About the Author

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Southport, Manitoba, Canada
Steve Pomroy is a professional flight instructor and aviation writer. He has been teaching since 1995 and holds an Airline Transport Pilot License, Class 1 Instructor and Aerobatic Instructor Ratings, military QFI, and an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He's written and published three flight training books through his company, SkyWriters Publishing, and has several other books under development. Steve currently teaches RCAF pilot candidates on their Primary Flight Training course.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Choosing a School Part 2: Professional Flying

Choosing a flight school is an important step in starting a career in aviation. The habits and thought processes you learn from day one will influence your job performance - especially early in your career - and the interpersonal connections you make in school could last your entire career. There are also the issues of cost and training time. Delays in training due to poor scheduling, aircraft unserviceabilities, and poor training (leading to failed exams or repeated training sessions) are very costly - in terms of direct training costs and job search delays. You would be well advised to try and avoid these problems before they arise.

As I stated in the last post, there are some great flight schools out there, and there are some not-so-great flight schools out there. If you’re planning on building a career in aviation, the distinction is critical, and you need to put some effort into finding a flight school (or schools) that will help you get your career on track from day one.

Most professional pilot candidates have more training options than recreational pilot candidates - you can move to another location in order to get to a better school. There are, of course, exceptions - for example, if you have a good job and are using the income to pay your way. However, even then, you should consider the possibility of doing your training in blocks so that you can travel to the best available school.

In the last post, I suggested some questions that you should get answers to. If you’re pursuing aviation as a career, there are a few more to add. The complete list:

  1. How many aircraft do you have? How many of them are capable of operating in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC)?
  2. Do you have a multi-engine aircraft? How much experience do(es) your multi-engine instructor(s) have?
  3. How many instructors do you have? How many of them have current instrument ratings? How many of them hold Airline Transport Licenses? How many of them have more than 2 years of full time experience in flight instruction?
  4. Over the past 5 years, what percentage of your starting students have finished (without changing to a different school!)?
  5. Over the past 5 years, what has been the average flight time for your students to obtain a Private Pilot License?
  6. Over the past 5 years, what was your students’ pass rate on the PPL and CPL written exams? What was their average mark?
  7. Over the past 5 years, what was your students’ pass rate on the PPL and CPL flight tests? What was their average mark?
  8. Do you offer an IFR groundscool? If so, how often does it run?
  9. Do you offer an ATPL groundschool? If so, how often does it run?
  10. Do you have any scholarships or bursaries?
  11. What percentage of your graduates are employed full time as pilots (not as dispatchers or ramp attendants) upon graduation? Within 6 months of graduation? Within 12 months of graduation?


When asking these questions, don’t take the company’s word. Seek other sources of information:
  • Contact regulatory authorities (Transport Canada, FAA, JAA, CAA, depending on what country you’re in).
  • Ask staff members how they like working there.
  • Ask current and past students about their impressions of the school.
  • Ask potential employers if they’re satisfied with the performance of graduates they’ve hired.

Ultimately, the quality of your training is what you make of it. But it doesn’t hurt to have an edge in the form of a high-quality school with high-quality staff and high-quality aircraft.

Happy Flying!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Choosing a School Part 1: Recreational Flying

Once you’ve made the decision to learn to fly, the next step is to choose a school.

There are many variables to consider when choosing a school: price, quality, aircraft availability, industry connections, etc. Each of these variables will be presented by the school to place the school in the best possible light. So you need to take all information with a healthy dose of skepticism - and you need to double check against multiple sources whenever possible.

There are some great flight schools out there. There are also some, er, not so great flight schools out there. A high quality school will enrich your experience and ultimately make you a better, safer pilot. A not-so-high-quality school can poison your experience and turn you off of aviation altogether. So be sure to take the time to gather information and make an informed choice.

If you’re planning on mostly personal flying, and you already have a career and/or a family, you’re probably constrained to choose a local school. This makes your decision a lot easier - even if it does limit your options. If there are multiple local schools (there often aren’t, but if you’re in or near a large population center, you might have options), take your time to compare them.

When you are considering a school, especially when you have the option of comparing multiple schools, here are some questions to ask:

  1. How many aircraft do you have?
  2. How many instructors do you have? How many of them have more than 2 years of full time experience in flight instruction?
  3. Over the past 5 years, what percentage of your starting students have finished their PPL (without changing to a different school!)?
  4. Over the past 5 years, what has been the average flight time for your students to obtain a Private Pilot License?
  5. Over the past 5 years, what was your students’ pass rate on the PPL written exams? What was their average mark?
  6. Over the past 5 years, what was your students’ pass rate on the PPL? What was their average mark?


When asking these questions, insist on answers, but don’t take the company’s word. Seek other sources of information. Contact regulatory authorities (Transport Canada, FAA, JAA, CAA, depending on what country you’re in). Ask staff members how they like working there. Ask current and past students about their impressions of the school.

Ultimately, the quality of your training is what you make of it. Work hard and you can overcome mediocre training. Slack off and all of the expert instruction in the world is useless. But it doesn’t hurt to have an edge in the form of a high-quality school with high-quality staff and high-quality aircraft. So do your homework first. Identify the school or club that best meets your needs. And then get started.

Happy Flying!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Learn to Fly?

The first question one might ask about flight training is, "Why learn to fly?". There are probably as many different answers to this question as there are people to ask it. Everybody has their own reasons. But in broad strokes, most reasons can fit into one of only a handful of categories. Some learn to fly because they’re looking for a new challenge in life. Others are taking first steps in building a career. Others are planning to use their license for business travel. Still others just want to have a little fun and go for the occasional "$100 Hamburger".

Whatever your reason, it’s important that you know what it is. Your long-term objectives will influence the short-term choices you make regarding your training. Do you need an instrument rating? How about a multi-engine rating? Should you spend a little extra time refining your radio navigation skills? During scenario-based training, should your emphasis be on commercial operations type scenarios, or recreational flying scenarios? How about the pace of your training? If you’re looking for a career, the sooner you graduate, the sooner you can start looking for that first job. If you’re flying for fun, a slower pace will be easier on your wallet and less distracting from your home life.

Whatever your objective, make sure that you know what it is, and that you communicate it clearly and assertively to your instructor. Take the time with your instructor to develop a training plan that suits your needs, as opposed to your instructor's needs or the needs of your school. At the end of the day, the training is for you, and your goal should be to maximize your benefit.

Ultimately, your learning process has to be fun. But what constitutes fun will vary from one person to the next. So make sure you know what it is that you want, and go after it.

Happy Flying!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hello, World! Welcome to my Aviation Blog!

After years of flying, teaching, and writing, I've finally decided to take a run at an aviation blog. As with most bloggers, I've only got a fuzzy idea of what I want to write here, so it should be interesting to see how things evolve. I'm sure that most of what I write will fit into one of four themes: 1) Student Advice, 2) Groundschool Comments, 3) Flight Comments, and 4) Instructional Notes. My next few entries will discuss what I've got in mind for those four themes. I'm sure that I'll occasionally have something to say that doesn’t fit into those categories. But I expect those instances to be few and far between.

So I guess I'll start things off with a little about me and my motivations. The short version is that my background is primarily in aviation and flight training, and I've held training positions at several flight schools in Atlantic Canada. I also managed to get myself an Engineering degree and to spend four years in the Middle East, three of which were spent teaching engineering. Oh, and I've written and published an aviation textbook (Applied Aerodynamics for Private and Commercial Pilots), with more in the works.

I've been flying since the summer of 1992, when I learned to fly on an Air Cadet Flying Scholarship. For those of you young enough to take advantage, I would recommend the Cadet program even if you don't want to fly (but why someone wouldn't want to fly eludes me!). I'll expand more on the merits of the program in a future post. I completed my Commercial Pilot License and Class 4 Flight Instructor Rating in 1995 and got a job training pilots almost immediately in Shearwater, Nova Scotia. Over the next 2 years, I upgraded my Instructor Rating so that by the summer of 1997, I held a Class 1 Flight Instructor Rating and Pilot Examiner (PE) authority (back then, it was "Designated Flight Test Examiner" (DFTE) authority).

I then spent a year back in my hometown, St. John's, Newfoundland, as the Assistant Chief Flight Instructor at the St. John's branch of the Career Academy School of Aviation, where I also served as the in-house flight test examiner. Afterward, I moved into the Chief Flight Instructor (CFI) position at the former Greenwood Flying Club (known now as the Greenwood Flight Centre) on CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia. I spent about a year in Greenwood, but the club fell on hard economic times (which they've since recovered from quite nicely, due in no small part to an employee buyout of sorts), and I had to move on. I took this as an opportunity to return to Shearwater to fly and teach on contract while I studied engineering at Saint Mary's University and Dalhousie University.

While I was in University, the aviation industry started a minor downturn, which was greatly accelerated into a major downturn by the events of 9/11/2001. I discovered then that every third-year mechanical engineering course has room for a case study on the structural collapse of a building hit by an airplane. The downturn in aviation didn't do much for my prospects of re-entering the flying trade full-time after graduation. Sure enough, when I started looking, there were no flying jobs to be found anywhere. Ultimately, I gave up on finding work as a pilot, and started looking for work as an engineer. Not long after, an opportunity came my way. I was hired for a 3 year contract teaching engineering in the Middle East for College of the North Atlantic - Qatar. The pay was decent, the time off was outstanding, and the travel opportunities were to die for!

My fourth year in Qatar was spent working with two partners in a start-up engineering firm, which ultimately didn't get very far. I also went back to school part-time for the year and studied Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University's Qatar campus.

Upon returning to Canada, I took a position in Gander, Newfoundland. Gander used to be known as the "Crossroads of the World" because trans-Atlantic aircraft always stopped there for fuel. Nowadays, however, most aircraft have enough range to skip the stop - flying from New York, Boston, or Toronto to London, Paris, or Frankfurt with no need for the delay and cost of an extra fuel stop. So Gander isn't quite as busy as it once was. Nonetheless, the airport is a great facility and the weather is good enough to fly and bad enough to present a challenge - allowing student pilots to gain an invaluable set of real-world lessons. I spent about a year in Gander. It was an, um, interesting experience. Someday, maybe I'll write a post to expand on that.

Nowadays, I'm back in my hometown, thinking about maybe (just maybe!) putting down some roots, and working on starting a couple of business ventures. These ventures show a lot of promise, but getting them going is quite a grind. Maybe I'll include a few posts in the future about the whole starting-a-business experience. Or maybe that would justify a whole separate blog!

There you have it. My bio, so far, in very broad strokes. The good news here is that future posts will be focused less on me and more on airplanes:).

Happy Flying!