Before you begin

The Career Guidance Section is written by Captain Walter Waldeck. The information herein is invaluable for any person considering a career as a pilot.

By: Captain W.H. Waldeck
CEO FTC George

I have included this section to help explain the opportunities available to those students who continue to Commercial Pilot level with some advice on the way forward from this point. I’ve also thought it prudent to include some of the many pitfalls that await the financially unwary in what is otherwise a very honorable profession.

Too often newly qualified professional pilots and their parents are dismayed at the lack of career guidance from some of the general aviation flight schools. These schools are happy to take your money, but can offer precious little help or advice after you qualify. This isn’t difficult to understand if you check the backgrounds of most of the management and instructors of these so-called “professional flight schools.” In making this rather candid statement you can deduce that it would be a good idea to carefully check the school you choose to attend. The money you spend there will be comparable to a bachelors degree. You’d research the university wouldn’t you? Well the same applies here.


Some schools are going to ask for a huge deposit with a full balance of payment shortly after joining. Be VERY careful here! While it is true that operational costs of aircraft and study material are very high, there should be no good reason why you cannot “pay as you go.” If you part with ALL your money up-front, and then decide for some reason to terminate your training mid-stream, you are likely to be penalized VERY heavily – in some cases loosing the balance of your funds ENTIRELY!


You could try going the legal route to get it back – but would the time, money and frustration be worth it?  Some of the more unscrupulous schools operate on the assumption that in the event of a disagreement – you are more likely to cut your losses and leave,  rather than risk a protracted and expensive battle in court that you might not win.  And for this reason they sometimes pre-empt a disagreement in order to rid themselves of “difficult students,” without the inconvenience of having to refund the balance of their funds. So their attitude will be: “if you don’t like it – you can leave!” But be warned, this could be interpreted as a breach of contract and it will cost you dearly! (Read note 6)


And if you happen to be a foreign student, the cancellation of your STUDENT VISA will mean you have no choice but to litigate from your home country! A VERY expensive and time consuming option with little chance of success.


Make sure that a complete breakdown of costs is provided, otherwise you may find yourself scheduled to fly a simulator or a single when you thought you’d paid for a twin. DON’T FALL FOR THE “PACKAGE DEAL.” Get a clear hourly rate on the specific aircraft type you’re going to be flying.


Watch out for a hefty landing-fee bill at the end of the course. The landing fees should be included in the hourly rate of the aircraft at the airport base of operations. (Obviously you do pay extra when you fly to airports away from base.) Some schools are using this as method to squeeze extra income out of you,  especially when you decide to terminate your training with them. In short: Know EXACTLY what you’re paying for at the BEGINNING of the course and WHAT REFUND you can expect in the event of early termination. (And get it in writing!) If there is a” NO REFUND” policy or they are evasive about the subject – find yourself another school!


Make sure the small print doesn’t penalize you if you take longer to complete the course than expected. Some schools make promises as to the time frame required to complete a course, then charge penalties if extra time is needed to do so – even in unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather or aircraft unservicability!  (This point is often used as an excuse in pre-empting a disagreement. If their self imposed time limit is exceeded, your remaining funds will be forfeited – forcing you to pay more – or leave!)


Insist on, and KEEP all receipts for money handed over – the lawyers will need them in the event of a reclaim on any unused funds.


Check if an ESCROW account facility is available through the school with a local bank. This enables funds to be withdrawn periodically by the school only with your permission. This way the school has a guarantee that the funds are available and you have the peace of mind that it hasn’t disappeared into their account where you’re unlikely to see it again in the event of a disagreement.


Some schools are advertising courses for which they are neither suitably qualified nor accredited. Check their CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) certificate. 


And above all –  DON’T SIGN ANY CONTRACT until you have spoken to someone who knows the local aviation training industry intimately.  If you don’t know anyone – contact the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority if you’re training in South Africa or the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) if you’re planning to train in the USA – and ask one of their flying inspectors for advice.  (This point could save you a fortune and avoid untold anger and frustration.) Sadly Aviation like any business has its fair share of scoundrels. Fortunately South Africa now has the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) which has helped safeguard students interests since 2010. This Act has the power to CANCEL UNFAIR CONTRACTS and contact details for the South African CPA attorneys are available from their website. 

That said, let’s continue with the more honorable side of the business. I started my flying career the same way as most civilian trained pilots, but unfortunately during a period when there were very few job opportunities in the industry. Medically, my eyes weren’t good enough to join the Airforce so I resolved to qualify privately. Considering that I didn’t have the money, this was to prove a major challenge in my life, but nevertheless, a route that was to teach me resilience and determination over the following years.

Thankfully it also brought me into contact with some very kind and generous mentors to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude. A debt that can never be repaid – only passed forward. In essence this was the reason I helped start FTC (George) in 1999.

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