early) and a few to late evenings. Some of these hours have counted towards my Night Qualification as well as the basic PPL, even.
Another example. I was already doing solo cross-countries when we had an afternoon with winds above solo limits. Instead of just sulking in a corner, I scheduled a session with an instructor specifically to do crosswind landings. Only half an hour, but very useful.
Keep track of your progress Check regularly with your instructor whether you're on schedule. At specific points in time, schedule a flight with a different instructor to get an independent assessment.
Keep track of your account Mistakes are only human but if you don't spot them in time, you might not be able to get them reversed. Every few days, ask for a printout of your account balance and the charges made to your account. Check them against your logbook.
Prepare each flight thoroughly Make sure you've talked to your instructor and you know what you're going to be doing on the flight. Re-read the relevant chapters, ask any questions you might have beforehand (not while the engine is running).
Debrief each flight thoroughly Insist on a debrief, even if the instructor is running late and has another student waiting. Make notes, ask when things are unclear, and ask what the plan is for the next flight (see above). Re-read your notes regularly. If necessary, do some "armchair flying" or go out to a parked (school) aircraft and do a mock of what you're supposed to do, in that aircraft, on the ground. Very useful for learning procedures and motor skills. You can also put the radio on (on speaker) to get used to R/T a little more. Just make sure you don't run the battery down, and verify that the hobbs meter is not solely wired to the master switch.
Learn from the mistakes of others. You don't have time to make them all yourselves. You can learn a lot from listening to the stories of your fellow students, but also from the stories of your instructors. And if you did something wrong, share it. Others can help you analyse what went wrong and why, and everybody learns from this. And this doesn't just happen within flight schools. The whole flying community is very safety conscious, and this is perhaps one of the reasons that flying is very safe.
Do the FAA pre-solo exam Somewhere during your first week, make sure you do the FAA pre-solo exam. This is a fairly simple exam, mandated by the FAA, for all students that fly solo in US airspace. If you don't know the answer to a question, don't despair. You can ask your instructor what the answer is, and the instructor then signs the piece of paper saying that he/she adequately explained it to you. That's good enough for the FAA.
Read the Flying Order Book The school where I was also had you read the Flying Order Book and sign a document to that effect. This book contained local procedures which the school wanted the students to live by. For instance what to do in case of damage to an aircraft, in case of having to refuel off-site, off-airport landings, insurance issues, cross- and headwind limitations, that sort of thing. This had to be done before first solo, and that means in the first week. Without your signature, you were not allowed to go solo.
Plan your R/T Practical Exam Make sure you get a confirmed time and date for your R/T practical exam for somewhere in the second, or early third week. The seven theory exams are very easy to schedule, as virtually every instructor is authorized to set you up for these exams when and where you like. But the R/T practical exam requires a certified examiner and requires a unique computer setup (of which the school most likely only has one available). So make sure this is scheduled properly.
Plan your final Skills Test Make sure you get a confirmed time and date for your final skills test, preferably aiming for the middle of the third week. This gives you time if the weather holds you up a bit, and gives you time to re-do the parts that you might fail during your first test.
As soon as you know the name of the examiner, ask for his weight. An examiner expects you to do a weight and balance calculation based on actual data, not FAA/JAA averages. So this otherwise fairly indecent question is very normal.
Don't indulge in the pleasures of having a temporary bachelors status Flying training is hard work if you're well rested. Flying training with a hangover is a waste of time and money.
The Skills Test
Your examiner should tell you beforehand which route you need to prepare. This is generally a route consisting of three legs. You are expected to be the Pilot in Command while the instructor plays a complete novice to aviation - you cannot rely on him/her for anything. In fact, some examiners insist that you give them a proper passenger briefing before taking off.
The first leg should be flown by visual reference only (no radio nav or GPS allowed) and you are supposed to give the examiner an ETA as soon as you have one. You can revise the ETA during the flight, but eventually it needs to be accurate to within a few minutes.
After the first leg, turn on the heading for the second leg and once the aircraft is settled in the cruise, the instructor will interrupt you and find a place to test your motor skills: stalls, steep turns and the like. He or she will also briefly take control so that you can put up the hood or other view limiting device (which you need to bring!), so that you can demonstrate the 180 degree turn on instruments.
After this, the examiner will typically ask you to "divert" to your point of departure. At this point in time you are allowed to use radio navigation (but no RNAV or GPS) so if your airfield has an NDB or VOR/DME, you're virtually home free. You do have to supply an ETA though, so you need to know where you are first (hint: VOR triangulation...)
Upon arrival at your home field, you'll be asked to demo a few types of landing (regular, flapless, short field) before taxying in.
Before or after the flight test, the instructor is also supposed to give you an oral exam, on the ground. This oral exam may cover all the subjects that you've already been examined in in the theory exams, and more. You are also supposed to be familiar with specific aspects of the airspace and aircraft you're flying in at this time. ("How many vacuum pumps do you think your aircraft has, and why?")
In order to be issued your PPL, you have to have 45 hours of flight experience, and have passed the skills test, but not necessarily in that order. As the exam takes at least two hours in the air, you can already start it with only 43 hours of flight experience.
If you do not pass your exam (in time) If the unfortunate happens and you fail the exam, then you typically only fail it partially. That means that on your next exam you only have to demonstrate the parts that you failed earlier. Talk to your instructor about this and train for that specifically.
If you don't pass your full exam in time but need to go home, then there are two distinct situations:
If "home" is somewhere in the UK, then you can take all the paperwork from the school with you and continue training at your local school. All your exams and flight experience are done in the US under the CAA syllabus, and your local flight school also works to that same syllabus. So as long as you've got all the paperwork in order, you should not have any problem continuing your flying training back home.
If "home" is somewhere outside the UK, you've got a bigger problem. Most likely the flight experience you have will count towards the flight experience requirements of your local aviation organization, but you will have to re-sit all your theory and practical exams from scratch. And if you happen to live in a country which mandates classroom hours before you can do an exam, well, you're going to be spending a lot of hours in a classroom learning stuff you already know and have already been examined in. Unless, of course, you book a few days with a flight school in the UK and finish your training and exams there.
After your have passed your exam
If at all possible, do not leave the school before all the paperwork is in order, ready to be sent to the CAA. I left the school over the weekend when the admin people and the CFI were not there. Settling my account and getting all the final paperwork sorted, from home, via e-mail, took no less than four weeks. It could have been done in an hour if I would have been able to do it right after my test.
Once you've got all your paperwork sorted, and are back home, send your application to the CAA at Gatwick. Even if you don't live in the UK. After all, you're applying for a CAA-issued, JAA-conforming license. Once you've got the CAA-issued license in hand, you may, if you want to, go to your national aviation authority and trade in your CAA-issued, JAA-conforming license for a national, JAA-conforming license. This should only cost an admin fee. Whether you want that is up to you. It's not a requirement.
If you've finally got your license in hand, book a two-hour block (at least) one-on-one groundschool with an instructor. There are guaranteed to be several differences between flying in the US and flying back home. Your best preparation for this is to prepare and fly a mock flight (on the ground) with a local instructor. He/she can show you how to obtain weather, notams, how to submit, open and close a flightplan, where to obtain charts, how to book aircraft, differences in R/T, differences in airspace structure, you name it. And he or she can also recommend destinations for you to fly to, to build experience.
After this mock flight, plan at least two flights with that same instructor. The first one is probably going to be aircraft familiarization and local area familiarization, with a bunch of touch & gos thrown in, and the second one will be a longer cross-country with a few twists in them. Controlled airspace transition, for instance. Flying at flight levels instead of altitudes. Landing on grass runways instead of concrete. Obtaining PPR, booking in and booking out. Obtaining various ATC services. Then, do a few more solo flights before you take passengers.
If you're a member of an active flying club, try to take part in club events. This is a good way to make new friends, fly together with other pilots, where the PIC role changes each leg, get recommendations for new things to do and new destinations to fly to.
Good luck and safe flying!
Last edited by BackPacker; 6th Jun 2007 at 15:05.
I now remember I did a post a while back listing the differences that I noted between flying (on a PPL level) in the US vs. Europe. Very useful for when you get back:
Flight Preparation In the US, there is a wonderful service generally known as "WX-BRIEF", after the telephone number you dial: 1-800-WX-BRIEF. This number connects you to an FSS (Flight Service Specialist?) who is specially trained to help you with almost everything related to flight preparation: weather, notams, filing of flight plans and so forth. There is generally no such service in Europe, although larger airports usually have a crew briefing office where all the information can be obtained in one location.
For private flying, there is a lot of things possible on the internet. Not just obtaining information, but also submitting information. To the point where it becomes worthwhile taking your laptop with you in your flightbag on a longer trip - a lot of smaller airfields might even offer wireless internet.
For weather, there are tons of public sites that give you weather charts and such, and a lot of sites that give you access to METARs and TAFs. But the best source of official information is your local, official, meteorological service. Most of them have a special section for aviation weather. This usually requires registration, and sometimes a small usage fee. You also might need to identify yourselves as a pilot, by faxing a copy of your license over.
For NOTAMs, your best option is to go to the Eurocontrol website. This allows you to select your route and performs a bit of pre-filtering. It does NOT, however, display NOTAMs in a graphical format, but there are several sites on the internet who do.
The Eurocontrol server, by the way, also gives you access to most, if not all, parts of the Aeronautical Information Publications (AIPs) of most countries in Europe. This publication (in three parts) contains local regulations, en-route information and aerodrome information. You can print the airfield information off the website, but it will not be in a convenient format for use in the cockpit. Also, there is no government-produced AFD (little green book), so you will have to resort to commercial flight guides like the Bottlang or a country-specific flight guide for airport information.
Flight Plans need to be send to your local air traffic control unit. Depending on the unit involved, this may be done using fax, phone or via a web interface. There is a world of difference between the US and Europe with regards to flight plans. First, there is the format: the US uses their own format called the FAA flight plan, while Europe uses the ICAO form. But secondly, there is the requirement for filing a flight plan. I never did one in the US (using Flight Following instead), but in Europe, flight plans, depending on local regulations, might or will be required:
When flying to or from a controlled airport, or through controlled airspace en-route.
When flying across an international border (or internal FIR boundary)
After submitting a flight plan, the plan is distributed to all the units that need it. They are expecting you and it is therefore important to update your flight plan as you take-off time changes, or cancel it when you cancel the flight. Except for the UK, it is also very important to close your flightplan upon arrival, either by asking the last ATC unit you're talking to, before landing, to close it, or by calling the appropriate telephone number within 30 minutes after landing.
Airports, in Europe, are generally privately owned, although the owning company might, in turn, be owned by the government. Depending on the airport involved, this might mean the following:
The airport might be PPR, meaning Prior Permission Required. PPR can sometimes be obtained over the radio, but it is more common to give them a call well before departure, or even while doing your flight preparation. This PPR telephone call will usually involve a short briefing as well on how to approach, specific circuit, taxi and parking procedures and so forth. Don't dread a PPR call. Most airfields are very happy for you to come, as long as you abide by their rules. After all, it's their way of making a living!
Most airports will charge a landing fee.
Usually the owner of the field is also the one which does your "handling". You normally don't have a choice in FBOs like you do in the US.
On larger airports there is usually a choice in handling agents, and in most cases it will be a requirement that you have confirmed handling with one of them before you're allowed to land.
Most smaller airports are closed at night, and therefore have no lighting systems installed whatsoever. Flying at night is therefore, from a practical point of view, only possible between larger, controlled airports, if it is possible at all. (The Netherlands, for instance, forbids Night VFR altogether.)
Airspace differences The airspace in Europe is generally more crowded than in the US. To accomodate this, the European airspace is more "layered" than in the US and uses the different classes A-G differently. Spend some time looking at a map of your local area before you go flying there. And there are a few other differences:
Class D airspace requires an explicit clearance to enter, whereas in the US you only need two-way radio contact to enter
The transition altitude in Europe is generally much lower than in the US (3000 feet is very common) and is also variable: some CTRs or TMAs have a different transition altitude than the airspace surrounding it.
Military training areas, danger areas, prohibited areas and so forth have numbers instead of names. Look in the AIP for their activation periods, which may be H24, specific times or by NOTAM.
En-Route In Europe, there is no central "Flight Watch" service. Instead, you can ask for flight information (weather updates, changes to flight plans) from the ATC service you are talking to. Outside controlled airspace there will be an "INFO" frequency which you can use. As said, they only provide flight information (and an alerting service) but NO traffic information by default.
Also, there is no such concept as "Flight Following". Sometimes the INFO frequency will not be busy and will be radar equipped so they can give you traffic information, but don't count on it. In the UK, you can get a LARS (Lower Altitude Radar Service) from units that participate in that program, which means that they use their radar to give you traffic information outside their "own" controlled airspace. However, a LARS service is mostly provided by military units as secondary duty, and they might be closed on weekends, during holidays and so forth, when no military flying is going on.
In the US, air pressure (and therefore your altimeter setting) is always measured in Inches of Mercury ("altimeter 2992"), re-calculated to the air pressure at sea level. In Europe, air pressure is measured in millibars (the old name) or hectopascals (the new name, but they are the same). Most of the times you will receive the QNH (pressure at sea level), but some places, most notably military fields in the UK, will give you QFE (pressure at airfield elevation). If you get the wrong one, you can always ask for the other though.
There are some differences in R/T:
In the US, the term "position and hold" is used, where in Europe they use "line up and wait".
In the US, you can get a "conditional" landing clearance: "You are number 2 behind the Piper on final. Cleared to land." In Europe, this is generally not done: as soon as you are "cleared to land", the runway is unconditionally yours.
In the US, an airfield is controlled, meaning you talk to "tower" or it is uncontrolled, so you broadcast your intentions on the "traffic" frequency. In Europe, there is an in-between form very common as well, called the AFIS or A/G service. Depending on the exact type this means you are talking to "radio" or "information". Both can give you arrival/departing information, taxi and parking instructions but they will NOT give you a landing or take-off clearance. It is up to you to provide separation from landing aircraft.
In the US, if an airfield does not have an ATIS, there's a good chance it will have an AWOS (Automatic Weather Observation System). In Europe it's normally an ATIS or nothing. AWOSes are very rare, if they exist at all.
I find it important to add a remark to your big and informative post. I too obtained my PPL in the US and have started flying in Switzerland now.
In Florida all your tracks are straight and in switzerland there are big 15 thousand feet mountains and elevations everywhere that force the pilot to follow a feature (such as a valley or road) instead of using timers and headings like we do on the US, I even was forbidden in my course to featurecrawl... here it's the rule.
If the geography of your home country is different than that of the US then you'll need a couple of flights to get you up to speed.
This situation happened to me, and to several other students at a school I attended. My problem was that I expected a six month course to take six months, so when every one of my flights were cancelled for a week because the maintenence was too shoddy I complained, politely. When I was mischarged $400 for flights somone else flew, I complained, just as politely, and then got called a troublemaker.
I refused to accept that as a paying customer I had to put up with that kind of miss-management and unprofessionalism. They were quick to inform me that I wasn't a customer, but 'only a student' and they could take away my visa and send me home. I went to another flightschool and had them contact the state department on my behalf to arrange a transfer was very fortunate to succed.
I got lucky.
A friend of mine at the same school tried to transfer and when the new school contacted the old one to arrange the transfer they cancelled his visa for 'misconduct'.
Another friend was sick and missed three lessons and was told he was taking too long to finish the course so he got the same treatment.
The school only cares about getting peoples money, not about providing proper flight training, and their facilities are substandard. The Visa can trap you into staying at the school where if it were in the UK it would be easy for you to drive to another airport for training, and this school knows it and exploits it. They are now filled with Indian students who they can get away with mistreating.
After a month of research online, here and on many other sites, finally I decided to loose my forum virginity on this topic. Thank you BackPacker for such a detailed explanation of the US training alternative. The best I've found anywhere to date. Sticky status well deserved I thought.
I am fortunate enough to be able to pay for all of my training from zero to CPL/IR/FI and have toiled with many questions including the issue of UK or US based training. Money is a slight issue as the funds I have, sufficient as they are, are a once in a life time chance to be a FI and as such are limited.
I would gladly support the UK flying industry as it would both be the moral choice and clearly a less complicated route for a chap with a wife and 2 kids. My funds would cover the training in either the US or the UK so that is not why I am in the balance on this issue.
Looking at all of the UK schools who can provide the required training I have found;
1. a number have no website, in this day and age? 2. some websites are of such a poor quality, inspiring nothing 3. information I, and I would presume others, needed about courses and paths to licences were not available 4. 2 focus on young ATPL entry, almost to the exclusion of anything else 5. 2 had answering machines rather then a person taking calls 6. a few did not even have decency to return my calls 7. limited number with flight sims and or ground schools 8. some are clearly 'overselling' the prospects for a newly qualified ATPL - which undermines anything else they might state 9. most have limited or no facilities for full time training 10. Information, telephone numbers and e-mail address were out of date
Then add the poor weather, limited types to train on, limited flying time due to lack of instructors, off site maintinence and, of course the cost.
I would have thought if the UK flying industry - meaning individual flying schools - were in financial 'need' and desperate for people who want to be full time / time served FIs [rather than learner jet jocks] then many of the issues I have found in the last month would not exist.
If anyone is going to spend 30K+ with a school you need to know the school is up to the job and this assurance to a potential customer, as best at it can be, can only come from ticking all the boxes.
Given some schools have closed without warning, to the great cost of their current students, I selected a number of flying schools in the UK and have received publically available financial records from Companies House. It was not good news, in fact I'd advise anyone looking to train in the UK to do likewise, could be worth every penny of your £15.
Having said that please please sell me on a decent UK based school if you know of one - I can and will relocate to anywhere in the UK
Backpacker thank you for the informative information that you have posted on the forum, may I copy this to a friend of mines site as I feel you have so many good points. Do you know anything about the FAA PPL?
I know that the FAA PPL is broadly similar to the JAA PPL in terms of hours that need to be flown and the subjects in which you're going to be examined. The FAA PPL does include the night rating by default though, and the list of core flying skills tested is slightly different.
When I went to the US recently for a rating I got my fingerprints taken at the local airport on arrival where there was a TSA office. Their role was providing ID checking facilities to the airport workers.
They charged $36 for the privilege and needed passport/ID plus a completed form and the correct part of the email that is sent from the TSA alien flight training system that permits you to have your prints taken. The big advantage was that they have an electronic scanner that both ensures there are no quality problems and also transmits the prints direct to TSA HQ. That meant I got a result back in two days.
You can go elsewhere but the other places I looked at charged varying higher fees as a result I believe of a $74 processing fee levied on outside contractors.
You can also have the prints taken at the local sherriff's office. It would no doubt help if theye were friendly but usually thgese are paper and so there is a no doubt significant delay in processing.
One item to watch out is that the TSA ID offices are open varying and, acccording to how busy the airport is, limited hours.
There are indeed a few airports listed. Unfortunately, if you go to any of the US-based JAA/CAA-certified flight schools, either in Florida or California, it doesn't seem that the obvious airports for getting there have TSA offices.
On The Spot went to the US for a type rating, not a PPL, as I understand. It may well be that there was a TSA office conveniently located where he did his type rating. What is important to remember though, is that a type rating may well mean that you're not a "Category 3 Alien" but a "Category 1 Alien", which means that the total background check has to be completed before you're allowed to start training - this may take up to 30 days, I think, after the TSA has received your prints.
No, you can't. As far as I know, the CAA allows all licenses, endorsements etc. to be done overseas, except for the IR. I don't know why, but I can make guess... Weather in Florida is totally different from the UK.
So your JAA IR needs to be done in Belgium or any other JAA country. It cannot be done in the US.
Unless, of course, if you go for the FAA IR. That's a separate discussion in itself. Very short: you easily can get a FAA PPL, based on your (valid) JAA PPL. This means that your FAA PPL is only valid as long as your JAA PPL is valid. With slightly more effort, you can get a standalone FAA PPL. To both of these FAA PPLs you can add an FAA IR. This FAA PPL/IR allows you to fly N-reg (US registered) aircraft in airways, in IMC, on IFR flightplans, all around the world. But it is only valid in an N-reg.
For more info about FAA PPL/IR, search the archives for posts on this subject by Bose-X and IO540. And FYI, there is an effort underway to greatly reduce the requirements for obtaining a JAA PPL/IR, to the approximate level of the FAA PPL/IR, instead of the commercial/ATPL standards/knowledge that is currently required for the JAA PPL/IR. The idea is that this proposal should be in place before EASA takes over flight crew licensing from the JAA, somewhere in 2008. This should make a JAA PPL/IR far more accessible.
Backpacker, indeed, i will wait for what 2008 will give, but if it doesn't fit the bill i will go for my FAA-IR and fly N-reg planes in Europe, i'm happy that i can do that without any problem with my FAR-FCL PPL.
BP I see now why you do not like one liners--you could qualify for a PPL by the time you had read that lot!!!
The first thing people generally want to know is what is the cost difference, a couple of minutes on the web produces this.
ORLANDOJAA PRIVATE PILOT COURSE
INCLUSIVE PRICE: $8,220
21 nights of single room accommodations in our student apartments
45 Hours in the Cessna 152* (See Aircraft Upgrade Options Below)
No Fuel Surcharges
25 Hours Dual Flight Instruction
JAA Night Qualification
FAA Medical (3rd Class Student Pilot Medical Certificate)
Radio Telephony License
JAA Written Exams
OFT Student Visa Processing Fee
Evening Ground School (provided Monday through Friday)
JAA Skills Test
End of Course Certificate
HEREFORDSHIRE AERO CLUB
· 45 hours flying @ £99.75 per hour £4488.75
· Annual Club Subscription £106
· Medical Approx. £80
· Study Material Approx. £125
· Exam & Flight Test Fees Approx. £150
· Away landings, sundries Approx. £50
· Private Pilot's Licence (5 years validity) £146
· Giving a total of around £5150
Add the cost of a return flight to the Orlando price. Oh and also consider whether you would prefer George Bush to Gordon Brown teaching you how to fly.
Personally I would rather spend two weeks at Shobdon, real people with real flying but most importantly, real cider!
Last edited by llanfairpg; 21st Dec 2007 at 14:45.
I checked out their website and it looks like it might even be cheaper. The UKP 99.75 is for a C152, dual. You only need 25 of those. The other 20 hours can be flown solo and the next page quotes UKP 81.50 as their solo rate.
I also doubt the "away landings and sundry" 50 pounds. Even assuming a landing fee of 5 pounds, that's only 10 away landings. Not a lot of x-country experience. I just checked my logbook and in my course I did about 50 away landings out of a total of 125. (In the US, so no landing fees whatsoever and since we flew from a controlled field, we regularly flew to a nearby uncontrolled field for touch & go practice.)
Obviously we're talking bare minimums here. If you do an intensive course (regardless of whether you do this in Florida or elsewhere) you stand a pretty good chance of finishing the course in the 45 hours required. If you do a part-time course there's going to be several consecutive weeks that you don't fly, due to weather or other circumstances. This will set you back in proficiency every time. I don't think many people on a part-time course will achieve their PPL in the 45 hours required.
As I said before, everyone considering a PPL course in the US should look at the current prices, both of the US based school, and the alternative schools close to home. And don't forget to include hidden costs such as driving to the airport, from home, at least some 50 times.
Have to admit, the real cider argument is also very persuasive.