There has long been a debate on the advantages of Part 141 versus Part 61 training. Student pilots are confused by the differences and are therefore unable to determine how to make the most of the benefits offered by each.
The following remains the same, regardless of whether your train under Part 141 or Part 61: 1) Written tests. 2) Oral exam in check ride. 3) Flight portion of the check ride. 4) License issued.
Measurement of success is the same at both types of schools: 1) Instructors make or break the school. Knowledgeable, experienced instructors are key. 2) Some flight schools have a high dropout ratio. Successful schools should have at least 90% of the students they train attain the certificates and ratings they signed up for. 3) Aircraft maintenance is important. Students should very seldom have flight lessons canceled due to aircraft being grounded. 4) The school accident record should be zero or close to zero, indicating that the school places a high value on your safety.
On the surface, it looks like all helicopter flight schools are very similar. This is why it is so useful to understand the differences between Part 141 and Part 61. The two biggest differences are: 1) Part 141 training requires following an FAA approved Training Course Outline (TCO). Part 61 does not require a TCO be used at all. 2) The flight school itself and the Chief Flight Instructor have to meet stringent FAA requirements. Part 61 is not subject to these FAA requirements.
Let's start with Part 61 helicopter training and flight schools. The majority of helicopter flight schools in the USA today are Part 61 flight schools. Many Part 61 helicopter flight schools start off with one certified flight instructor and one helicopter. The flight instructor offers one-on-one training to prospective students and teaches the student as he or she sees fit. If the instructor is good, more students join the school and the owner purchases additional helicopters and hires more instructors to meet the demand.
There are no FAA inspections required for a Part 61 helicopter flight school. The flight school is free to train their students using their own chosen methods. They are expected to follow the rules and regulations in the FAR / AIM for Part 61 flight schools and training, but are not subject to FAA inspections to confirm that they are doing this.
Part 141 training and flight schools have to meet very specific requirements and standards. The helicopter flight school itself is issued an Air Agency Certificate when it passes the FAA inspections. Facilities and aircraft that will be used for Part 141 training are inspected. The Chief Flight Instructor is required to take an annual check ride with the FAA.
On the training side, the flight school submits a separate and distinct Training Course Outline (TCO) to the FAA for each certificate and / or rating that they want to teach under Part 141. For example, a Private Pilot TCO would be submitted. This contains lesson plans for both Flight and Ground training. The flight school would have to submit another TCO for Instruments if they wanted to teach Instrument ratings under Part 141.
Don't assume that a Part 141 helicopter flight school offers all their certificates and ratings under Part 141. Many only obtain FAA certification for Private, Instrument and Commercial certificates. It takes a lot of work for the flight school to create TCO's and to teach under Part 141. The FAA requires that the flight school keep extensive student documentation for Part 141, including very detailed information on student progress. This is great for the student. It is time consuming for the flight school.
There are a few very large flight schools that only offer Part 141 training. They have set schedules for their classes and teach many students at the same time. They also have regimented flight schedules. These few very large flight schools often have a very high ratio of foreign versus domestic students. This is because SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) requires that flight schools be FAA certified as a Part 141 flight school in order to apply for permission to train international students. The Veterans Association (VA) has the same Part 141 requirement for veterans to use their VA benefits.
Most Part 141 schools also offer Part 61 training for the same programs. For example, you may choose to do your Private Pilot under Part 141 or Part 61. Schools that offer both training methods provide the most flexibility to the student.
The student attending a Part 141 helicopter flight school gets all the benefits of attending a Part 141 school even if they choose to do some or all of their training under Part 61. This is due to the school being subject to random FAA inspections. They have to maintain their high standards at all times to retain their certification.
The disadvantage of Part 141 training is that the TCO has to be followed in the sequence written. Every student learns differently and some people prefer the flexibility of Part 61 training, which enables the student to cover materials in the sequence appropriate for him or herself.
This brings to light another advantage to a flight school that offers both Part 141 and Part 61 training. They will often use the TCO for your Part 61 training. This is great for the student pilot as you get the benefit of a structured Training Course Outline that is FAA certified, while at the same time being able to cover materials in the order that suits you best.
Another advantage to training at a school that offers both is that you can mix and match your training. For example, I did my Private Pilot under Part 61 as I wanted the flexibility to jump around in the curriculum. Flying instruments is very structured and is about learning procedures, so I choose to do my instrument training under Part 141. I found the structured approach and learning sequence worked really well for my Instrument training. I went back to Part 61 for my Commercial training.
Learning to fly a helicopter is fun, exciting and expensive. Learn all you can about your helicopter flight school and the programs they offer before making your final decision. Fly safe!