Why Mauna Loa Was The Best Flight School For Me
Guest Article By Jork Van Eenaeme. Photos by Jon Davison.
This article was written by a graduate of MLH. The opinions within do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Mauna Loa Helicopters, our staff or management.
I’ve wanted to fly helicopters ever since I was I was a little boy, but it wasn’t until my sister gifted me a helicopter flight that I decided to put that dream in action. Like many things, my first priority was money. I spent two years getting my finances in order and during that time researched the best flight school and track I could follow. My initial research on licensing and costs began on forums. Since I’m an EU citizen, I would need a EASA license (formerly JAA). It became clear fairly quick that the cost of training in Europe was excessive. So excessive, that it would be cheaper first to complete training in the USA and then convert FAA license to EASA once returning to Europe.
In addition to tuition savings, I preferred the method of flight and ground training in the USA. Flight training starts sooner in the US and there is less ground than in Europe. This allows new students to make faster and more comprehensive connections by nearly simultaneous application of ground theory and flight practice. I figured that by becoming a FAA rated pilot first, my built up knowledge and experience would make EASA theory easier to apply.
From this decision to get licensed first in the USA I had two options. One option would be to pursue a combined FAA and EASA license where available. Alternatively I could first acquire FAA license, accumulate remainder of 1000 hours as US instructor, and then pursue EASA license completing written exams and corresponding flights and flight checks.
As expensive as it is to become a pilot, it was important to me to have a high standard of instruction. In the US, schools operate under two designations; FAA Part 61 and FAA Part 141. Basically anyone can open a school and start operating under FAA Part 61, there are fewer regulations and little oversight. To operate under FAA Part 141 schools must apply and have their training courses approved by the FAA, they then must continually meet standards and are strictly overseen. Clearly the ‘141’ schools were the best option for someone looking for a reputable school.
Of the ‘141’ schools I considered I narrowed down my options to the three top rated ones for quality instruction; Mauna Loa Helicopters (MLH, Hawaii), Bristow Helicopters (Florida), and Hillsboro (Oregon). In evaluating these schools, I sought the best balance in instruction, enrollment size, weather, location, and costs. Both MLH and Hillsboro give one on one instruction, allowing me to set the pace and tailor my experience to my personal learning style. Bristow, on the other hand, gives ground in group sessions, where I am forced to adapt to a fixed schedule, pace, and learning style that may not suit me.
Following with that same desire for an individual experience, I didn’t want a large school that would perceive me as just another number. A smaller school would more likely be closely involved and more committed to my success. MLH being medium sized was the only school small enough to meet my standards for a personal learning environment.
In terms of physical environment, weather and terrain are important factors for flying. I wanted to be able to fly in ideal VFR conditions almost daily. Of the three locations the weather in Kona, Hawaii (MLH) appeared perfect for flying while conditions in Hillsboro, Oregon (Hillsboro) were poor for the majority of the year, and Florida (Bristow) had conditions somewhere between those two extremes. Oregon’s bad weather led me to drop Hillsboro, and further debate MLH and Bristow. Hawaii has a varied terrain with its surrounding ocean, volcanic mountains, high winds, unique nature, and class B airspace. Bristow in costal Florida is also oceanfront, however flat it provides a less challenging topography.
In addition to flying, I wanted a desirable living environment. Hawaii uniquely appealed to me for surfing, hiking and all the other outdoorsy activities available.
Ultimately one of the largest factors was cost; already I had confirmed that either of the schools have suitable environments and excellent programs but I wanted to maximize my dollar. In most aspects MLH had the best flight school rates including individual grounds, simulator (needed for instrument training) and R22 hourly. The R22 hourly rate at MLH is about 10% cheaper than Bristow. On the other hand Bristow R44 hourly cost about 10% less than MLH. Since most of my training would be done in the smaller R22 helicopter, which is always cheaper than the R44, MLH would come out as the more cost effective of the two.
For my EASA licensing, I found the cheapest route to be distance-learning courses through www.captonline.com. The distance-learning EASA ATPL(H) ground course cost $3,600 USD (2250 British Pounds) whereas the ground course through Bristow is $17,000 USD. The distance-learning course is self-study consisting of 3 modules. A consolidation course of one week is required after module 1 and module 2+3. Those consolidation courses can be done through Skype, so no extra travel expenses are involved. With such a cost difference and the ability to take the distance-learning course remotely I found this option the obvious choice giving me the most freedom.
Cheaper rates at MLH and a self-study course through captonline made MLH the most cost effective way to go. I choose to go with MLH for its great one-on-one teaching environment, superior flying conditions, unique living environment, and relative cost savings. Overall MLH was the best flight school for me. I hope sharing my decision making process helps future students with their decision.