For every professional pilot, the first step is a Private Pilot License (PPL). The second usual step is an Instrument Rating (IR), which allows one to fly in worse weather. Currently, I am at this stage, but what’s next?
For various reasons, I decided to learn to fly in Europe and in the US. Australia and New Zealand are incredibly expensive and very far from me, while India and other Asian countries do not provide many options for foreign students.
European countries have numerous flight schools. The most obvious choice was the UK, with a lot of aerodromes, native English instructors, and rich aviation history. However, the weather and prices there were not very attractive.
The second option was Spain, with mostly good weather and reasonable prices. But I found only two schools there that easily accept foreign students, and Spain is still pretty far from Moscow.
I considered Germany and Austria, but they are pretty expensive, and it’s better to speak German there. I even checked Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, but they are even more expensive without any real advantages.
Italy and Greece did not provide a lot of options either, although the climate is excellent there.
Not entirely satisfied with my results, I started to check Eastern Europe.
Lithuania seemed to have only one school, and the feedback was controversial. Latvia did not provide any good options either.
Polish, Czech, and Hungarian schools offered very attractive prices with high quality of instruction, were pretty close to Moscow, and the weather there allowed flying most of the time. The options there were comparable, all having some benefits and drawbacks.
So, that’s what I found out so far.
Poland is probably the least expensive place to get a license, but the aviation infrastructure and culture are not very well developed compared to the Czech Republic. Hungary is also one of the cheapest places in Europe, but the infrastructure looks even worse than in Poland.
The Czech Republic is a reasonable compromise. The prices are attractive, and the aviation services are comparable to those in the UK or Germany: a lot of aerodromes, great aviation briefing services, nice and skilled ATC/ATS.
The US is a perfect place to fly, probably the best one in the world, but there are some legal stuff to do in advance: a student visa even for non-vocational training (and only a limited selection of approved schools for foreign students), TSA clearance, and fingerprinting. In my case, it’s also at least a day to go there and back.
Anyway, I decided to get the Instrument Rating in the US, at least to have that experience. I contacted literally every M1/F1 (student visa type) approved school in every state. It took about a month to make a decision (I studied many factors – reputation, feedback, history, instructors, weather, fleet, location, prices), and the final option was a small school in Florida.
So far, I am really happy about the English-speaking environment. In the Czech Republic, the language was not a big deal either, and almost everybody in the aviation industry could speak English, but that ‘almost’ thing still could be a little annoying.
The weather in Florida is great, especially in winter. In summer, it’s flyable too, but after about 2 pm, it’s often better to stay on the ground due to thunderstorms. There are still very nice mornings almost every day.
Written exams preparation and aviation subjects, in general, are way more complicated in Europe.
Flying is great everywhere. The rules and practices are almost the same in the US and in the Czech Republic: very good online (and phone) briefing services, a lot of places to fly.
Living expenses in the Czech Republic are lower, especially accommodation. Talking about Europe, for me, it’s also possible to drive my own car, which is obviously not an option for the US without buying a new one.
My personal opinion is that if one needs the EASA license, it’s better to learn in Eastern Europe. For the FAA one, the US is better. If the license type is not a concern, I would prefer the FAA way.
Actually, I preferred both. I want two licenses and various experience, and I will try to count as many flight hours as possible towards both sets of requirements.
Why did I start in Europe? Just because it’s easier and faster. Why IR in the US? The answer is different experience and one more valuable license.
What’s next? I am still not sure. Probably FAA CPL/IR/ME, then EASA ATPL theory, and then a frozen ATPL. And a new shiny job…