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SPOTLIGHT: Flight Training in the USA


Source: Phoenix East Aviation

This helpful article from Andre Maye, Vice President of Administration at Phoenix East Aviation, based in Daytona Beach, Florida, presents the option of flight training in the United States of America and provides advice on everything from obtaining the right visa to choosing the best school for you.

Thousands of students come to the USA each year from around the world for pilot training. It is significantly less expensive to train in the US for European students, especially if they are career-oriented and wish to develop the skills and earn the certifications to fly for an airline. Another reason students find the country attractive for pilot training is the weather; in some areas of the US, such as Florida and California, the weather allows daily flying year-round (yes, DAILY flying and YEAR-ROUND), which means the student can complete his or her training considerably faster – saving money and obtaining a flying job more quickly. In addition to the faster training, overall prices in the US for the same training are typically as much as 50% less as one might get in the UK or Europe.

Students wishing to enter the US for flight training will need a M-1 Student Visa or a F-1 Student Visa. The student should plan to go to the US Embassy in London to apply for the visa. The student must also study at an FAA Part 141 approved school, according to US government regulations. Flight schools can only have the 141 designation if the school and training syllabus are approved by the FAA. Not all flight schools are approved for FAR 141 training, but there are a large number in each state of the US that are approved Part 141, so this is no impediment.

The US flight training school must also be authorised by the US Department of Homeland Security to issue the M-1 student visa form, called the I-20. This I-20 plus additional information (see details below) will be needed to present to the visa officer at the time of the student’s visa interview at the US Embassy. This M-1 visa will allow the student to study and achieve his Private Pilot Certificate, Commercial Pilot Certificate, Instrument Rating, Multi-Engine Rating and/or the three flight instructor ratings. There are many US flight schools that are both Part 141 approved and that the US government has designated approved for M-1 visas. So again, this is no barrier; you will have a wide selection of academies to choose from.

Additionally, colleges and universities and some independent flight training academies (there are only 9 of them in the USA) are authorised by the US Department of Homeland Security for F-1 Student Visa form authorisation.

In this programme, the student pilot enters a comprehensive professional pilot training programme. This visa has significant advantages to the student who wishes to become a professional career pilot and build the hours to more quickly be hired by an airline in his/her home country. The F-1 Visa allows the student to complete a professional pilot training programme (from Private Pilot Certificate through the Commercial Pilot Certificate with Instrument and Multi-engine ratings), then continue training for the Certified Flight Instructor, Certified Flight Instructor Instrument and Multi-engine Instructor ratings. AND most importantly, upon successful completion of this programme, the F-1 Student Visa allows the student to work as a flight instructor in the US to build those important additional hours – and make money as an employee of the flight school at the same time. If the foreign student wishes to work in the US as a flight instructor, he/she will to have an F-1 visa.

Because the process of obtaining visa may initially sound a bit complicated, it is a good idea to apply at a US academy which offers assistance and support in obtaining a visa. A school that welcomes foreign students should also help the student become acclimatised to American life on arrival, assisting with housing, banking, FAA medical exam (though you can have this done in the UK by one of many FAA approved doctors), TSA requirements etc. Providing assistance with visas will also save the international student time and effort and smooth the visa process.

I recommend the student attend a flight school that welcomes international students and has a sizable percentage of students in attendance from many (not just one) countries. Some schools, such as Phoenix East, foster this cultural diversity because we know it provides an especially enriching learning environment – especially for the student who hopes to fly internationally. Also, a school with a number of instructors from outside the US adds an extra element of training ease for foreign students. And frankly, it’s a more interesting and more exciting setting for a young student to train with like-minded students from all over the world!

The international student should be prepared as follows (NOTE: There may be some variation of application requirements by flight training schools, so check the requirements of the specific school you plan to attend. However, all US Embassy and US Consulate visa officers will always require the I-20 and bank statement)

  1. Choose a school that meets the above criteria, including providing no-extra-cost assistance with your visa.

  2. Apply to the school. This typically means

    • Complete the school’s application form.

    • Send an application fee (which varies from school to school).

    • Send a copy of your passport.

    • Send a copy of a driver’s license (or any pilot license the student may already have. If the student does have any existing pilot certificate, the school should be willing to guide in getting it converted to an FAA certificate, so you can start flying immediately upon arrival. Phoenix East helps you do this by providing the FAA forms to you and explaining the details). Some schools will also need a copy of your high school and/or university transcript.

    • And MOST IMPORTANT, provide a letter from your bank, on bank letterhead, showing that you have adequate funds to cover both the costs of tuition fees and living expenses for the duration of the training. Your chosen school’s admissions officer can provide details; If you arrive without your I-20 from the US flight school and statement from your bank, you will be denied and have to make another appointment with the visa officer when you have those documents.

  3. Make an appointment with the visa officer at the London US Embassy (or if you live outside the U.K., the US Embassy or US Consulate closest to your place of residence) at least 60-90 days prior to the time you plan to start flight training (longer if you are attending a degree-granting university).

    • Prior to your appointment with the visa officer, discuss with your chosen flight school’s visa and foreign student support personnel what to expect during your interview. You will be better able to articulate your goals if you are well prepared. Be sure your chosen school readily assists with this.

    • For your visa appointment, arrive well in advance in case there is a wait. You do not want to be late. Also, be sure to dress professionally.

It may sound a bit complex, but US flight training academies that have students from many countries are typically well prepared to assist you. And if the end result is spending one-half as much money to get your pilot certifications – and to doing so in one-half the time – isn’t it worth it?