There are a few roads you can take to earning your Private Pilot License (PPL).
Full time PPL training
Part time PPL training
NPL first, then PPL
Exams first, flying later
You can find the details of all the requirements by clicking here, but your learning path looks something like this:
If you are not sure you want to fly, do an Introductory Flight (sometimes called a "trial lesson". You get a short briefing, you sit in the Pilot seat, and you handle the controls most of the time. (The Instructor will insist on landing). If you LOVE it, then
You sign up at a Flight School. There are two types, an Academy, who sign you up on a fixed course with many other students, or a more personal smaller Flight School where you start when you are ready in your own time. If you are the kind of person who needs someone else telling you what to do all the time, then a Academy is for you. If you are self-motivated, then a smaller Flight School will suit you better. Do not expect a smaller school to chase after you. Flight Schools assume you are there because you want to be. You will get guidance from our Flight Instructor, but YOU set the pace.
1. Full time PPL training
Full time you will fly five to six days a week and finish training in about four months. In between you will study for the exams. This is very intense. In 20 years as an Instructor, I have had ONE student finish this course in seven weeks! He was very study-fit, very driven and the weather was good.
2. Part time PPL training
Part time it is best to fly no less than once a week. Longer gaps between flights than this will slow your progress, which will result in higher flying hours to complete the PPL training course. On average, part time takes 18 months, and about 60 hours training, give-or-take 5 hours. Some people take years to finish, and some take more hours to reach a proficient level, especially if the start-stop-start-stop-start...
3. NPL first, then PPL
Many people think this is a cheaper way to get to PPL. In reality, it isn't any cheaper. NPL (National Pilot's License), requirements are 35 hours training, but it often takes more hours to reach proficiency, and no flight school will let a student fly the airplane solo until they are reasonably sure the student will bring the airplane back.
NPL Instructors are not trained as professional pilots, however there are some very good NPL Instructors. You will find the NPL lessons are usually less structured than PPL training. I have noticed NPL pilots are often nervous to go on long cross countries, (I assume this is because the training requirements for navigation are a lot less stringent).
To get a PPL conversion from NPL, only 30 of your NPL training hours are credited to the PPL, (even if the NPL pilot has hundreds of hours). The NPL must still do 15 hours of training and an initial skills test (about 4 hours) and ALL the PPL subjects, so that's two lots of exams to write.
4. Exams first, flying later
There are some very good online exam training options available now. This opens up alternatives to both local and international flight students. Students can prepare for the exams at home, and arrive in SA / at the flight school ready to write. The longest part will be waiting for the SPL to arrive, since the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), have become even slower at issuing these documents since the Covid excuse for work deterioration. Not sure what to do about that, but moving on... This means, in effect, that if you arrive ready to write exams, and in a good weather season, then it is possible for you to complete your PPL in 4 to 6 weeks!
Exams work like this:
Write the in-house exam, pass this, the apply for your Student Pilot License (Schools need proof you know your privileges' and limitations as a Student Pilot).
Book for your PPL exam with a Flight School that has a CAA Approved Exam Centre. The exams are multiple choice, online, and you get your results immediately. The pass mark is 75%. The exams are tricky, there are no short cuts, you must know your stuff.
When you pass your first exam, you have to pass the rest of your exams within 18 months. If you do not, you start again from the beginning.
If you fail an exam you must wait one week to write that same exam again, but you may write any of the other exams immediately.
When you have passed all 7 PPL subjects, then you have to complete the PPL Flight Training within three years from the date of passing your final exam.
You must do a Restricted Radio Course, and write the exam at an Approved Flight School, and pass an Oral Exam with a Radio Designated Examiner.
The PPL Training Structure
Each flight school will have their own structure, but you can expect something like this:
Lesson 1 - Ex 1 - Orientation, Density Altitude, ISA and Aircraft Familiarization (2 hrs)
Lesson 2 - Ex 2 - 4 Before & after flight actions, air experience, Effects of controls (1hr brief, 1 hr flight)
Lesson 3 - Ex 5 - 6 Taxiing & Straight & Level flight (1hr brief, 1 hr flight)
Lesson 4 - Ex 7 - 8 Climbing & Descending (1hr brief, 1 hr flight)
Lesson 5 - Ex 9 & 15 Turning (1hr brief, 1 hr flight)
Lesson 6 - Ex 10 - 11 Stalling & Slow Flight | Spin / Spin avoidance (1hr brief, 1 hr flight)
Lesson 7 - Ex 12 & 13 Take-off, Approach & Landing (1hr brief, 1 hr flight)
Lesson 8 - Ex 16 Forced Landing (1hr brief, 1 hr flight)
Repeat Lesson 7 till Ex 14 - first SOLO!
Followed by CONSOLIDATION where you fly with your instructor in the circuit before you are let loose yourself in the same lesson, until you have three hours solo (about 5 lessons).
This is the foundation phase of your training, and best not to have breaks in training.
The second phase is where you fly to the General Flying Area yourself, after your Instructor has checked you know the way there and back. You re-cap what you have already done, and add Precautionary Landings and low level flight.
Phase three is Navigation.
Phase four is Mock test, making sure you have the required 15 hours of solo flight. If you get the thumbs up, then its:
Phase five - Flight test 🤗 WOOOHOOO! There are no tricks. You will be assessed on what you have been trained to do, no surprises. You will not be recommended for your flight test unless you are ready.
How qualified is your Flight Instructor?
Many students have asked me if an Instructor is a Commercial Pilot. The answer is YES. PPL Instructors have to be Commercial Pilots before they can train to become Instructors. The first Instructor level is a Grade 3, requirements: 20 hours of patter training and 80 hours of briefing preparation and two exams combining four subjects. That's step one. The Grade 2 rating is more intense.