Sierra tour - review


Well-Known Member
I've heard a lot of positive and negative things about Sierra Academy - more negative than positive unfortunately, but I've talked to few current students and they don't have anything bad to say. That coupled with what I already knew about Sierra made it my #1 choice before touring any schools.

The Tour -

I've heard horror stories about the admin department, like forgetting about a tour after a student had flown out to see the school. The only thing that I experienced was I had a hard time getting calls returned, and this initially gave a bad impression. I finally did get my tour set up, and when I arrived at the academy, I was greeted with a warm welcome, and my admissions officer was expecting me. To my amazement, he remembered things that we talked about over the phone several weeks before, like where I was from and where I was going to college. We chatted for several minutes and I was taken to the financial aid department. I got the same presentation that every school gives "since you have your degree you can't get federal grant money but here's the Key loan bla bla bla...." Then we continued on with the tour.

The facilities are old. The school is actually in an old hotel built in the 20s. Because it is a historic building, they can't make many changes. The classroom building is newer but still nothing fancy. I kind of got the impression that the helicopter students get priority over the lounge and most of the classrooms. I kept getting told..."This facility is mostly for the helicopter students, but looks very similar to what the fixed wing students get." I think there were classes in session and that's why I didn't get to see those facilities. They have two simulators - yep you guessed it...old. I was not impressed with the facilities, but they are the least important thing to me. The facilities were in good repair, just nothing fancy.

From what I heard from former students, I was expecting stuff to be held together with duct tape, but the aircraft actually seemed quite nice from what I saw. We took a look inside the cockpit of each type of plane they have and I was quite impressed. They were clean and seemed to be very well maintained. They were pretty old, but certainly good enough to get the job done.

There was an unusually laid back atmosphere for a 141 school. I haven't yet decided if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I was very comfortable.

My admissions officer also showed me the maintenance hangar. The entire tour took about 90 min. What I was really impressed by was that I was not only given a tour, but also given a chance to speak with the students. Throughout the tour whenever we bumped into a student who was not in a hurry, he introduced me and let us talk for a minute. I keep hearing about how important it is to talk with students when you visit a school but this is usually easier said than done. My admissions officer went out of his way to make sure I got that chance to talk with students. BTW everyone I talked to had good things to say. Also, my admissions officer recommended that I check out other schools. He specifically mentioned FSI, Comair, and Pan Am. These are not just mom and pop schools but major academies - likely to get my business if I do check them out. This indicated that they are more concerned with my success than with getting my money.

Overall I would say I was impressed. The biggest downside is the cost, but there's nothing they can do about that. Especially since they are operating in class C airspace.

So far I have toured Comair and Sierra. After touring Comair I was ready to move out to Florida, but now that I've seen another school, the initial reasons Comair was not my first choice are starting to come back into reality. I am on the fence but leaning toward Sierra, as I was before touring either school. I still plan to check out FSI, Pan Am, and Westwind, and am looking forward to see what they have to offer..
I have toured Sierra twice, the most recent being about a year ago. I can't say that I was too impressed with the facilities and the aircraft. Their fleet, compared to other comparable schools is second rate.

I had a chance on my first visit to ride along with a MEII instructor/student which was pretty cool. They both seemed to be great pilots, however the Beechcraft duchess that we flew in really showed its age.

If you were to judge a school soley by their students, I would then have even more doubts about Sierra. I used to work at a local FBO in the Napa area. When the Sierra guys came to our field, they seemed very unprofessional in reguards to their pattern work and how they treated their own aircraft.

I also have had a friend that went to school at Sierra and later transfered to Comair. He mentioned that Sierra had numerous problems which led to him not being able to get his ratings as fast a he wanted to.

On the flip side of things, I have met pilots who now fly for the likes of American Airlines and Air wiconsin who went through Sierra. They say that the training is good but the planes aren't the greatest.

My impressions were that Sierra is in a great location, however the can't compare with the likes of say Comair when it comes to training & facilities. I think that for Sierra to contend with other part 141 schools, they should put some serious effort to improve their facilities and aircraft. Also, they could improve their professionalism.

Comair's Facilities are old and outdated. Actually the place is called "Delta Connection Academy" now, as of a week ago
While the facilities and the aircraft are old for the most part, they arnt high on my priority of things that would concern me, after all its not the facilities or aircraft that make you a good pilot (although its nice to fly new planes), its the quality of the instruction you receive. Which I do give Sierra high marks compared to other flight schools I have attended in the past.

Napa? Hmm well I'll give you a little tip... Napa is one of the few places we use to train new private pilots, so I would say that doesnt acurately reflect the quality of instruction at Sierra Academy. I dont know many new private pilots who fly like experts or for that fact can do a perfect pattern.

Sierra Academy holds their students to high standards and set their standards way above the FAA requirements, and while that can lead to spending alot more money, the extra experience will only make you a better pilot. Sure they could train students to the FAA minimums, but thats not what Sierra is about. They want to make sure when they schedule you for your FAA checkride you will pass with flying colors.