Talk to 10 pilots, you’ll get 11 different stories on how they learned to fly. Training has changed a lot over the years but now it’s as accessible to everyone as, say, boating is. Learning to fly is not difficult – you just have to want it.
Most people go to a flying club or pilot school/academy. There are also universities which offer higher-educational aviation courses aimed at career pilots. The first step is to go to your local airfield and see if there’s a school or club – there probably is. We’re putting a list of schools together here – but remember that some of the smaller schools may be unlisted so do a little recon on your own.
You’ll be told that the way to start is with a “fam” flight – which is short for “familiarization” – and is often 30-60 minutes of instruction and “puke-test” (not everyone has the constitution for flying – it’s worth knowing in advance eh :-). You may get to actually fly yourself in a fam-flight – very cool.
Assuming you come away from your fam-flight shaking at the knees, with a ridiculous smile on your face and are calling your spouse for permission to finance the next 40 years of your flying – you’re ready to start. Your “fam” flight of 30 minutes can even count towards your training – way to get started!
You’ll continue with your CFI (instructor) and every one of them has their own teaching methods. There are school-type instructors who follow a rigid structure and others are old-school CFI’s who do things a little more loosely – but it’s all to get you to a point where you can “solo”. You’ll need to pass a written test called PSTAR during this time – the first of two written tests on the way to your PPL.
Your “solo” is where you fly an aircraft by yourself for one 5-minute trip around the airfield and land again – no kidding, you’ll need to sit down afterwards and it’ll be one of the moments you’ll never forget. Your CFI and you decide when you’re ready for that.
There’s an old tradition of drenching a pilot in buckets of water following their first solo. I hope it happens to you – it’s something you’ll never forget – a right of passage only your pilot friends will understand.
After your solo it’s more ground school, more flying and training to get you to the point where you can pass the Transport Canada written test. You’ll have to study – it’s not a walk in the park! Then it’s the flight test where you demonstrate your skills to an examiner licensed to pass/fail you. Not everyone passes first time and that’s OK. It’s not a competition or race – it’s about being safe and competent.
Once you’ve passed everything, you’re ready to be a pilot and buy (or rent) a plane – thus entering a very close brotherhood (and sisterhood) of pilots. You’ll probably have spend best part of $5-10,000 to do this (check with your CFI for expected costs and the different licensing you can do) and it may take you anywhere from a few months to a couple of years – it’s all up to you.
It’s worth saying that some people buy their aircraft early (you don’t need to be a pilot to own a plane) and use it for their training. If you’re sure GA is for you and you’re sure you’ll use the aircraft enough – this is a great way to reduce the costs. Factor-in hangaring, insurance, maintenance etc. though – it’s all a part of the process. There’s much more info on owning and financing in this site.
Finally, ultralight flying can be less expensive and a great way to get into the air – we have more information on that here.