Choosing between newer and older planes

Learning to fly in a new plane or older one is the question of the day from Eric in Seattle, WA. Not only does he want help choosing based on the age of the aircraft, but also the driving distance to get his lessons. You see, the newer plane is a three-times longer drive for lessons than the older one. I asked our featured authors for their opinions.

David Diamond says…

I’d sum it up like this: What do you want to do with your license? (a) Rent planes and fly for fun, or (b) work toward a more advanced rating with commercial aspirations.

If (a), I’d say save the money and learn Old School. The basics of learning to fly are the same, no matter how shiny the airplane; only the navigation particulars are affected. (I’m assuming that “new planes” means it comes with GPS and autopilot.)

If (b), I’d say learn in a “glass” option. (Again, are the “new” airplanes considered “technically advanced”?) If someone plans to fly in modern airplanes regularly and also get “glass cockpit” training from the get go, then the newer plane can really help cement them in the Zen of those advanced systems. (This option would also apply to anyone buying his or her own “glass” airplane.)

The only other concern I can think of is maintenance. If the old airplanes are really old, they might–might!–be prone to more downtime, which can adversely affect the momentum of his training.

More importantly than new vs. old, I’d choose a school based on:

  • Reputation — Are they reliable? Good?
  • Availability — Are the airplanes always booked, or can he get one when he needs?
  • Cost of training — Does either offer a much better deal?
  • Location — Far away flight schools are visited less often, in my experience.
  • Traffic — My brain was far to fried after training sessions to stomach traffic!

Paul Hamilton writes…

It seems like the question is similar to asking whether one should teach their kids to drive in a more difficult stick shift or automatic equipped with GPS. I could not decide too easily, but the way to approach the answer in an airplane is similar.

Regarding where one should take their training? No easy answer. I would take an introductory flight with both and see what feels good as a start. Both count as legal training hours.

And, Greg Brown has this to say…

From my perspective it’s a no-brainer. As long as the older airplanes are well maintained and the instructor(s) is good, by all means take the closer airport. Driving 3x farther is just another impediment to an already challenging endeavor, another reason to cancel lessons, and another excuse to quit after a discouraging lesson. In wintertime the length of drive could determine whether lessons can be scheduled after work without going after dark.

As an aside, there are growing questions among some CFIs as to whether mastering glass panels actually distracts from learning fundamental airmanship during primary training. Certainly there’s no evidence that learning glass panel after mastering steam gauges has any downside except being an additional learning step. But the drive to the airport is the biggie, in my opinion.

In short, the older aircraft for learning purposes, seems to be the preferred advice. Once you know the older aircraft though, you can easily enough jump up to the newer aircraft with training. That advice would change if you have additional goals that would be more directly served by learning in the newer aircraft right away.

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  1. Posted March 16, 2009 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Responding to David Diamond’s comments – I think he hit it squarely on the head with his question about what are you planning to do with it. Also, I have been a renter for a long time and I would put quality of maintenance very high on my list of criteria for choosing a flight school.

  2. Posted March 18, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I had the same dilemma facing me a few months back when I had to make a decision regarding what plane to learn in. The deciding factor ended up not being the plane at all, but rather proximity. I completely agree with David and Greg’s advice above about being close to the airport/plane you’re training in. I’m only minutes away from the airport I’m learning at and that has resulted in far more lessons than if I had to drive an hour each way.

    Paul’s advice to take an introductory flight is also gold. You’ll learn more about a plane and instructor in the air than you ever will on the ground.

    Thanks for getting this blog started. I look forward to making it a regular read!

  3. Posted March 26, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for joining the conversation, Jason and Fred. Good thoughts.

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