Updated: Oct 14
Flight training is personal, close up, one-on-one, and intense. For the best training experience, choose your flight school and Instructor carefully.
There are many flight training schools dotted around South Africa, and the world. Most of the points below are relevant internationally, but this article is focused on flight training in South Africa.
Choosing a the right school for you will be made easier if you first consider a few factors:
Is the school located conveniently for you? If you live in Johannesburg, it might not make sense to choose a flight training school in Durban, unless you are planning to move to the coast anyway.
Does their attitude reflect yours? If you are a relaxed sort of person, perhaps flying for fun, or a business man with unpredictable available hours, you might want a flight training school with a more accommodating attitude. If you are taking this as a serious career choice and want to be drilled, you may choose an academy-style environment with loads of structure and on-site boarding. Some call these Flight Academy's "sausage factories". Maybe you want to fly for a career, but want to train part-time and pay-as-you-go. Whatever your choice, as long as it is a part 141 flight training school, you can be assured you will be trained to the expected standard.
Your Instructor: You are usually "issued" with an instructor. The relationship you have with your instructor is very important. This is a person you will never forget. Remember, you are also paying the bill, so you need to get along with your instructor to facilitate a good learning environment. You will spend a lot of time in each others company. Personalities differ, and sometimes the match does not work.
Feel free to approach the CFI (Chief Flight Instructor), or office staff to request a change. Of course, if everyone is feeling "all grown up" you can tell your instructor that you would like to "break up" as you are not connecting with each other, but would like to remain on pleasant terms; and ask who he/she suggests you might connect with better.
Sometimes instructors are "pimply faced kids" and wouldn't have the maturity for this kind of conversation. But then, do you really want to spend your time and money with them?
Be alert to the instructor who is just there to build up his/her first 1000 hours so he/she can be more employable for a charter company. There is nothing wrong with ambition, but they may not have your best interests at heart.
Trust your gut instinct.
The Aircraft: Take a look at the flight training school aircraft. Most look a little battered and in less than pristine condition. I have great respect for these aircraft. They have taken a hammering from hundreds of students over a period of decades, and are still going strong.
But check for tel-tale signs if they look like they are not being maintained properly, like blue streaks under or above the wings from leaking fuel, tires that are completely worn out (no or very little tread, bald spots and creep are a big no-no), leaking hydraulic fluid on the brake lines that run along the landing gear struts, and oil streaks. (A little "hangar rash" is acceptable).
Basically look for signs of neglect. You don't expect rust on an aircraft that lives inland, but expect a few spots of corrosion and pitted disk brakes on those that live at the coast... as long as you observe that it is only a little, and it is taken care of when noticed.
Accommodation: Ask the flight training school for recommendations. If they look at you blankly or pause too long, use the power of Google, Yahoo or Bing to assist you, or visit www.wheretostay.co.za You will deal directly with the accommodation owners and so can negotiate on price, especially for a longer stay. Some B&B's will supply suppers if you ask. You can also contact local Estate Agents and ask for furnished accommodation if you are going to stay more than a month.
Getting around for Foreign visitors to South Africa: South Africa does not exactly have a fantastic public transport system. The Gautrain in Gauteng (Johannesburg), is the first big step in this direction but has a long way to go to get anywhere near the offerings of, say, London. If you ask anyone at the flight training school about public transport, you are once more likely to be faced with blank stares. If you are lucky, someone might offer to be your personal taxi driver, (it would be polite to offer money towards their fuel), or offer you lifts, otherwise there are sometimes shuttles from your B&B.
You are on your own looking for buses, I have never used them and so know little in this regard. Long distance bus services are the Greyhound and Inter Cape or the Baz Bus. I will not recommend the cheapest form, the "black taxi", which is usually white, a mini bus, has lots of colourful writing on it which nothing to do with promoting its services, and very loud Kwaito music blaring from its powerful speakers. Reason: I don't trust the drivers with my life, and if they are trustworthy, I refuse to vouch for the maintenance of these vehicles. They are, however, cheap, plentiful, and quite an experience. I know. I have tried them.
My personal recommendation is get an International Drivers License before you come here, and either hire a car or buy a second hand one, (or share hiring a car between a few of you), and watch out for those taxi's! Avis, Hertz and Budget car rentals are the best known, but there are others too.
A scooter is another, cheaper option.
You can always sell what you bought when you leave. Look at the auto trader which can be purchased from any store that sells magazines, alternatively visit www.autotrader.co.za for their online version. We Buy Cars www.webuycars.co.za is another option you can google.
Download the Uber, Taxify or Bolt App on Google Playstore for a taxi service. You should find information on taxi's when you arrive at the International Airport, or ask at the help desks; there might even be an array of all sorts of different taxis outside to greet you, but don't expect orderly queues of Yellow Cabs, like at JFK Airport in New York. You will be disappointed.