With the pandemic easing, the idea of training overseas is worth considering for both cost and weather reasons
8 April 2022
Covid-19 really stitched up aviation at all levels but now that vaccination programmes are working and opening up the world, it’s worth considering looking abroad at the training options.
Before looking however, think about the sort of flying you intend doing and what licence you’ll need (see page 6). You’ll need to make sure the flight school is capable of delivering that licence.
The big reason for training outside the UK is weather. Simply put, countries like the USA and in southern Europe have more reliable weather during spring, summer and autumn, and that can affect not only the continuity of training but also the cost.
Some of the big UK professional pilot training schools have an overseas ‘fair weather base’ for exactly that reason. Skyborne Airline Academy, for instance, has acquired a flight school at Vero Beach in Florida, not only to attract US students but also as somewhere British students can get in a continuous chunk of training. Likewise, CAE has a base in the US at Phoenix, Arizona.
The better weather in parts of the US means the aircraft are used more, so the cost of purchase and maintenance is spread over more flight hours, which in turn means that the cost per hour in the air is less.
The average across the US is around $170 per hour (about £130) though that varies from as low as $125p/h for an older Cessna or Piper up to $280p/h for something like a new-ish Cirrus SR20 with glass cockpit. Add on another $50p/h for instruction and you’re still looking at a substantial saving over UK prices. Of course, you have to price in accommodation and air fares, but some schools have deals available.
Add in the tax relief available to US businesses on both new and used capital assets such as aircraft, and the fleets tend to be on the newer and better-equipped side.
One such fleet is that of Blue Line Aviation in North Carolina, which is not only building a new training centre, but has also ordered 50 new Diamond aircraft – with another 50 options.
The order is made up of single engine DA40 NG, twin engine DA42-VI and a Diamond Simulator.
“The timing of this aircraft order marks a significant milestone for Blue Line Aviation,” said Scott McFadzean, CEO of Diamond Aircraft Industries. “We have followed the tremendous growth of this operation very closely and are impressed with its laser focused vision towards the future during the pandemic, which has caused a drastic shift in short-term pilot demand in the industry.”
Over the last year Blue Line has increased its fleet of aircraft to 16 aircraft, including 10 single-engine DA40 NGs and two DA42-VI twins.
Over on the West Coast, South Bay Aviation at Torrance Airport, California is more tuned into serving private pilots rather than professional pilots. It has a fleet ranging from a 1978 Cessna 152 at $125p/h, several late model Cessna 172s at around $180p/h (depending on spec and age), up to a 2010 Cessna Corvalis TT400 at $400p/h. And a couple of twins including Beech Duchess at $270p/h. Something for everyone there.
But it’s not all about a dollar. The fun aspect of flying in the US shouldn’t be underestimated. The infrastructure, at both big and small airports, is usually superb. In the US you can walk into the wonderful world of a first-class FBO, to be met by smiling, helpful assistants, then sit in a luxurious lounge with fresh coffee and free Wi-Fi, use the onsite flight planning facilities and buy fresh charts if you need them.
Much of southern Europe also has better, more reliable weather than the UK, and a good infrastructure of airfields and flight schools. You will end up with an EASA licence however, which is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly for a professional pilot, but does come with a few challenges. Not all of these challenges have been completely sorted out between the UK CAA and EASA yet.
One challenge will be whether to convert your EASA licence to a UK CAA licence, and then there’s revalidating your licence every two years and also adding further ratings. And you will need a medical examination in an EASA state every time it needs to be renewed.
However, Spain is fast becoming a leading destination for student pilots, because of its generally fine weather, relatively uncluttered airspace, lower cost of living and, well, Spain is a fun place to be as well.
One flight school, Grupo One Air, based ion Malaga, offers a full EASA PPL(A) course for €10,500. They train in new aircraft fitted with glass cockpits, such as a Diamond DA20 (two seats), Diamond DA40 (four seats) and Cirrus SR20 plus there’s the latest flight simulators for practising navigation and procedures, and other elements of training. That price includes not only the lessons, but also all landing fees, flight test and exam fees, and ,licence processing fees. You also get the One Air Pilot Aviation Kit which includes Android tablet, CR3 flight computer, aeronautical charts, plotter, headset, flight bag, Jeppesen logbook, One Air pilot’s watch, fuel tester and One Air Club Card.
Further afield, Greece has a very active flying scene with some flight schools able to offer UK and EASA licence courses. One such school is Global Aviation SA which offers a six-month PPL(A) course for €13,500 at Pachi Airport, just 30km from Athens where ground school takes place. It’s also an active training centre of professional pilots so if you did want to progress further, the options are there.