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Flight Schools: Part 141 vs Part 61

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training
December, 2006

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All flight schools perform training under the federal rules of one or both of these chapters in the rule book:  Part 141 or Part 61.  If you look in the FAR/AIM Part 61, you'll see the FAA's rules for obtaining pilot certificates & ratings.  You'll notice that there is no FAA approval process for flight schools that operate under Part 61 of the FARs.  That's why most do it this way.

Part 141 flight schools require FAA approval and oversight.  The FAA has standards for how a Part 141 school must operate including: minimum personnel and equipment, facility requirements, classrooms, and documentation requirements.  That's not free, the school passes those costs on to you.

From a student's perspective, the major difference is that a private can be completed in 35 hours or 190 hours for the commercial if you complete the training under Part 141.  Under Part 61, those requirements are 40 and 250 hours respectively.  If the Part 141 student graduated with 250 hours, think how much better a pilot he would be.  Well, he'd probably be of the same quality as a pilot graduating from a good Part 61 training program.

Here's a little chart that spells out the differences:

Part 141
Part 61
Difficulty of program
Students must undergo "stage checks" where the chief instructor will examine the student's progress.  If the pilot's skill is not sufficient, the examiner will require the student to repeat the "stage" or training unit.  As soon as you meet the minimum standard of 60%, then you can move on to the next stage.
Students train until they are proficient with the maneuvers required for the rating.  Some CFIs may not let you get away with 60%.
Rigidity - Flexibility
The school must develop and the FAA must approve the step by step training syllabus the school will use.  Training will follow that approved plan with minimal deviation.  Some criticize this as one-size-fits-all.
Students & Instructors have freedom in how lessons are conducted and when topics are covered.  Be sure that your CFI uses a plan of action.
Ground Training
Its a fixed curriculum in which you must pass written exams the school creates.
A shared responsibility between the student and CFI.  This often time leads to weaker book knowledge.
Accelerated Training?
Yes, they may have an accelerated training syllabus.
Yes, it depends on the instructor you select.
Yes, tons of training records are kept.
Training records are between you and your instructor.
Tend to be higher than Part 61.  If you actually complete the program in the minimum hours required, you'll often find its the same cost as a good Part 61 program (with more flight hours).  Often, students need to repeat "stages" which can mean an additional 5 hours of training here and there.  At a higher hourly cost, the fees add up quickly.
You can often negotiate your instructor's rate as well as your aircraft rental.  At a good Part 61 school, you'll find the costs similar to Part 141 schools only if the student finishes in the minimum time. 
Written Tests?
Yes, same FAA written exams as Part 61
Yes, same FAA written exams as Part 141
Yes financing is available.  Those using VA benefits are required to use Part 141 schools.
Yes financing is available.

Which kind of flight school is better?  Both.  Part 61 can provide a flexible training experience tailored to the student's ability.  Part 141 provides the structure that some really like.  There are far fewer Part 141 schools, so use this
list of Part 141 schools to find one near you.  Don't be frustrated if it replies with "no data available".  Much more important than the difference between Part 141 and Part 61 is the flight instructor you'll train with.  This person is your guide through a difficult process and you'll want to focus on their background, ratings, qualifications, and career plans rather than how the school is structured.  See the associated articles on selecting a flight instructor:  How to select a flight instructor  and  Advice to new student pilots.

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