That was my post. I recently received a number of emails from employees there thanking me for putting my thoughts out there. It is located in "General Topics" under "My Florida "Tour" and was posted on May 21st.
Here it is again...
I have read a number of these on the site over the past few months and found them to be very helpful. So, here are my thoughts.
First let me give you a little background on my own personal situation. I am a 25 year old college graduate with a degree in economics. I have spent the last 3 years working for Thomson Financial tracking the bond markets and managing a group of around 10 people by the time I made the decision to change careers. I just couldn't stand sitting in a "cube farm" staring at a computer screen all day long, and getting yelled at by investment bankers who make millions of dollars, but are somehow always unhappy (???)....sounds like a pretty interesting job description doesn't it? Anyway, so I just recently returned from my Florida "Tour" and wanted to share my thoughts
Comair Aviation Academy: My initial impression from their marketing materials was that this is a very good school. They have a long history of training pilots, and for the past few years they have issued more pilot certificates than any other school. Their main marketing point is their affiliation with Comair airlines, and no matter how you try and slice it, is a pretty darn good point. An all jet fleet (by this October anyway) flying new CRJ's, and the fact that 85% of their graduates who do their CFI work there get hired to work for their airline...which also has the highest paying contract in the industry. Also the airline is hiring and adding new planes! Anyway, all that aside, some things to keep in mind is that there are still 8 Brasilias.....with about 85 pilots who will need to be transfered over to the jets. That can back up their hiring quite a bit in a tight environment like this. As far as the facilities go, Sanford is a pretty busy airport with some substantial commercial flights coming in daily....there were 3 727's and a 757 at the airport terminal while I was there along with a number of corporate jets, GA planes, etc...The facilities are old!!! Not just he classrooms, that does not matter much, but everything from maintenance to the "Flight Planning" area, etc... Their weather department is a desk with 4 PC's on it (two of which had out of order signs on them). Everything in the dispatch area seamed chaotic. There were entirely too many people running around and it seemed to be very unorganized and unprofessional. After seeing their aircraft (152's, 172's, one arrow that I saw, and 7 seminoles), I was left very unimpressed. Although they touted their safety record and awards they have been presented for it, I would not feel safe in the aircraft that I was shown. Just to give an example, while touring the maintenenace hanger, I had the opportunity to talk to one of the mechanics on duty. My first impression of him was that I would not even let him change the spark plugs in my car, forget about working on a plane! Both he and the marketing rep I was with were telling me a story to demonstrate how good their service was. They told me of a Seminole which hit a buzzard so hard last week that it ripped off the engine cowling, and a significant portion of the wing skin one afternoon. They drove to Vero to the Piper factory to get the necessary parts and worked all night and had the plane flying again the next morning. To me that doesn't sound like a maintenance success, but instead like the plane was being rushed back to the flight line as fast as possible. Especially considering that they only have 7 Seminoles for about 400 students! That was just my impression anyway. All things considered, the school definitely did not "Wow" me at all, and the students that I spoke to did not seem very enthusiastic about their time there. The impression I got was that this was a just something they had to endure in order to get to the next level. There just seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm.
*CFI's get paid $10/hour..no benefits
*Students are told they can not work while at the academy
*Free travel on Delta when hired as a CFI (they told me 4 week backup, I would take that to be more like 6-7)
Flight Safety: When I went down there, this school was actually at the bottom of my list. After receiving their marketing materials they seemed so expensive that I thought they were out of the running. If you simply add up all of their programs it comes out to around $63K....but this is not the correct way to do it. These prices are "a la carte" and do not represent the true price of arounf $53K after taking into consideration that FSI pays for the MEI and CFII if you are hired on as a flight instructor, and the fact things like supplies, etc... you have already purchased for previous courses (I am aware of the current wait list). I was immediately impressed with the level of service and professionalism from this school. They set me up in their dorms for a two night stay, gave me a voucher for two days worth of meals, and arranged for me to pick up the key after hours. In my "welcome packet" was information from the local Chamber of Commerce about the area, maps, housing info, a few gifts (nice pen, water bottle, keychain, etc...) When I arrived at the admin building the next day, my tour guide was already there waiting to meet me despite the fact that I was early. He was a student currently working on his CFI. He took me around everywhere...The facilities here are top notch. From the simulators to the buildings to the aircraft and maintenance hanger, everything was very neat, clean, and in great condition. They have the same Frasca simulators that everyplace has, but they also have the Microsoft lab (PCATD's in the library which are free to use), a spatial disorientation motion sim, and although not part of your basic training, a level D Saab2000 sim. Their planes are beautiful. The have close to 100 aircraft, about 30 or so are multis(seminoles and a few senecas)....you do your instrument and commercial training in multis which build valuable multi time. They also have a couple of Zlin acrobatic planes to teach spin recovery in. As far as maintenance goes, they do their 100 hours every 60. The maintenace facility I go to see was absolutely spotless. Not a spec of dirt anywhere. Also, the Piper factory is at the end of the runway, so part availability is never an issue. Every student that I got a chance to talk to had nothing but good things to say about the school, the environment, the instructors, the administration, etc...and I stopped about 20 people in the time that I was there. I got a chance to talk to the the chief flight instructor and the head of operations, both very nice people. The other two schools would not let me talk to their chiefs... I was very impressed with the school.
*CFI's get paid $14/hr and get full benefits
*Many students work either in marketing, the fuel farm, maintenance or off campus while in school. On campus pays $8/hr
* Instrument and commerical training in multi's. Will have about 300-400 hours multi by the time you finish instructing.
Pan Am: Very shady place... Let me tell you why. The marketing material I was sent, (the stuff they use to sell themselves and make themselves look good and ask you pay around $60K) had a number of spelling, typing, and grammer errors. This lack of attention ot detail worried me from the start. Next, they guy who I had been talking with over the phone is actually based in Orlando in an office, and is not even at the school that he is answering questions about....makes you wonder how good of a feel he has for the place. Next, the tour I was given was not a solo, but with a kid who had already sent in his deposit and was coming to take the tour as an afterthought, his girlfriend, his mom, and some other prospective student who didn't say anything the entire time. This made it a little more difficult to ask those hard questions, but I did anyway. The person who gave the tour was a woman who had absolutely no flight experience (take that for what you may). She had also been out of the office for the last 2-3 months for some surgery....This was her first day back! Now how well do you think she knew what was going on there? She did not know the answers to any of the question I had to ask with regards to number of students, how many CFI's have left in the recent months with jobs, other statistics, etc... She was pretty unhelpful. Anyway, the facilities here are beutiful and brand new. There isn't anything bad that you can say about those at all. The planes are at most 3 years old since that is how old the school is. Piper Archers (very nice), Seminoles, and Arrows....all with moving map GPS and many with AC! We were not allowed to enter the maintenance area, although we could see in and it looked very nice. The look of surprise on the womans face when I asked to see the maintenance area shocked me. Is this an unreasonable request? The students here seemed very uninterested in answering any questions that I had, and I was unable to get a lot out of them. The area here in Ft Pierce is not a good one. Even the marketing woman, the persons whos job it is to blow smoke up your ass, said don't get a place in town because it's not safe! When walking past the chief flight instructor's office we could see that he was not on the phone and did not have anybody in the office, but when asked by the marketing woman to speak to us he told her he didn't have time to speak with us. I realize he is a very busy man, but when there are 5 people standing in clear view outside your office who you are asking to spend $60K, to tell them you don't have the time told me something. Other than the planes, I did not like this school at all. It left me with a lot of bad impressions.
I have decide on FSI. The level of professionalism, reputation in the industry, and positive attitudes that prevailed there put this school well above the other two. The only point of negativity that I found was the current 6-7 month wait list for CFI's. Obviously a direct result of 9/11, the question you have to ask is whether this will still be there a year from now. With airline hiring picking up, I do no believe it will be.
Those were my impressions. If you have any comments or would like to email me with any questions about anything feel free.