Anyone can open a flight school. Experience isn’t even mandatory nor is a pilot’s license. All you need is a helicopter, an instructor and some advertisement. If you do not pay attention, you can be charged $75,000, won’t receive appropriate training, the school owner will spend your money any way he wants, and there won’t be anything you can do about it since most states do not have regulations regarding fl
ight schools training.
The Air Safety Flight Academy scam is Arizona (USA), is an example of what could happen if you do not pay attention to what school you attend. The owner of the school (Dee Pinkston) decided to close it without any notice and the students were stuck without appropriate training and did not get their money back. And it gets worst! He moved to Texas and did it all over again…
In United-States, some states such as Arizona and Texas laws regulating flight schools to protect the students and their money, but those regulations have not been enforced. If Arizona would have enforced those laws, students would have recovered their money, and most importantly, a flight school would not operate without appropriate licensed, insurance, etc.
Some schools have massive cancellation fees or ask for non-refundable deposits, which enable them to keep your money if you do not finish the course. Why wouldn’t you finish the course? Well those same schools will try to slow you down by not making you fly. Indeed, they will make you enter in a ground class for weeks, and can even throw you out if you fail a test… and that way, they will keep your money. They can also try to convince you that you are not serious enough, or that you should study more, or plainly that you are a bad pilot not making any progress.
These practices are probably why in 2008 for example, out of the 61,194 student pilot certificates issued by the FAA, only 19,052 Private Licenses were granted. (37%)
Bottom line is if you want to avoid scamming, research well when it comes to picking the right flight school. Not giving a lot of money up front is also a good way to ensure that you won’t get scammed.
You can read our article on How to choose a helicopter flight school for more information.