Well, time to look at the CFI and the part 61 vs part 141 schools. Seems thats whats on the minds of my readers right now, so thats where we are going, hold on, the rides gonna get a little bumpy!
You have a ton of questions! Questions regarding the length of time this journey is going to take, and you are getting all kinds of seemingly conflicting answers, whats the best way to go? Well, I guess that only you can decide that for yourself, but here's the info you need, from my perspective.
Unless you want to spend that big money on the high end school and come out with a degree and your flight ratings, which is a nice way to go, but entirely unneccessary unless you are into overkill, or just really want the degree, (or have an overactive ego)--(oops I slipped) there are better ways to go that will cost you much less, but you HAVE to be able to study on your own and stick to the plan. Disclaimer, not ALL students in the high end schools have overactive ego's, just don't let yourself come out with that attitude that your training is better than anyone elses, you would be amazed at how high the fail rate is on these guys when they get to the airline training, they are so cocky they think they already know it all! Not even close! And your classmates will revel in your failures! Hold on to your humility-and stay humble! the saying there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots, is a very true statement!
What about the middle of the road 141 school? This one is pretty pricey huh? If you've done any homework on this one, you know they charge quite a fee for having access to their nice simulators, they are charging you a ton for your flight instruction and aircraft rental fee's and promise the FAST TRACK. Ok- so they have a catchy name and everyone is dressed so professionally, it feels like maybe this is a good option. Look very closely at this, and ask yourself, does my flight instructor suddenly become a better instructor than another just because of his or her clothes? NO! Is my flight instructor more experienced here? NO again. Does the CFI enjoy working here? Probably not, they might get paid a little better, but, if you could choose between a uniform and a casual dress policy at work, wouldn't you rather wear casual dress? This is a gimmick to make you, the student, feel like they are better! Put that CFI in full uniform, or even shirt and tie into a cessna in the heat of summer days, and you have one very miserable CFI! Some actually require YOU the student to dress up for the occasion-- this will not make a lick of difference in the quality of your training! There is one in particular that operated across from the part 61 school I was GM at that made me laugh so hard! They had lots of foreign students, old aircraft, charged a ton, and their students were in full pilot uniform, with,, and here's the funny part, eppaulets with 2 BARS-- ok-- explanation needed? In the US world of aviation, Captains are 4 bars, First officers are 3 bars and FLIGHT ATTENDANTS are 2 BARS! I tend to be a little too heavy on the teasing humor and let me tell you that these foreign students were not real enthused when I explained this to them one day while they were outside smoking! Apparently playing dress up was fun for them up until this point when I wrecked it for them! Of course I laughed for the entire explanation and teased them pretty badly. Needless to say, I wasn't real popular with them after that! Anyway back on track- if you are going this route- which is fine, just don't expect that your training or aircraft will be better, or any faster. How quickly you move forward will be decided upon your study and flying frequency for the most part. Many of these types of schools also schedule you according to who's available to fly with you when you want to fly. Ok sometimes there are times when a different instructor can be of value to you, but not like this. You need a CFI that will be the same one through the majority of the rating you are working on. You need to develop a relationship with your instructor- they will then know your strengths and weaknesses and coach you accordingly! I'm going to say it again, having the right instructor matched up with the student is very important. People have different learning and teaching styles and need someone who can be on the same level with them. If you get the wrong instructor- perhaps they are not patient enough or they tell bad jokes or distract you, conflicting personalities, for what ever reason, you find yourself frustrated, DON'T QUIT! Get a different instructor! Clarification-- there ARE 141 schools out there that don't get weird and fancy, and don't overcharge you!
Part 61 Schools, well in general, this is a good option, less expensive, but these vary alot. Look for a part 61 that has the following: a good track record,(zero to few incursions) Good maintenance on the aircraft, good management, happy flight instructors, cheerful and celebratory environment, regular scheduled ground schools offered, preferably a complex and multi-engine aircraft and, while not neccesary, but highly recommended, a Cessna Pilot Center affiliation (CPC). I am a believer in the CPC affiliation when the school properly utilizes it. However just because they have a CPC affiliation does not mean it's all clear! Cessna doesn't run these schools and therefore their influence is marginal. But I do believe that if you take the CPC curriculum, add a GOOD ground school to it, a good CFI who follows your training in the curriculum, and your committment to home studying & flying 3 times a week, that you have a winning combination! You've covered your bases and are good to go assuming that the school is stable. What I have laid out here for part 61 also applies to part 141. So why do many think 141 is the way to go? Well here's the plusses, easier financing, close supervision of your curriculum through FAA guidelines and some of your ratings, such as commercial rating time require fewer hours, ie less money spent in the end, in THEORY. Generally the only one of these you can truly count on is easier financing. So if you have the money to just pay for it- going part 61 is actually more fun and less hassle. IF you are attending a good school.
Here is a tip when shopping for your perfect school- have them show you their aircraft! Are they clean? Are the small details taken care of? Pitot tube covers, gust locks, doors and seats work correctly? Is there a fresh bottle of oil and funnel in the back? What condition are the checklists in? This will tell you alot about a school and their level of concern for safety and your needs!
OK, one last option here. SO, your town/city hasn't got a single one of these schools that feels right for you. Prepare yourself, I'm gonna get on the soap box! Find a CFI who is offering their services independent of a school. Now this can get tricky, because most schools won't rent their planes out for training with anyone not on their payroll. The CFI you find will know how to resolve this issue. This method of training is nice especially when you are doing your instrument rating and up. Why? Because, the majority of these instructors are doing this because they LOVE teaching! They tend to be more experienced and are not under the dictatorship of a school that is lousy! AND they CARE about YOUR dreams! I still recommend that you get a CPC, CBI(computer based instruction) kit. If you don't know them yet you will, John and Martha King, King Schools, develop the CPC CBI kit. You can purchase it through Cessna or through King Schools. While good old John and Martha, God love them, are still wearing the same hair cuts they had in the 70's, and can seem even annoying after watching too many of their lessons in one day, they have a very thorough and effective training curriculum. I have met them, they are VERY nice people, and extremely knowledgable. They earned their reputation, and it's a very good reputation! One more thought on choosing a school, part 141 part 61, in the end- when you get to training for a part 121 carrier-(airline) none of this will mean squat! It's a whole new training and completely different world! You will study more in 1 month of your airline training class, than you did for your entire training put together up to this point!
As for the CFI questions, well, yes, the majority of CFI's are doing it for the time building, this is a step in their ultimate goal as well. Yes, they are still learning too! This does not mean they can't teach you what you need, everyone starts somewhere. However the more experienced your CFI is, the better off you are. Private instruction is perfectly fine for the new CFI, but as you move up to instrument, ask yourself how you felt about your instructor, (assuming you will use the same one) before moving into a more complicated rating with them. If you don't already know this- yes, they have to have a seperate rating for training instrument students, CFII. So does this rating mean they are good enough to get you through it? Probably, but will your instruction be as thorough and excellent as it shuold be? mmm, maybe not. Depends on the CFII. The best instructors have high times and are instructing because they LOVE it! And they don't really have an interest in the airlines, they look more towards FAA examiner goals etc. Ask your instructor what their goals and total times are, how many sign offs they have and what the pass/fail ratio is for their students! Again, this does not mean a newbie won't be a good instructor- just that they are less experienced.
In the end, how long it takes you heavily depends upon you in most circumstances and part 61 makes it easier for you to move quickly, where 141 can hold you up at times. Keep in mind however that the more experienced you are, the better pilot you will be. Nothing can take the place of experience. Also keep in mind that in part 61, you may have to change schools to get complex ratings as many of the part 61's don't have the complex aircraft. A part 141 school who has these aircraft can still train you under part 61 and they generally have the complexes and aren't neccesarily more expensive in certain circumstances. ME is another issue all together and may mean yet another change. SO, now you are thinking it's easier to just go with the more expensive school who already has all these aircraft, and can give you an ATP as well. The choice is yours. They all have their positive and negative points, only you can decide whats right for you!
On a personal level- some of the best CFI's I employed, had alot of fun while training their students, they made every cross country fun, they went fun places and did silly things while there. These are memories for students and they matter! If the student is having fun, they will love aviation always, have better study habits and look forward to pleasing their CFI!
So now that I have answered a few questions I am sure I also made you think about new questions,, I hope I have shed light on some things, and next time hope to further that goal!
One of my goals for the future, once this blog gets more notice is to host a web site, and have more services available-- including a listing of independent CFI's, their experience, ratings and location. If you are a CFI who is interested in this let me know and I will start a new section for listing you here on this blog!