Part 141 vs Part 61 Flight Schools #AviatorCast 124

Are you looking into different flight schools? Have you heard the term “Part 61” or “Part 141”? In this podcast we’ll not only define Part 61 and 141, but we will also tell you the differences between the two, and what kind of experience you can expect for either one.

This is often one of the biggest challenges of potential pilots is picking a flight school. It’s not always easy because there’s a lot of false marketing going back and forth, and a ton of opinions.

Through this podcast I try and stay neutral on my position. Picking a flight school is a big decision after all. I wouldn’t want to steer anyone away from what would work best for them.

This is basically a long list of Pros and Cons on one type of flight school vs the other.

In this podcast we will discuss:

  • Part 61 Pros
  • Part 141 Pros
  • Part 61 Cons
  • Part 141 Cons
  • My take on what is best

There’s a lot to cover here about flight training, the flight school you could go to, and so on.

Episode Transcript

On this episode of AviatorCast, Part 141 versus Part 61.

Welcome, aviators to another episode of AviatorCast. Load up your flight bag with useful flight training topics, interviews and aviation passion. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires. Coming to you from Angle of Attack headquarters in Homer, Alaska, here’s your host and flight instructor, Chris Palmer.

Welcome, aviators. My name is Chris Palmer. It’s great to have you here. Thanks for joining me on another episode of AviatorCast. Today, we’re going to be talking about Part 141 versus Part 61.

Just in case you’re looking for a flight school out there, maybe you’re looking at the differences between say a mom and pop flight school or a small airport flight school and a larger flight school at a university, or a very directed place for flight training, and you’re not sure which one is going to fit you the best, so how this is going to work is I’m going to start by going through the pros first, and then we’re going to go through the cons for each. We’re going to start with the pros for Part 61, the pros for Part 141, and then go onto the cons respectively for each of those as well. What Part 61 and Part 141 even are, are they are essentially these different parts of the law in the regulations that say how the training needs to be conducted, so we’re referring to the FAR, the Federal Aviation Regulations, the FARs when we say Part 61 and Part 141. That’s where you’d find the particular laws, the actual written up legal documents for these specific types of training. Now, to put it simply, Part 61 is the most common form of a flight school.

There’s less regulation, more creativity. There’s certainly more Part 61s than there are 141s. They’re very easy to set up, and so it’s the most common one. I started my Part 61 flight school very easily, and put some ducks in a row, but it’s fairly easy to run and maintain. Then, there’s the Part 141 route, which is an FAA approved training program. It’s usually for larger schools or universities.

It’s more restrictive and rigid, but you can get your training in less hours, so it’s like a very guided approach. Super guided and quite restrictive. Not necessarily bad. Again, we’re going to go through all those, but you have one side that’s less restrictive, the other side that’s more restrictive because of the regulations surrounding them, and so that brings out some pros and cons from each in terms of which one is better versus the other, but it just kind of depends on what you’re looking for and what fits you best, because even though someone like me might slightly prefer a Part 141 school, you may be in a situation where you prefer a Part 141 school. Did I say I prefer 61? I prefer 61, but just slightly.

We’re going to go through that now and talk about the pros and cons. I’ve done most of my training in Part 61, but I did start out doing my training in 141, so I went to a university for my private pilot license and had a great time doing that. I thought the university did a really good job where I was at, and then the rest of my training, I’ve done Part 61. I feel like I’ve had some great people teach me over the years, and so I’m not going to say that one is worse versus the other, but I’ll give you my honest opinion as we go along here. Again, let’s go through the pros and the cons of Part 61 verses 141.

Now, this is a bit of a deep topic in terms of picking a flight school. I do have another podcast about picking a flight school and picking an instructor, which is informative maybe on a larger scale of some of the things that you’re going to be looking at, so you can go back to that episode and check that out because that will be very helpful in terms of how you would interview a flight school or a flight instructor, and see if it is a fit, whether it’s a 61 or a 141. It really just depends on the fit. That’s what we want at the end of the day. We want you to have the best training experience possible and get to your goal, your dream, whatever that is you’re trying to achieve.

That is the number one goal that we are after. Okay, so Part 61 pros. I already said that Part 61 is less restrictive. You can basically roll with the opportunities to teach, and so if I’m in a lesson with a student in Part 61, then I don’t have to necessarily stick to a syllabus, so if an opportunity comes up to teach a real-life lesson, and suddenly just kind of happens in the airplane that allows us to learn a great real lesson, then we can do that. It’s not that you can’t do that in 141. The 141 is very structured where you’re doing certain topics on certain days, but if I want to go out and I want to do crosswind landings, or takeoffs or something similar, something that’s maybe a little bit out of the ordinary like we’re taking advantage of the weather or doing things out of sequence, then I’m much more able to do that in Part 61 because I can kind of do whatever I want, whereas in Part 141, it’s more structured.

It’s often less expensive because what happens, Part 61 is less expensive because what happens is a lot of these universities are larger schools. They have quite a bit of overhead to keep, so you can imagine that from an administrative standpoint, just to keep a 141 school going with all the government paperwork and things you have to keep. You’re hiring people essentially to just keep things in line, paperwork-wise, and that ends up being a cost that that company has to incur, so if you’re not Part 141 and you don’t have to maintain that government course approved status, then it can be less expensive as a result, all right? Often, the airplanes that you’d use in Part 141 can be reasonable, rather than the brand, brand new stuff you get at some of these universities that just cost so much money. I’d also say that a pro of Part 61 is that often, it can attract more experienced instructors.

Meaning that if you have a guy that’s always been flying tailwheel, and they’re just amazing at tailwheel training, which is kind of a novelty in aviation if you’re not familiar, then they’re generally going to be doing it Part 61, okay? They’re not going to be at a flight, like a university per se, because they’re really good at it. They can charge kind of what they want, and that’s their specialty, so they are going to be a very experienced instructor, whereas you may not have a very experienced instructor in that particular kind of niche at a university level. Say for example there’s another one, a good example, Patty Wagstaff, she’s a famous aerobatic pilot champion. She teaches in her plane down in Florida, so I’m sure she’s doing everything Part 61 as well. Maybe she’s not.

Maybe there’s some sort of 141 syllabus there, but I would imagine almost positive that she’s doing everything Part 61 because people are coming from outside. They just kind of enjoy it. You get some very experienced instructors in Part 61. Typically, the 141 schools have less experienced instructors mainly because they don’t pay instructors very well, so they can’t keep the talent there, but I don’t want to get into the negatives really of 141. This is about the pros for Part 61. Again, Part 61 is the most widely available and most common you’ll find.

You’ll find a flight school, and probably 80% of the airports in the United States, even the smaller airports, you’ll find a flight school. Some of the smaller regional airports, you might find a couple flight schools, and then the large, large airports, you’ll find several flight schools for sure. If they get too big, say Chicago O’Hare or Miami, there’s not going to be any training involved, so you won’t see any flight schools there. In other words, Part 61 is almost everywhere. There’s many flight schools out there. They’ll just think it’s at the big airport that you fly out of.

There might be a smaller airport nearby with a little, again, mom and pop flight school that you could go to, all right? For me, Part 61, most of the pros for me come out of the creativity, so you can create a unique syllabus for your course. I really like to be creative about the lessons that I teach. I start out with a lot of what’s called stick and rudder, and then I move into mountain flying, and cross-country flying, and some different things out of sequence from what some other people might do, but I’m just trying to kind of give the students what I’ve learned from my experience that is very, very helpful. Now, that’s my own opinion and it’s not necessarily the best thing.

I’m not saying it’s the best thing out there. I still have plenty to learn. Maybe someday I’ll change my syllabus, but because I don’t have this baked in syllabus, I have the ability to be creative about it and I’m not restricted to, “This lesson, we do this. This lesson, we do that. This other lesson, we do that,” and I can actually move and move with the student and work what’s best for them.

That’s really helpful to go off script for the lesson. Sometimes you just need to spend more time on something that’s important, that I think is important, and I would say that you got to do that. You have the opportunity to do that in Part 141 as well, but if there’s something that I really want to focus on, I feel like I have more latitude to do that in Part 61, so we can all also do scenario-based training, which is basically real-world training. We have a scenario that comes up that could be something that you face when you’re actually a pilot, and we can work those sorts of story-type flight training experiences into our training, okay? That’s another one.

Yeah, that’s it. I think that Part 61 is really fun. There are a lot of great people out there teaching Part 61 at their own little flight school, with their own little specialty, and really good people that may not be so focused on just the nuts and bolts of business like these big universities are, but they’re really invested in running a great business themselves. Obviously, they’re trying to put food on the table, but they’re fair, and they’re good, and they created a good community and a good product. I just really like …

I guess that sums it up for me. I like the community that surrounds Part 61 and the types of people that come from it. Not to say that there aren’t good people that come from all walks of life in aviation. I’ll kind of finish up at the end about that, but yeah. I think that Part 61, if I can say it this way, it’s just more grass roots.

Let’s leave it at that, all right? The pros for Part 141, it’s very structured and straightforward, so you have a syllabus, you stick to the syllabus, it’s approved by the FAA, and you’d go lesson by lesson, you know exactly what you’re going to do, and you move through it until it’s done. Now, sometimes there are things you need to repeat, do better. There’s room for that to do that, but you’re essentially checking the boxes and going through that process. There’s an official grading system that they have to do, satisfactory, needs work, that sort of thing that grades people along the way, so they literally, they’re checking boxes of what you have to achieve in your training as you go along.

It’s very thorough that way. Hardly anything is missed in that process. That’s a really good thing about Part 141, is that every box is kind of checked, but those are official boxes that are checked, so I want to mention that before I finish up on Part 141 pros here. Those are official boxes that are checked, not necessarily some of those other boxes that maybe we’re not thinking about. Financing is more common for Part 141 schools, so these are big universities.

These are dedicated, large network flight schools that have deep relationships with banks and institutions that can loan money for the flight training, which can be very attractive to the people. That money issue is such a big issue, so the funding is generally better than a mom and pop shop who may not have that option. You can combine Part 141 with the degree program, so say that you want to get a business degree, or even a professional pilot degree. You can connect it to an actual degree, rather than just the flying. There are pros and cons of that, right?

Like say that you already have a degree. Maybe 141 isn’t for you. Maybe it is, but maybe 61 is better if you already have a degree, or if you want a degree and you want to do flight training, maybe it’s best to do your flight training while you’re at college or university regardless of what degree you’re getting, because really, you don’t have to have an aviation degree in aviation. That sounded funny. You don’t have to have an aviation degree to become a pilot or be hireable. You can have a degree in basket weaving and if it’s a bachelor’s, and you’re good to go.

Even now, they’re kind of removing the restrictions for having a degree in the airline, so it’s interesting. Definitely becoming more of a pilot’s market. Anyway, so financing, available, degree programs. You get your licenses in fewer hours, so the minimum hours for Part 61 is 40. The minimum hours for Part 141 is 35. Now, there are other minimums for the other licenses, so there’s kind of some time savings there and maybe even dollar savings if it were one-to-one, but I think that that’s not really an advantage of Part 141, unless you really see it as such.

It’s just such an efficient way of checking the boxes that they are able to do it within fewer hours. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get your license right at 35 hours. It could take you longer than that. It’s going to take as long as necessary to get it done, but I came in, I think when I did my training around that mark, I think I was a couple hours more than that. It’d be interesting to look at my log book back here on a shelf and find that out, but you can get the license in fewer hours.

Apart from that, there are lots of supporting programs at the university courses that you would take. I remember some really good courses that I took when I was in one year of college for my private pilot, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it probably more than anything else, because the flying is the flying. You’re kind of learning one way or another, and the end result is the same. I got my private pilot, but I really enjoyed the other courses I got to take like on hydraulics, and weather, and those things that I felt have really helped me over time. I think that’s one of the biggest advantages of Part 141, is kind of that deeper learning that is required from a university program if you go through something like that, but again, the financing, getting it done efficiently, if that’s the sort of person you are, that may be something you’re looking into.

All right. That is the pros for Part 61 and 141, and now we’re going to go into the cons for Part 61 and 141. Some of this may seem a little bit repetitive, or I’m just kind of reversing the conversation on those things, but I want to go through some of them anyway because I feel like they, for the most part, do set themselves apart, and we’ll talk about the cons, all right? Part 61 cons. There’s really no guarantee of quality when you go to a Part 61 school.

In other words, I think schools that maintain their Part 141 status, they are very serious about business, they’ve been in it for a while, and they have some sort of system that is making them successful and getting them students, so sometimes what happens is, and this is a rarity, but sometimes what happens is you get a flight school that is kind of screwing people out of some money, and they’re stringing them along, and the instructors aren’t that good, and it’s just kind of a never-ending cycle or kind of reminds me of a hamster wheel, okay? Sometimes you can get that, kind of a lack of quality. Again, I think that’s rare. I think for the most part from all the schools I’ve seen, I have heard the stories, but from the most part, what I’ve seen are people really trying to put in a good effort to get training done well, whether that’s in 61 or 141, because I think in general, people that are pilots in this industry are high-performing, mission-oriented people that want to do a good job, but in Part 61, I think there’s more of a vulnerability to have a lack of quality, okay? The Part 61 schools may not be as structured.

Again, I talked about that actually being an advantage for a Part 61 school, but if they’re just not structured at all and they have no syllabus, and they don’t really know what they’re doing even creatively to help you through the process, then that can be a problem. I do talk about that on that ther podcast about finding and keeping a flight instructor or a flight school, and that would be helpful for you to look at, but if they’re not structured enough, then that can also cost you in the long run. Again, this Part 61 schools do require slightly more hours, and it grows from there for other licenses, so it just is what it is. I think at the end of the day, most people are just fine with how many hours it takes because even at the hours, the minimum hours, very few people achieve that. It’s very difficult to achieve those minimum hours, so that’s typically not a big con when it comes to Part 61. Just kind of is what it is, all right?

Those are the cons to 61. I’m sure there are some others, but that’s kind of what I pulled out just initially. Part 141 cons. So one of my biggest gripes with Part 141 is for the most part, you have very expensive programs that have an exorbitant amount of extra money that has to go into this process in order to become a pilot, whereas if you just go to a Part 61 school, all you’re paying for is the flight training. You’re not paying for tuition. You’re not paying for all the other classes that have to go along with it, even though I mentioned that’s a positive for Part 141, so it can be very expensive.

I see some of these schools that people go to to get an aviation degree, and they incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, something you should be incurring as like a doctor, and then they go into a career as a pilot and they’re not making a lot of money out of the gate. Eventually, you’ll make money if you stick to it in the airlines, but it just seems like because you’re getting the same result at the end, which is a license from the FAA, which is not discriminated against typically by employers, meaning if you get a license from a 61 school and a 141 school, they don’t really care, all right? It’s a license at the end of the day. You have to jump through a bunch of hoops anyway to get the license, so you’re proving yourself regardless, but with the 141, the cost-to-hour ratio can just be crazy, crazy high, and I don’t think there’s a huge advantage to that. I think if you really did want a degree, there is some wisdom.

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from going to a college they want to go to or something, but if you’re really wanting to get a degree, then do the flying outside of the university because you can do it Part 61, and then just do your schooling, whatever you’re going to go into at the university. I think if I was going to do it over again, that’s exactly what I would do. I think I would have been much more able to keep up with classes and do things if I went to like a business degree, and I would’ve had skills that actually would have helped me rather than always being 100% in aviation. I would have had business skills that helped me along the way, so thinking more along those lines like doing your flying outside of university if that’s what you’re going to do, getting a degree at the university, and then going that way. Now, I even had a friend that went to one of the major flight schools did his bachelor’s degree there in something aviation still, but not piloting, and he did all of his training Part 61, and he was able to do it so quickly in Part 61 at a school nearby at just an airfield nearby, a mom and pop school, that he ended up getting his instructor certificate, and he was teaching people at the university like his junior year of school.

He was going through an aviation program, got his flying done, and then he was actually making money flying, building time while he was in school several years ahead of his fellow students. That was a real smart move right there, okay? Expense. I just think that 141 can be really expensive. Another big gripe about 141 schools is there are kids teaching kids, so it’s very common for these 141 universities and fast-track programs where you’re just doing the training that are well-financed, and you’ll see all the advertisements for them.

You probably already are since you’re Googling stuff like this, is you have a brand new CFI, a brand new instructor that is teaching a student that is brand new. This instructor doesn’t have any real-world experience. They’ve maybe never even flown in clouds. They’ve never done a big cross-country trip. They’ve hardly had enough experiences to really scare themselves into realizing how important all the safety stuff is, and so you have kids teaching kids that really can’t draw from a deep background of experience. While that’s okay in most situations, I just find that people become more well-rounded if they have those stories from their instructors, the importance of priorities as a pilot, because not everything is absolutely the most critical thing, right?

We have priorities as pilots, and it’s aviate, navigate, communicate is kind of what we talk about, but without being able to draw from experience, you don’t really know how to teach that super well. Kids teaching kids, that’s probably very offensive to some people that have been at a university. Maybe some of you have been at a university and taught someone, and I don’t mean that to be offensive. Looking back on my private pilot, I had a kid teaching a kid in my case, slightly older instructor from the regular crop of instructors because he got into school later, so I think he was in his late 20’s when he taught me. Had a young family and everything, but I really enjoyed that experience, and he was an amazing instructor, okay? I’m not disparaging everyone that is an instructor at a university.

I’m just saying that there is a lack of experience a lot of the times because of that, but you are on a very regimented program at a Part 141 schools, so it’s not the end of the world. You’re just kind of checking boxes going along the way, and it’s very efficient and professional training that as often, simply preparing you for the airlines may not sound simple, but it kind of is because you’re on the pathway, and it’s better if you know from the very beginning what path you’re taking in aviation in a lot of cases than maybe you’re going to be a Bush pilot, maybe you’re going to be an airline pilot, maybe you’re going to go in the military. That sort of training needs to be much more holistic and deep than I think the 141 airline track does, all right? Hope I’m not confusing too much. Expense, kids teaching kids, the lack of experience, I talked about.

Again, we talked about the creativity in Part 61 so it’s a bit more restrictive because of that syllabus you’re sticking to in Part 61. Often, the ROI, the return on investment you’re getting out of a Part 141 can be very skewed, but it just depends on what you’re after. If you really want to go to that university that your parents went to, and you want that on your diploma, and you’re going to get everything paid for, and you’re fine with that, go for it, but I would discourage you from going into too much debt to get this done. I would encourage you to find different paths to get where you’re going, especially if you can get there sooner and less money. Of course, we all want those things, so just encouraging you to look at this a bit more holistically.

All of that said, pros and cons of Part 61 and 141, you all end up in the same place, okay? Again, if you’re getting a private pilot license at a 61 and a private pilot license at a 141, nobody cares. No one has ever asked me ever if I got my training Part 141 or 61 in like an official capacities, and so saying, “Oh well, yeah, 141 is better or 61 is better,” is I’ve never really had that conversation, at least on an employment stance. Of course, there’s curiosity between people on the differences of experiences between the two, but I’ve never had an employer or anyone ask me Part 141 versus 61. That’s just not a conversation that anyone has, because one way or another, you earn that license.

It doesn’t matter if you go all the way up to the airlines. Nobody cares, all right? I know so many airline pilots that are at the top of their seniority that did everything Part 61, so it really does not matter, and don’t let any marketing from any big school tell you otherwise because it’s just a lie, all right? It really depends which you pick on the type of experience you want. Some of you, it’s going to depend on the financing and the cost.

Those are different, so financing is the ability to actually get money when you don’t have it, and the cost is the amount of debt you’re getting into if you are financing or how much you’re paying out of pocket. Those are both very different conversations to have, but kind of in the same money bracket. That’s always going to be a hot point for people, at least those that don’t have it all paid for them, and it kind of depends on if you want it structured or not, if you go 61 or 141. Maybe you are someone that does really great under structure and doing it fast and just knocking it out, but I find that most people aren’t. At least it’s pretty stressful if you do it really fast and too fast. In fact, I talked about on the last episode of the podcast about pacing yourself in your study.

If that topic interests you, you can check that out, and maybe even apply it to different license. That was for private pilot, but you can apply it to different license if you need. Structure, it could be something that’s attracted to you, whether that’s 61 or 141. I will say that there can be 61 schools, Part 61 schools that are more structured than Part 141 schools. Even though there’s a syllabus for the 141, it’s possible that is a Part 61 business is just, run much better than a Part 141 business.

That is possible as well, so don’t always take them as one is more structured than the other. That’s not necessarily always the case. I will say this, this is definitive, okay? Both turn out great pilots. Again, I’m not here to disparage anybody, Part 61 versus Part 141.

I think great, great, great pilots come from both, okay, or at least perfectly average, humble, safe pilots that are people I would fly with come from both walks of life, both parts of the training. I really refute any evidence or opinions that say that one form turns out better pilots than the other. I just don’t find that accurate on any level. Personally, I prefer Part 61 because I’m probably bias, and that’s where most of my experience has been, but even then, I know that Part 61 pilots don’t necessarily turn out better than Part 141 pilots because I know plenty of Part 141 pilots that went to a big university, and then the rest of their career are Part 61 pilots and just do such a great job in the Part 61 world, and came out of the 141 doing a great job, so there’s no evidence on either side that says that one is better than the other. It’s just kind of a matter of opinion.

The stronger the opinion someone has on that subject, I would say the more BS you’re getting, and it might even be marketing BS that you’re getting as a result. Just be careful about that, anyone poo-pooing on one versus the other too much because they’re probably too opinionated about it and not subjective enough. That is Part 141 versus Part 61. This is kind of a deep and an odd topic, but I hope that some of you that are searching this on Google, or this is going to be a helpful topic for you because you’re looking for a school that this will be a helpful topic between the two. Those are the pros and cons. I’m sure I missed some, but you have a better perspective now on what the differences are, and I hope you make an educated and an inspired decision.

If you have any more questions or you need to bounce something off of me, you can always reach me. Social media is probably the best way to do that. I’m really active on Instagram right now so you can message me there and I’d be happy to get back to you. That’s the best place to reach me. Again, if you have questions, feel free to reach out. Good luck in your journey.

Keep moving forward. Keep taking those steps. Keep researching how to make this dream come true, and I hope you’ll get there. All right. I’ll see you guys next time. Until then, throttle on.

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