When you begin the process of selecting a school for helicopter training, keep these questions in mind:
- What type of weather and terrain can you experience during your training?
The more diverse your course experience, the more prepared you will be for real-world operations. Getting a chance to fly near high desert, mountains and coastline while experience a variety of weather conditions is an opportunity to prepare yourself for your future career and have an advantage in the job market.
- How much experience does the school have training pilots?
Make sure the school you select has produced many successful graduates who are now working in the industry and that they have been in business for a number of years which shows their financial strength and viability.
- What types of helicopters are used for training?
While most people’s dream job is flying a turbine helicopter on a utility mission or tour operation, remember that most helicopter pilots start their career as flight instructors, and the vast majority of flight schools who hire the instructors operate Robinson R22s. So in order to be a proficient instructor and get that first job, you must have R22 flight time. There is even an FAA regulation, SFAR 73, which requires R22 instructors to have a minimum of 50 hours in that helicopter. It must be an R22, there is no substitute. If you want to instruct to help you get that first 1000 hours, make sure you have done most of your training in an R22 so you are employable at the flight schools that use this aircraft.
- How safe are the school’s operations?
Safety is a key element in all areas of aviation and most companies put a focus on it. However, you should check to see what safety accreditations or affiliations a company has to determine that its safety processes and systems have been audited and approved by a third party. Check to make sure they have some type of safety system to track and audit their operations internally. This is important because you want to know you’ll be safe during your training, but also because the industry is demanding that pilots understand what their role is in a Safety Management System.
- What are the options for financing my flight training?
Check to find out what options the school has to help students pay for their training. Do they have loan programs available? Are they VA-approved so veterans can use their GI Bill benefits to help pay for their training? Do they have an association with a university or college that offers other financial options for students?
- What is the school’s industry reputation?
Check to see what industry affiliations they have, and find out what their graduates and the companies that hire their graduates are saying about them and the quality of their training. Learn about their graduate placement percentage to see how many of their graduates get hired after completing the training program. Remember who you know is very important when it comes to hunting for your future jobs. Make sure you’re meeting the right people from the first day!
- Is the school accredited?
Schools that are accredited have been audited and vetted by an accrediting body to make sure their training is held to the highest standard and they are fulfilling their promise of quality training to their students. Make sure the accrediting body is associated with the US Department of Education.
- If you are not a US citizen, what type of visa programs does the school offer?
A number of schools are able to offer the M-1 visa which will allow you to train in the US, but only four helicopter schools in the US can offer the F-1 visa. The F-1 visa is very valuable because it lets a student work in the US as a pilot upon the completion of their training.
- What type of payment method does the school require?
Will the school require you to put a large of amount of money on account to begin your training or allow you to pay as you go? Allowing students to pay at the end of each flight means that you don’t have to put a lot of money on a school account to begin your training and your money will only be used as you complete each flight in your training.
- Does the school hire their graduates to work as instructors?
This is an important consideration because the majority of helicopter school graduates start their career as a flight instructor, and the best chance you have of getting hired is by the school where you completed your training. Looking at the size of the schools operations and the number of hours they fly will give you an idea of how quickly CFIs can build hours and transition to their next job making positions available for new CFIs to be hired.