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Private Pilot Training – At Home Or Overseas?

Written by admin. Posted in Aviation General

The Alternative to Private Pilot Training in the UK — Do it in Another Country Instead. But first you’ll want to consider the pros and con.

There is an inevitability about learning to fly in the UK that means on a good proportion of the days you put aside to train, the weather will refuse to play ball.

It’s just an unfortunate fact of living in the UK. Often times when I was learning to fly, would I get up in the morning, get prepared and be putting one foot in the car only to receive the dreaded phone call from my flying instructor to be told that the cloud level, wind strength or some other climatic hindrance meant that flying lesson had to be cancelled!

And then you see them – those adverts in the back of every flying magazine offering private pilot training at a fraction of the cost of the UK, in sunnier climates such as Spain and America, even South Africa and Australia.


And the allure is easy to see – the chance to earn your private pilot training done and attain your PPL License in a short period of time for much lower costs than in the UK and, what do you know, you could even have a holiday at the same time.

Of course, the truth isn’t quite that straightforward, and while learning to fly overseas certainly has some very attractive positive points, there are also a number of negatives that you should also keep in mind or at least consider. Let’s look at the positives first.

Top of the list is generally money. Or it used to be at the time of writing (June 2010), the pound has taken a bit of a bashing against both the US Dollar and he Euro, which is not far form being on parity with the pound. However if we get back to a stronger pound on top of the lower cost of private pilot training and fuel overseas, you can often learn to fly in America for something like half the price of learning in the UK.

To make the most of this, many PPL students will book a three, or even four week intensive course, which includes an accommodation option – often a hotel near the airfield. If you really want to make the most of this type of intensive private pilot training, it’s a good idea to complete your aviation exams in the UK before you go.

Private Pilot Training Intensive!

Cramming 45 plus hours of flying tuition and all the requisite bookwork into three or four weeks can be really heavy going, particularly if the last time you did any revision was 20 odd years ago for your GCE’s or GSE’s. Once you get to the school, don’t be surprised if most of your fellow students, and even a good few of the instructors, are fellow Brits. For the instructors, this type of work is often a great way of building up the hours needed towards a CPL and ATPL.

By instructing overseas, their traditionally low wages will go further and the good weather means that they’ll get more flying time. This subject of weather is generally the second major reason that PPL students decide to learn overseas.

Clear blue skies and little in the way of crosswinds is certainly a great way to rack up those hours, allowing you the great benefit of day after day of uninterrupted private pilot training. On the downside, these types of conditions can rarely be found in the UK, meaning your private pilot training may well be completed in an environment quite unlike any you’ll find yourself in once you get back home.

One common result of this is that when you turn up for the first time at your local flying club, crisp new PPL License in hand, the CFI may well demand that you carry out some additional training to ensure that you can cope with the far from perfect weather conditions that characterise flying in the UK. It’s also worth bearing in mind that while good weather is likely when flying with some overseas schools, not even the most influential instructor can guarantee the sun.

There are few things more frustrating than taking a month’s holiday and paying for all that private pilot training, only to spend the time sheltering from an unseasonable downpour. You can help the situation by checking before you book that your lessons aren’t taking place in the middle of the rainy season. One of the benefits of flying in such good weather is that you can see for miles.

Combine that with the huge amount of uncontrolled airspace that you’ll discover in America, and you really can feel that you have the sky to yourself. It’s a lovely feeling, to be pottering around the cloudless skies of Florida enjoying a very pure, unflustered and uncontrolled form of aviation. But when you combine this with an uncanny lack of ground features for miles in each direction — often a feature of vast parts of Florida — this can make traditional navigation, the type you need to understand to pass your aviation exams, a very tricky proposition.

On the upside, if you can deal with it there, once you return to the UK with all its roads, railway lines and other ground features, you’ll feel spoilt for choice by the number of aids to finding your way to your chosen destination. If you do decide to train overseas, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can combine it with a holiday. Taking an intensive course for the PPL exams is just that – intense. Mixing in days-out to Disney World and air-boat rides over the Everglades is going to sap up time and energy.

If you want to give yourself the best chance of success, leave the family at home. However you could keep the family happy by letting them go around Disney, whilst you go flying. Although on second thoughts, having done Disney and worn the T-Shirt, your better half may not thank you for that – leaving them with the kids and being hounded by two semi-grown-ups in ‘Chip n Dale’ costumes! One option that is becoming more popular is combining private pilot training in the UK with training overseas, giving you the advantage of getting used to British conditions, then enjoying a week or so of excellent weather and spreading the costs over a longer period.

This option also knocks off one of the downsides of private pilot training purely overseas – the response you get when you come home. Along with UK flying clubs often showing a reticence to hiring aircraft to PPLs who have only trained in fair-weather conditions, clubs may wonder whether you can deal with the UK’s Air Traffic Control, the often much shorter runways (compared to the USA’s massive tarmac strips) and the much busier circuits and approaches that are often a characteristic of UK airfields.

If you can show that a fair percentage of your raining has already dealt with such demands, the chances are you’ll be received by the club with a far higher degree of confidence than if all your training had been completed overseas. It really does depend on so many factors – the nature of the airfield and area where you trained overseas, the extent to which you studied and prepared before you left, and the chemistry between you and clubs and instructors on your return to the UK.

Two quick notes of caution when deciding which school to choose. First, if you are after a JAA licence, make sure that school is JAA-approved, and that means double-checking their claims with the JAA. It might be extremely rare, but it’s not unknown for schools to advertise that they’re JAA approved when in fact they’re not. Secondly, when booking an intensive private pilot training course you might be asked to pay everything up front.

Not only does this mean that you could find yourself committed to a school that doesn’t match your standards, but should that school go out of business before you’ve finished your private pilot training, you could lose your cash.

As a result, it’s a much better idea to perhaps only pay for one week of private pilot training at a time. While so far we’ve focused mainly on private pilot training in America, it is worth mentioning one increasingly challenging aspect of following your PPL ambitions in this country: security. Since the horrific events of 9/11, the USA has instigated more and more security measures, and perhaps quite understandably – citing a desire to go flight training in Florida can send a nervous shiver along the backbone of many a visa-issuing officer. When you do eventually get a visa, this will inevitably put a number of tight restrictions on your visit, most notably that you can only train at a single, specified flight school. This means, should you decide that your private pilot training isn’t going as well it could be at school A, unfortunately you can’t simply swap to school B.

On the positive side, most schools in America have been incredibly adept at dealing with this challenge and will be able to offer all the assistance you need.

The alternatives are training in Spain, France, Jersey or even South Africa, Australia and Thailand. Each can offer low-cost flight training in generally better weather conditions than the UK and, with the European destinations, it doesn’t costs that much to get there.

Then finally you need to give consideration to your private pilot training and study material. You cannot go wrong with either the Oxford Aviation Training material available form the likes of Transair (www.transair.co.uk) and AFE (www.afeonline.com), or equally as good is AFE’s own brand of private pilot training material. As you start to prepare yourself for the actual exams you will want to get yourself a copy of PPL Exam Pro.


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Comments (1)

  • JB Pilot


    Great resource! If one really thinks learning to fly abroad is more practical, then I can recommend executiveflighttraining.com in Denver, I would say it can serve as benchmark by which all training companies will be judged because of its accelated training.


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