We are often asked “What is the quickest and cheapest way to get my pilot’s licence?”. Well, there are several factors to consider. Time available, budget, age, and how used to studying you are. But let’s first consider what most people do.
Student Pilot No. 1 - One lesson per week
It is very typical for student pilots to have one flying lesson per week during their weekend. Knowing that minimum hours to complete a LAPL is 30 hours, and for a PPL course is 45 hours, there is often the misconception that the course will be completed in 30 or 45 weeks respectively. I am sorry to report that this will never happen. In our experience, it is more likely to take nearer 2 years to complete the course. “But Why?”
Well, firstly there is something we call skill-drop-off. By this we are talking about how much of the learning is retained from lesson to lesson. We understand that similar to driving, we are learning elements of muscle memory, knowledge, understanding, communication, navigation and safety procedures every lesson. For a typical student pilot, they have a busy week at Work, College, other interests, and have a limited time to reflect and embed this learning from the lesson.
As flying instructors, it is not unusual to find that students require the first 20-30 minutes of each lesson to regain the skill level they finished with the previous lesson. You will immediately recognise that with this being the case, it is almost impossible to complete the course in the minimum hours.
There is also the question of weather, some days we just cannot fly. It might be safe to fly, but inexperienced students will find some weather too distracting to learn effectively, so your instructor decides it would be better to undertake some ground-based studies. Family life also gets in the way. Before you know it, you haven’t flown for several weeks.
Let’s explore the opposite approach.
Student Pilot No. 2 - The Intensive Course
OK, so you’ve decided to throw yourself into it full time, “I want to do an intensive course to gain my pilot’s licence”. You’ve also calculated that you could have it completed within say 6 weeks. Bravo! You’ve got the commitment. First let’s discuss the advantages.
Well, if you are having more than one lesson per day, and continuing on consecutive days, you will not suffer from skill-drop-off. You will build on what you have learned every lesson. “That’s super efficient, where do I sign” I hear you cry. It is… but… there are also disadvantages. Students discover that with the amount of information to take in, it can soon become overwhelming and exhausting. Most young adults can sustain this level of study for around two weeks, with maturer students only one week before they start to struggle.
Like pouring a glass of champagne, one has to pour at a steady rate. Too much too quickly results in bubbles overflowing the glass. Similarly, you need to have down-time to process and compartmentalise what you have learned.
We typically expect students on intensive courses to have a sudden reduction of their learning rate after the initial period. This often leads to tiredness, irritability, dissatisfaction and frustration with themselves and their instructors. The exact opposite of what you need for effective learning.
Ultimately therefore, minimum training hours are not achieved, and the course may drag out by several additional weeks. “So what’s the answer?”
Student Pilot No. 3 - The Split Intensive Course
You’ve probably never heard the term before. But what we are talking about is short periods of intensive training (one-two weeks), with say two-three weeks break between. But why does this work?
Well, you learn at your optimum pace, and you stop before you mentally burnout. That’s the straight forward part that most people would recognise. Now for the clever bit… the time off.
Less understood is the importance of taking time away to process the information you have learned. At the time of learning, all the information you have received has been processed by the conscious mind. For example, when you learnt to drive and change gear, you had to consciously lift your right foot from the accelerator, press the left foot on the clutch, then move the gear selector out of gear, into the new gear, lift the left foot, whilst carefully timing the right foot to accelerate without juddering. A fairly complex set of coordination skills at the time. I bet these days, you drive without thinking, able to navigate and have a conversation at the same time. You do it subconsciously, and that’s the key.
Well flying is the same. But it takes time for the brain to process the information, and to compartmentalise it into the subconscious mind. Often it is less about repetition, and more about brain processing. This usually takes place over the course of weeks rather than days, which is why the intensive student’s brain can’t keep up with the pace of learning. You need to spend time dreaming, and replaying what you have learned in your mind, cementing the new information into your subconscious mind, and this takes time.
You will then return to your next block of intensive training with minimal skill-drop-off, fresh and ready for the champagne glass to be filled once again. Incidentally, this style of learning has been particularly beneficial for our students that don’t live near us. We have had a number of students over the years that hop on the EasyJet from London, and even a few living in other countries. They stay for a week or two, then return to their families and work between times. The opportunity to learn to fly in our unique environment has been a calling for many.
OK, but I don’t have the time to dedicate weeks off work, or I don’t have the money to pay for a whole week or two up front… what should I do?
Student Pilot No. 4 - The Compromise
Many people do not have the luxury to take weeks off work, or have to save and pay-as-they-go. Whilst we believe the Split Intensive Course is the most efficient and cost effective method for gaining your pilot’s licence, you can apply the concepts in a more affordable manner.
If you expect to be able to afford one lesson per week, instead consider doing two-three days consecutively, with say two lessons per day. Then take a break until the following month. You will reduce the skill-drop-off considerably, whilst maintaining your budget.
If you can manage it, you might increase it to intensive training every other weekend for example. The choice is yours, just remember, intensive then rest.
Student Pilot No. 5 - The Happy Learner
For those less concerned with time or financial pressures, you are absolutely free to choose whatever suits you. We have many students that enjoy learning at their own pace, and when it suits them. Often more suited to our retired students, more concerned with pleasure than efficiently, they are just happy to be on their own journey towards gaining a pilot’s licence. Ultimately, they will achieve their pilot licence, but they enjoy the experience at their own leisurely rate… and that’s also fine with us.
The above advice is also applicable to more advanced courses, and we find that when students find the learning structure that suits them, they continue through our advanced courses in a similar manner.
If you would like any further advice on how to design a bespoke training plan to meet your needs, please feel free to contact us. If you are travelling from further afield, we are happy to assist you in finding suitable accommodation and transport. We are here to help.