For every professional pilot the first step is a Private Pilot License (PPL). The second usual step is an Instrument Rating (IR) which allows to fly in worse weather. Currently I’m at this stage, what’s next?
For various reasons I decided to learn in Europe and in the US. Australia or New Zealand are incredibly expensive and very far from me, and India or other Asian countries do not provide many options for foreign students.
European countries have a lot of flight schools. The most obvious choice was the UK: a lot of aerodromes, native English instructors, rich aviation history. But the weather and prices are not so attractive.
The second option was Spain: the weather is mostly good, the prices are reasonable. But I found only two schools there easily accepting foreign students, and Spain is still pretty far from Moscow.
I considered Germany and Austria, but they are are pretty expensive, and it’s better to speak German there.
I even checked Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Netherlands, but they are even more expensive.
Italy and Greece did not provide a lot of options too (but the climate is so good there!)
I was not completely satisfied with my results, so I started to check Eastern Europe.
Lithuania seemed to have only one school, the feedback is controversial.
Latvia did not provide any good options too.
Polish, Czech and Hungarian schools provided very attractive offers, they were pretty close to Moscow, and the weather there allows to fly most of the time. The options there were comparable, all had 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 Czech Republic.
Hungary is also one of the cheapest place in Europe, but the infrastructure looks even worse than in Poland.
Czech Republic is a reasonable compromise. The prices are attractive, and the aviation services are comparable to the UK or Germany: a lot of aerodromes, great aviation briefing services, nice 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: student visa even for non-vocational training (and only limited selection of approved schools for foreign students), TSA clearance, fingerprinting. In my case it’s also at least 1 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 some small school in Florida.
So far I am really happy about English-speaking environment. In Czech Republic the language was not a big deal too, almost everybody could speak English, but that ‘almost’ thing still could be a little annoying.
The weather in Florida is great, especially in winter. It summer it’s flyable too, but after about 2 pm it’s often better to stay on the ground due to thunderstorms.
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 Czech Republic: very good online (and phone) briefing services, a lot of places to fly.
Living expenses in 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.
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 set of requirements.
Why I started 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…