Well, apart from the obvious, which is that any facility you consider must be a duly registered ATO (Aviation Training Organisation) and approved by SACAA (South African Civil Aviation Organization). You can easily establish this by checking the ATO number of the school you intend to join on their approval certificate that is issued to them once all inspections and approvals are complete, should this approval number not be readily available or has lapsed, none of your training is recognised and I would suggest you choose another school. Ask the representative of the school you visit to show you their certificate of approval and to confirm all is in order.
That being said, there are so many other tell-tale signs that the school you are going to be spending a considerable amount of money at, is in fact the best choice for you and your career:
1. Most importantly, have a look at their aircraft! Although we are not all aeronautical Engineers or Maintenance Engineers, you can quickly pick up things that tell you how the aircraft are kept and maintained. Look at the Engine Cowls, are there any visible oil leaks and are all the screws securing the cowls in place? Are there any cracks or delamination in the windscreens? Are the tires in good condition and are the oleos (the parts that hold the wheels) oil and fluid free and clean? Also look at the interior, is there any removed equipment? Most Cessna 172’s and Cherokee 160/180 Aircraft are reasonably old but as long as they are well serviced and looked after, they are safe to operate. Check the Inspection reminder placard that must be installed inside the cockpit, it will tell you when the next MPI (service) is due, should this not be visible, make a point to ask about the serviceability of the Aircraft. Although nobody has the capability to look inside the Engine of the aircraft by just conducting a basic pre-flight inspection to determine the health of the machine but a clean, well-kept aircraft is usually not one which looks like a “Chicken Coup”
2. Secondly, take a proper tour throughout the facility. Check the classrooms for Whiteboards and proper furniture. You will be spending a lot of time in these so you would have to be comfortable to make the most of your time there. Are there any training aids like a well-furnished Library? Is the Coffee and Tea station as well as the toilet facilities up to standard? Is your car safe in the Parking area provided? These are all little things that can make your training experience so much more enjoyable.
3. Always check if the Flight School you want to join has an approved and operational Online Testing Facility for your theoretical exams. If not it would mean that you would have to write these tests at another School or at the SACAA building which is a major inconvenience.
4. Importantly, check if your prospective school has an approved Flight Simulator device. This is a valuable training aid and a lot of training is done towards your Night Rating and Instrument Rating by using this device. This Simulator should also be at least graded as an FNPT 2 which means Licence renewals can be conducted on them.
5. Check to see how many Aircraft the school has available. Often, what seems to be a big professional Flight School has a ratio of too many students per Aircraft owned, which means getting bookings on the machines are near impossible and sometimes students wait weeks to get in the air. This has dire financial implications as a certain continuity must be maintained with your flight training to keep it as effective and economically viable as possible. Rather look at a School which is smaller but with an adequate number of Aircraft to accommodate your bookings and training without excessive delays. Personal attention is also more likely at a smaller school that has time and capacity to service their students properly.
6. Very importantly, meet the instructors and ask questions regarding their level of experience. Also establish who will be your instructor and make sure that your personalities are compatible and that you will enjoy receiving all the new information from this particular instructor. Ask to meet the Chief Flying Instructor and ask what his or her level of experience is, because they are in charge of all training at the School they normally give a clear indication on how things will get done at this School. After all, safety and efficiency is paramount and should you face any challenges during your training the CFI (Chief Flight Instructor) will deal with it and find solutions.
7. Does the School you choose have a Multi Engine Aircraft available for training? If you are training towards a Commercial Licence and plan to get a Multi Engine endorsement it would mean a switch of School should they not have an Aircraft available for this purpose. Also check the price per hour of the machine and if the model and make is conducive to your goals. Again ask all the questions!
8. Lastly, all training facilities have a specific flavour and vibe! This is probably the most important point to consider; do I feel as if I will fit in with the culture of this particular School? Do I like the feel and vibe? You will form a bond with your School for many years to come and it is imperative you feel at home and in the correct company as this will improve your performance as a student ultimately creating a better Pilot.
Reach for the skies!