So you want to learn to fly. But before you head out to the nearest flight school to try to impress your future flight instructor, you should be aware that all flight schools are not created equal. Before you get caught up in all of the aviation speak full of acronyms like VOR, AGL, and ATC, and words like aileron, altimeter, and glide slope, it is important to first make the choice of whether to train under a FAR Part 61 or FAR Part 141 regulated flight school. Translation anyone?
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has established FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations), rules which govern all aviation activities in the United States. The FARs are broken down into sections, called parts, in organization within the Code of Federal Regulations. FARs Part 61 and 141 deal with pilot certification and flight training. Choosing which one is right for you is similar to choosing between a four-year university and a community college, though it can seem a bit more complicated at first glance.
If you want to train for a career as a pilot, FAR Part 141 is more than likely going to be your best bet. Under Part 141 training, you will be required to complete formal ground school training and have a structured training program under a standardized syllabus. Afterward, students are expected to pass the FAA Knowledge and Practical Tests. Practical skills are taught in a specific order, and the Chief Flight Instructor gives regular stage checks and exams. Additionally, in planning your career as a pilot, you will want to be sure your flight school falls into the category of an accredited training institution, while possibly looking into obtaining a collegiate aviation degree in today's competitive market. Another important factor that is often left unspoken relates to veteran's benefit eligibility. Only FAR Part 141 meets the requirements for VA-reimbursed training.
If you are a self-motivator, have a career and a family, have limited time to commit to flight training, and flying will be a hobby for you rather than a career, FAR Part 61 flight school will give you much more leniency than FAR Part 141. Under Part 61 training, no formal ground school is required; however, because you will still be required to pass the FAA Knowledge and Practical Tests for whatever rating or certification you are seeking, consider taking a home-study course such as AVScholars or Gold Seal Online Ground School in addition to your hands-on training with your flight instructor.
Of course, as with any choice, there's always a trade-off. FAR Part 141 requires fewer flight-training hours than Part 61. If your goal is to obtain your private pilot's license, it's not that big of a deal. There is only a five-hour difference in required flight time with FAR Part 141 requiring 35 hours versus FAR Part 61's requirement of 40 hours. Additionally, the national average indicates that most students require 60-75 hours of flight time to earn the private pilot's license.
In this regard, the benefit of FAR Part 141 over Part 61 is minimal to none. However, the scale is significantly tipped in favor of FAR Part 141 if your goal is to obtain a commercial license with only 190 flight hours needed versus 250 hours needed under FAR Part 61.
And as for the FAA checkride? Everyone is given an equal playing board. What's important is how well you fly and how well you know your aviation academic material. The rest is up to you. Consider your goals, available time, and other factors that may have a bearing on your future with aviation, and choose your school. Oh, yeah, and one more thing. Pick a memorable t-shirt for your first solo flight. You'll want to frame it.