Not sure what options you have when it comes to flight schools? Don't worry, we've all been there. "le_captain_morgan", a CFI and an aviation influencer, is here to make it clear, simple and even fun.
Hey, congratulations, you’re looking into flight school! You tell your pilot friend, and they say “great, you going to go part 141 or 61?” Confused? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. They’re referencing the Federal Aviation Regulations (the FAR in the FAR/AIM book we’d all love to burn). The language in the FAR is complex and overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking at. If this is your first step (or trip and fall) into aviation, the FAR is about as clear as a drunk Scot watching his team lose at the pub and you mistakenly called him Irish. I won’t go into a ton of detail, but I’ll try to undrunk your Scot enough to help you decide which is better for you.
Part 141 vs Part 61
A part 141 school has a syllabus approved by the FAA that must be followed by students to the letter. The FAA frequently audits these schools, too. As a result, the schools’ students are permitted to complete their ratings with fewer hours compared to a part 61 school. 14 CFR Part 61 (subpart E) is the section that concerns private pilots. 61.109 lays out the aeronautical experience you need to get a private pilot's certificate. I won’t make you dig for it (heads up: your flight instructor will, and then watch you stumble through the FAR/AIM like that drunk Scot previously mentioned) but basically you need 40 hours of flight time at a minimum to get your certificate while part 141 only requires 35 hours. The difference between the two may not be much but the biggest difference is in the commercial hour requirements (the rating you legally need to be employed as a pilot). 61.129 requires a minimum of 250 hours for commercial pilots, while part 141 (appendix D) requires a minimum of 120 hours.
The best flight school for you
There isn’t necessarily a better choice between the two, just one better suited for your circumstances and goals. On the one hand, we have some large full-time part 141 schools: Blue Line, ATP, CAE, Coast, and even university programs. These are geared toward a career in commercial aviation. Programs range from 6 months to a year, but degree programs will be longer. I know there are some part 141 schools you can go at your own pace, so keep that in the back of your mind, but most schools where you make your own schedule and learn at your own pace are part 61 schools. If you want to fly for funsies, part 61is the best way to go. It’s also a great way to start if you want to get your private first to see if flying is where you want to make your career. Lastly, if you’re wanting to work full-time and get a single rating at a time as you can afford it, part 61 may be your best option. The main advantage is flexibility and you can build your flying schedule around your personal schedule. Being self-motivated is essential for you to succeed in this type of environment.
A full-time part-141 school has the flexibility of a dry noodle and working full-time simultaneously is out of the question. As I mentioned above, program lengths can vary between 6 months to a year, so the biggest consideration is whether or not you can afford to support yourself financially while you’re in the program. Some programs do allow you to finance housing and other fees, so this is important to search if this is the path you want to take. The biggest advantage of going to a full-time part 141program is how quickly you’ll be done with your ratings, and the fact that they prepare you for immediate employment. Most programs include Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), Certified FlightInstructor Instrument (CFII), and Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI) ratings, which all prepare you for a job as a flight instructor upon completion. If you don’t want the instructor ratings this can likely be left off your program to lower the cost, but flight instruction is a popular way to build your hours and a good rating to fall back on.
Choose your path
Part 141 is the direction I took; I found myself at Blue Line Aviation in North Carolina in July 2021. I wanted to be immersed in school full-time, as I knew I could succeed in that environment. Considering it took me two years to finish my private, I needed the stability and structure part 141 offered to complete my ratings and jump right into working as a pilot following graduation. Everyone is in a different situation, has different finances, and sets different goals. Figure out where you want aviation to take you and take the path that fits best. If it is where you want to make your career, talk to people from different flight schools to find more information.
Oh, one last thing, don’t forget, no matter what direction you take you are going to need renters insurance. There’s no one I recommend more than SkyWatch. They’ve got affordable rates and unlike any other provider, they offer flexibility to get daily, weekly, and monthly coverage, in addition to yearly. I use them myself for my CFI insurance! I’ll bet you can’t beat the rates and flexibility SkyWatch offers.
Good luck out there, aviators!