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American Aviation Academy San Diego

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American Aviation Academy San Diego

Old 1st Feb 2013, 16:15
  #1 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Düsseldorf, EDLE
Age: 37
Posts: 87
Here's a current review of American Aviation Academy in San Diego

Hi all,

Last year, when I looked into US flight schools for my PPL intensive course, I found most reviews related to the various schools in Florida but there wasn't much recent information on AAA in California (formerly Anglo-American Aviation, now after a change of ownership American Aviation Academy). All I found was dating back, so I found it difficult to judge this school. I went there nevertheless (largely because I preferred California over Florida) and I'd like to make it a bit easier for future aspirants to make an educated choice - so let me review my experiences.

I don't want to delve into the grand topic of intensive PPL courses in the US as such - this has been discussed elsewhere. If you haven't found it yet, start by reading this awesome guide on this very forum: http://www.pprune.org/private-flying...-part-1-a.html

A couple of notes though on the feasibility of these courses in short time frames (because these questions seem to be asked again and again). Most of the other JAA/EASA PPL students I met were on a similar scheme as I was. We each came with about 4 weeks of time - some with more, some with less flexibility to extend this. It's perfectly possible to finish your course in that time - but if you plan to do this, you need to realize that there are certain risks that you cannot mitigate that may prevent you from completing the entire course in that short period. Most notably, weather, maintenance issues, scheduling difficulties, and illnesses can cause your carefully designed time planning to fall into pieces. While I was there, I've seen people walk away as pilots after their four weeks, but I've also seen people walk away with lots of effort put into this but without their license (such as myself - I've unfortunately had a partial pass on the skill test and need to retake one part of the test in Europe).

The risks in detail:
Weather: Presumably, the conditions are generally more stable than in Florida, but you can always catch a bad week! In my case, I had perfect flying weather every day in January UNTIL the day of my skill test, when clouds came up. After the skill test, visibility/clouds became so bad/low for several days, that I wasn't able to redo my partial test while still being in the US.
Maintenance: The aircraft aren't in their best shape. Obviously, the rates are quite cheap so you wouldn't expect shiny, new aircraft. I guess it's a decision everyone has to make for themselves. They're all flyable, they have their issues from time to time (after all, the C152s are more or less 35 years old). Generally, I'd say availability of the aircraft was good, though! Just bear in mind that a specific aircraft may be in maintenance just when you NEED it for your tight schedule to work.
Scheduling difficulties: Depending how you get along with your instructor (for example, if you want to switch to another instructor), how busy your instructor is with other students, how busy the examiner is when you need the skill test, these things may lead to interruptions in your planning, too!
Illnesses: Bear in mind that any of the involved people - not just you - might become ill. Your instructor or examiner may hence be unavailable when you need them. Also don't underestimate the amount of stress you're experiencing in such an intensive (albeit fun!) undertaking. This caused me to cancel my scheduled long cross country solo flight and move it to the next day - because my body just needed a break! I had a nasty headache on that day and just wasn't up for it.

This has been said many times before, but here again: The best thing to prepare is to get as much ground school (and, if possible, exams) out of the way before coming to the US. You'll be so much more focused on the actual flying and having a good time! I began studying the theory books about two-three months in advance and passed four out of seven exams in Europe, so I only needed to pass another three in the US - which was okay, but I wish I had done even them earlier!

Now let's talk about the school. The single most important factor is how well you get along with your instructor. In my case, I was totally happy with mine - but that's a personal thing and applies to any school. I'd say the second-next important factor is how well the school you are attending is organized, i.e. in how far they actually support you in achieving your goal efficiently. I found AAA to be a rather well-run business - though some minor things were still in the making after the still quite recent, I think, change of ownership. I didn't make any further inquiries in this direction while I was there - so I have no details other than what you can find out on Google. The price quote I received before I came was accurate enough (although it's not a fixed-price course, as it may seem. You end up in a "what-you-pay-is-what-you-get" sort of internal account that must always have enough funds to cover your flight rentals of the day - or you'll be grounded for the day. Although you'll be encouraged to pay everything upfront, there is no need to and indeed no pressure to do so by the school staff. The staff is generally friendly and helpful.

What I didn't like was the ambiguity of the flight instructor charges for briefings/debriefings. The quotation you receive does not specifically mention this. Instead, it includes a set amount of ground education. As it is to the individual instructors discretion (and, I guess, your willingness and ability to negotiate that with your not-very-well-paid instructor) if they charge for the "talking on the ground" part of their job, this has an arbitrary influence on your expenses for the course! As my instructor was one of the very few who DID charge extra - but at the same time used the ground time to give me valuable feedback - I initially complained about this ambiguity but made my peace with it later on.

If you use the housing provided by the school, you'll be put into shared apartments with fellow students in one of two apartment complexes close to the center of El Cajon, but about 3 km from the airfield. The apartments are alright, but no excessive luxury and I found the shared living fun (back to uni-kind of experience). It's a bit annoying that there's no cleaning equipment so if you're staying for a longer period, you're going to need to organize for yourself a vacuum cleaner and some other stuff. There is a shuttle service between the school and the apartments every two hours on weekdays. You can rent or buy bicycles or a car, of course. Better yet: Make friends with people who have cars. If you're nice to your instructor, he/she may drop you off at the apartment after school, as their freeway entrance is right next to the apartments anyway. I ended up walking half the time (which is a nice-enough thing in sunny Southern Cali!) and being given a lift by some buddies the other half of the time.

The flying environment: I haven't flown anywhere else yet - so how would I be able to judge - but I found the area around San Diego to be really nice to fly and to learn to fly. There is a variety of different landscapes, from the coastal area with its beaches to the mountains in the east and the desert even more east. Conditions are generally favorable. There is little wind. I guess it's a philosophical question if it's a good thing to learn in virtually clinical conditions and then come and fly in gusty Europe - or if you'd rather want to learn in the environment you'll fly in. Gillespie field, where AAA is located, is a pretty busy place with lots of movements, which is always fun to watch even if you're not flying. There's a number of schools, some vintage aircraft coming by every now and then and even some smaller jets. Two out of the three runways available are commonly in use in parallel which makes for some interesting radio communication experiences when you first learn how to use the radio - and listen carefully! Cleared to Land 27 Left - or 27 Right?

You'll spend a lot of time at the next door Gillespie Cafe. It's a pleasant place to hang out, meet your fellow students, have breakfast/lunch or brush-up your ground schools in a sunny spot on their sunny terrace with good views of the airfield.

Now, this turned out to be less compromised than I had intended. I hope, it'll help future students in their decision making. If you have any specific questions, do PM me.
Rhino25782 is offline  
Old 1st Feb 2013, 20:06
  #2 (permalink)  
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: the low lands
Posts: 90
Great review. I did my training back in 2009 with AAA. Overall i had a good experience.

I found it to be somewhat difficult to adjust to the European skies. But fortunate have some great friends, with whom I had the opportunity to fly with. I learned a lot from them.

Also expect people to say that the US training is worthless. Just proof them otherwise. ;-)
jkveenstra is offline  
Old 2nd Jun 2013, 00:26
  #3 (permalink)  
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: USA
Age: 39
Posts: 4
im a student at aaa now

hi patrik

i just joined aaa and they asked me to pay upfront the entire ppl fee of about 9000 $ is that the new norm or what....anyhow its a nice review you wrote
kumaranps is offline  
Old 24th Jun 2013, 16:59
  #4 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: London
Age: 32
Posts: 21
Great review and lots of really helpful points to bare in mind as I am, fingers crossed, going out to AAA in October.

Interestingly, they pointed out to me the flight instructor charges for briefings/debriefings and gave me a cost per hour. Not sure if this is because I'm not doing my written exams with them and they had to or because they have changed their practices. Hopefully, for future students, it's the latter.
helelizwil is offline  
Old 24th Jun 2013, 19:34
  #5 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Düsseldorf, EDLE
Age: 37
Posts: 87
Hehe. I pointed this out in a "customer feedback form" after the course. Maybe I changed the world a tiny little bit for the better. :-)
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Old 26th Jun 2013, 19:46
  #6 (permalink)  
Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: In a hole somewhere
Age: 42
Posts: 382
Here's a current review of American Aviation Academy in San Diego

Rule 1)

Never pay up front to a flying school! (Especially £9000!)

Too many stories of places going byebye

Last edited by Pilot.Lyons; 26th Jun 2013 at 19:46.
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Old 26th Jun 2013, 23:09
  #7 (permalink)  
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Neither Here Nor There
Posts: 1,118
Agree 100% with P.L,

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pay a Flying School up front for flight training.

There have been far too many cases of schools going t*ts up and leaving students high and dry and out of pocket to the tune of many thousands of Dollars, Pounds or Euros.

Just look at the disgraceful, if not criminal (allegedly), actions of Cabair last year as well as the closure of Bristol Aviation for "financial reasons" (nothing to do with needing the building for the Airbus contract) and the collapse of PTC in Ireland. All of these cost many individuals many thousands of pounds, in some cases tens of thousands.

Similar cases have occurred on the west side of the pond - listen to those who have had their fingers burned and, did I mention, NEVER pay large sums up front, however good 'the deal'.

Last edited by 2close; 26th Jun 2013 at 23:09.
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Old 27th Jun 2013, 10:29
  #8 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: UK
Posts: 6
@ helelizwil

Yes - most absurdly . sometimes you wander whether its good idea to talk to your instructor - cos you will see he had charged you even for the time he was cracking jokes about some random thing.

and plus you will be in an quite awkward place to question the guy why he billed you for that amount , cos he would just come up and say something to cover it up.

Just go and ask the guys first who's the best and you have the right to ask for the instructor of your choice - since you are the customer & they should provide what you pay for.
IFly85 is offline  
Old 25th Jul 2013, 08:33
  #9 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: CND
Age: 45
Posts: 7
AAA Feedback February 2013

AAA did not work for me. I joined them in February, a bit after Patrick (the thread starter) left, for EASA PPL, having cleared all ground exams previously in UK.
I agree mostly with all of Patrick statements, it is not a bad outfit at all and the training costs are affordable, in a challenging environment (mountain flying, busy Airport), squawks do not occur so often and there are always dealt with rapidly, etc.
However, in my opinion, one problem is the instructors. There is an old saying ‘there are no bad students, only bad instructors’ . The school did not have any single ‘EASA instructor’ (a person who passed 14 ATPL ground exams), but only ‘EASA approved instructors’, in fact all FAA licensed.
During my time there (the entire month of February) there were only 2 EASA approved instructors, or, at least, only 2 instructors taking care of EASA students:

I came along quite nicely with her over the training, except the landings. She was not able to teach properly the landings – right sequence of operations, visual cues, flaring point, etc. Plus I got some bad habits (improper instruments scan techniques, yoke jerking) from the beginning. As such, I could not be cleared for 1st solo after 36 hrs TT and 96 landings logged. At that point I realized I am wasting my resources and decided to quit the course and continue in UK.
Also she was not keen to give any reasonable de-briefing after lessons, although I was committed to pay the same.
Looking back, I should have asked to switch after 1st week of training, after realizing her level of instructional capabilities. I was a bit unlucky, as Martin, Head of Training, was flue sick that time, for more than a week.
I had completed 1 hour of ‘remedial’ training just before I left and not only I was not cleared for solo, but he identified all the bad habits I got during the training, plus he was not available for me to switch.
After some work commitments, I have returned back in UK and cleared for 1st solo during the 3rd day of training, exactly after 5 hrs dual with a very good instructor in Coventry. Nothing more to add.
Regarding the course termination, the moment I decided to quit, I went straight to Martin, then Tom (school owner), and I explained my situation. They both accepted and that was it. I got with me all the training records and I was refunded the outstanding balance $1000 after 28 days.
GabitzU is offline  
Old 25th Jul 2013, 14:26
  #10 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: lancs.UK
Age: 72
Posts: 1,196
Just face it ,chum,
As such, I could not be cleared for 1st solo after 36 hrs TT and 96 landings logged. At that point I realized I am wasting my resources and decided to quit the course and continue in UK.
you're a slow learner.

Regarding the course termination, the moment I decided to quit, I went straight to Martin, then Tom (school owner), and I explained my situation. They both accepted and that was it. I got with me all the training records and I was refunded the outstanding balance $1000 after 28 days.
but once you latch on, you get up to speed quickly

A good result and good to hear you are doing OK in the UK......
If you employed someone to tile your kitchen and the first couple of rows were wonky and uneven, would you really stand by until 3/4 of the time.effort and materials were wasted, before complaining?

At about the 15 hour mark, I'd have been demanding a checkride with a senior ,or different instructor...but i'm a crabby old bastard who'se money came hard and I expect value for it!

Overall, when the bosses were faced with a problem, they handled it fairly.....they could, perhaps, have gone the extra mile and given you say, 5," free" hours proper tuition to compensate for the 30-odd substandard ones you were charged for.
They obviously did not realise, until you complained, your instructor was not up to the job.(poor management and progress-monitoring, IMO )..complaining earlier would have saved you,and probably several more studes a lot of grief.
lesson learned, could have been a lot worse! onward and upwards , as they say
cockney steve is offline  
Old 25th Jul 2013, 20:35
  #11 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: CND
Age: 45
Posts: 7
You are right Steve, I am quite a slow learner. Plus I am not young anymore and some motor skills are not easy to master in a short time-frame. Plus I am a bit too complex, I like to dismantle anything in pieces, understand each and every one then assemble back… as such I am expecting the instructor to do the same, down to the finest details. On top of this, I am an instructor myself (scuba diving) and I teach (and like to be taught) accordingly.
In deed if I had the chance to go back in time, I would have asked for a check ride at 15 hrs, my mistake. It appeared the bosses know exactly the value of each and every of their instructors, including mine, but waited to hear any complain 1st before deciding anything like remedial training etc. If I was the boss I would have probably done the same way. Case closed anyway.
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Old 29th Jul 2013, 15:39
  #12 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Düsseldorf, EDLE
Age: 37
Posts: 87
Thanks for the update on this thread!

It stresses yet again my "message" that it really all comes down to the instructor/s available.

One of the EASA-approved instructors left while I was still there and I've kept in touch with my own instructor and I know he has left the school now, too. This obviously leaves a gap that may not have been filled as quickly as needed...

Incidentally, your story (long time to first solo due to landings) rings a bell. A fellow student while I was there had the same problem with - most likely - the same instructor but I don't want to go on and discuss individual instructors here.

I personally had a very capable (both in terms of flying and teaching) instructor, but it's a game of luck when you go "out there" (to any of the US schools without prior inspection).

Last edited by Rhino25782; 29th Jul 2013 at 15:40.
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Old 29th Jul 2013, 21:34
  #13 (permalink)  
Join Date: Feb 2011
Location: blackpool
Age: 39
Posts: 13
Why go all that way?

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Old 30th Jul 2013, 10:12
  #14 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Düsseldorf, EDLE
Age: 37
Posts: 87
Why go all that way?
Because I can...

Seriously: Many reasons, but here's my favorite one: Because traveling is fun and learning to fly in California is an extremely rewarding experience.
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Old 30th Jul 2013, 14:31
  #15 (permalink)  
Join Date: Feb 2011
Location: blackpool
Age: 39
Posts: 13
... I am sure it is a very rewarding experience. But learning to fly anywhere is a rewarding experience. It appears that doing it so far away is only adding more anxiety and pressure regarding time frames and legality issues. All of which only seem to add more stress to a very fulfilling experience. Also once you have your ppl you can go on holiday there and fly all you like, not worrying about time frames and visa ect..
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Old 30th Jul 2013, 15:20
  #16 (permalink)  
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: USA
Posts: 342
I'd suggest that the daily non-stop BA flight from LHR might be one good reason, combined with weather that is flyable VFR most days year round.

Last edited by Silvaire1; 30th Jul 2013 at 15:21.
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Old 30th Jul 2013, 21:28
  #17 (permalink)  
Join Date: Feb 2011
Location: blackpool
Age: 39
Posts: 13
you have to go to san diego to avoid a BA flight??? hmmm .... if you are willing to go full time then the weather here is not an issue. It is very rare that we have any bad weather sufficient to stop flying for more than a few hours. Usually fronts move over us in a matter of minutes leaving behind clear glorious weather.

Also, presuming once you have the PPL you want to use it, you will be flying in UK airspace when you return. Judging the weather and negotiating different classes of airspace are essential skills that are needed when flying in the UK, meaning the possibility of much more training and confidence gaining required when returning home.
Jackson-Pollox is offline  
Old 31st Jul 2013, 10:34
  #18 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Düsseldorf, EDLE
Age: 37
Posts: 87
This is turning into a general discussion of whether it's a good idea to get your EASA-PPL in the US rather than in Europe.

There's an excellent thread by backpacker (pinned to the top of the "Private Flying" forum) that deals with all conceivable aspects of this particular discussion here:


This thread here was supposed to private guidance to those who've already made that decision and are unsure which school to go along with in the US. I'd suggest to keep it that way and add any NEW aspects to the thread linked above.

There is many good reasons pro and con training in the US and it's a very personal decision. I regret nothing. ;-)
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Old 13th Feb 2014, 10:49
  #19 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Sky
Posts: 444
Somebody who went to the flight school recently? How is it with Martin? Does he still work for the academy?
captain.weird is offline  
Old 17th Mar 2014, 09:53
  #20 (permalink)  
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Somewhere
Posts: 26
Somebody who went to the flight school recently? How is it with Martin? Does he still work for the academy?
Why do you ask this question? Was he about to leave at some point?
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