G'day TGBoi. Great to hear you are keen on becoming a pilot - in spite of what some people may tell you, it is a great thing to do. I started a few years ago, then had a few years where I wasn't flying, and I missed it greatly. I am now back in the thick of it, and enjoying it greatly. Now, I think I may be able to help you out with some information. There is a fair bit to say, so please bear with me.
I am currently training in Brisbane, on the other side of the country. I don't know much about conditions around Perth, having never been there, but I can tell you Brisbane is a great place to learn. You will be operating in and around various controlled airspace (Class C, Class D, and also Military). There are also plenty of MBZs and CTAFs to fly into.
The weather here in Brisbane is generally very good for flying in, certainly a lot better than what you would encounter in Sydney or Melbourne. I don't know what sort of weather you can expect over in Perth, other than to say that they get fronts, and Brisbane generally doesn't. Temperatures here are generally in the 5-25 range in winter and 15-35 range in summer.
Regardless of which city you choose to go to, have a look around the different flying schools, and make enquiries about what they offer. I am a firm believer in the bigger is better concept. There will be less hassles trying to get a lesson scheduled in (more planes available), and it is more likely to be a reputable operation. Certainly in this industry you can't grow to be a big size by being hopeless.
Another very important thing to look out for is the pricing structures. Some schools will quote you an all-inclusive price, which includes the cost of fuel, landing charges and airways charges. Other schools may give you a significantly cheaper quote, but without any of these extras included. Make sure you read any fine print, and check out what the numbers add up to. Really, you don't want to find those nasty surprises when you get your first bill. I would strongly recommend you go with an operation who is quoting you the all-inclusive price. Another thing to be aware of is that most overall course costs you will be quoted will be an estimate only, and the cost for you will depend on how much flying it takes for you to reach the necessary standard. The best bit of advice there is work hard and concentrate, and it will work out cheaper for you. If you find a group of schools quoting a similar price, and then one which is somewhat cheaper, don’t go for that one right away – look at what they offer, and ask yourself why it is that they can be so much cheaper – what might you be missing out on going through them. You will be spending a decent amount of money whichever one you go to – you must ask yourself whether a saving a thousand dollars or so is worthwhile when you might be getting training which simply isn’t as good as that elsewhere.
Also in terms of money, most schools will operate on a pay-as-you-go or instalment programme. I would strongly recommend avoiding any school that is looking for you pay the entire cost of the course up front - this may make it harder for you to get money back if you find the school to be unsatisfactory, and it is also a bit of a financial risk to take. There really should be no need to pay the whole course cost up front. If a school is insisting you do this, it could be a sign that they are not in a financially sound position, and as such best avoided.
Other things which you should look for in choosing a school is whether they are an accredited education provider, whether they have any on-site maintenance facilities (the school I am at does, and it is really useful - any minor problems with the aircraft can be dealt with immediately, no need to wait for someone to drive halfway across the airfield when it suits their schedule), and also the level of professionalism. You are going to be committing a decent amount of money to wherever you end up going - if a place cannot present itself as being a professional looking operation (or for that matter if their major selling points are to do with social activities or anything else unrelated to flying), you need to ask yourself whether they deserve your business. As I said before, if a school has more aircraft and instructors, this is generally because they have been good enough to attract the business. Don't be tempted to go to a smaller operator in the hope of getting more one-on-one time with instructors - you will find you will get just as much one-on-one time at a larger school, and you won't have as much trouble scheduling in, not to mention you will have a broader base of instructors to choose from, which is a good thing.
Another important thing, assuming you are not already an Australian citizen or resident, is to ensure that all your visa applications are sorted out. Many flying schools have international students, and will be able to help you through all this. If you are dealing with a school which has absolutely no idea what to do about visas, it may be worthwhile looking elsewhere.
Right, once you have chosen your school and got your application sent off, the next most important thing is sending in an application for the Student Pilot's Licence to CASA. There is no prerequisite to hold this, you simply have to be at least 16 years old, and have to fill in a bunch of forms. The forms will require the signature of the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) at your school. They are mainly for security checks, so they will require passport style photos (they are being very fussy with these - no smiling at all, and must be on a white background), and information on where you have lived for the past ten years. They will use this to do a criminal record check on you. I am assuming that you have lived in countries other than Australia in the past 10 years. If so, it may help the process along if you can include forms authorising CASA to access your criminal records in those countries.
Unfortunately these SPLs are currently taking around 8 weeks to process. You are still allowed to fly without it, but you won't be able to fly in command (i.e. Solo) until you hold an SPL. The sooner you can get your application sent off, the better. Make sure you provide all the information asked for, otherwise it will slow the whole process down. Also make sure everything to do with your visa is correct when you send the form in - if you are in the country illegally, they will very likely find out when they are processing the application, and this will cause a very big problem for you. Again, this is why it is helpful to go to a school which knows about dealing with international students - you won't find yourself in any trouble because you hadn't been told to do something properly.
The other thing you will need to have in order to fly in command is a medical certificate. This will require you to go to a DAME (Designate Aviation Medical Examiner - you will find we love acronyms in aviation!). When you arrive at your school, they should be able to tell you where to go for this, so it's not something you need to worry about until you actually get to Australia. If you are planning on making a career out of flying, I would recommend sitting the Class 1 medical. This is what is required to hold a Commercial Pilot's Licence, and it is much better that you find out now if you have any problems which would prevent you from holding this. However, if you are not really certain just yet, or only want a PPL, then you are fine going for the Class 2.
I don't know if you have any medical difficulties, so I'l run through some common questions. If they don't apply to you, then don't worry. Having glasses is no problem for either class of medical - as long as you have 20/20 vision with them on. Colourblindness may prevent your from holding a Class 1, depending on its severity, but I believe you are fine holding a Class 2 with colourblindness. If you have any serious disabilities, this may prevent you from holding a medical. You will be blood tested for various things, including cholesterol levels and diabetes. High cholesterol may be a problem, and diabetes will be. Being slightly over or underweight is not too much of an issue, however if you are very overweight or very underweight, this may be a problem. If you are very concerned about any issue, make sure you at least speak to the flying school about it before coming out here. You obviously don't want to come all the way out here and start your training only to discover you wont be able to hold a medical certificate.
Now that we have covered all the requirements, we can get into the interesting stuff – flying! As you may know, the Private Pilot’s Licence in Australia is done in two stages. In the initial stage, you will be learning how to fly the aircraft. You will be taught all about controlling the aircraft, including basic and advance manoeuvres, how to fly in both uncontrolled airspace and the circuit area of the airport, and also how to handle various ‘emergency’ conditions such as stalling, engine failure, flight using instruments only and precautionary search and landing. You will also be required to sit a Basic Aeronautical Knowledge exam, set by your school. Once you have completed this, you will be able to sit your first flight test – the General Flying Progress Test (GFPT). You will have a minimum of 20 hours flying, of which at least 5 hours will be command (i.e. solo), and 2 hours will be instrument time (of which up to one hour can be in a synthetic trainer or simulator). However, most students will be looking at having 25-30 hours flight time before sitting their GFPT.
In my experience, the flights for this level will be of about an hour’s duration. On the dual flights with the instructor, he or she will demonstrate what you need to do, and then you will have a few goes at doing it yourself until you can achieve it to a certain standard. Some things you will be expected to do near perfectly (especially anything safety critical), with other things they will just be looking for a general competence, but not perfection.
It is not compulsory to sit the GFPT, however it is a good idea, first because it is good to have an experience at a test before your PPL test, and also because without a pass in the GFPT, you will be limited to 3 hours solo time between dual checks, which may make scheduling your PPL training a bit harder. BUT, if your SPL hasn’t arrived by the time you have done all the dual flights required for GFPT, you should move on to the PPL flights (see below), and then come back and do the solo stuff required for the GFPT once the SPL arrives. That is how I did it (the licence luckily came the day after I did my first PPL navigation), and how a lot of people are doing it. There is no problem doing it that way, in spite of some rumours you might hear to the contrary. Airlines are not going to care that you did your first navigation before your first solo.
Once you have passed the GFPT, you can then move on to the PPL training. This involves learning the art of navigation. You will be flying cross-country flights which will be between 2 and 3 hours duration. You should be learning at this stage about flying in the different sorts of airspace we have in Australia, controlled and uncontrolled. There will also be more theory to learn, and an exam to sit, this time set by CASA. It is a 3 1/2 hour exam, and like every other CASA exam you will do, is multi-choice and done on a computer. If you learn your theory, you should not have any problem passing this, although if English is not your first language, it will be harder, especially as some questions are not worded very simply (but hey, if you can keep up with reading this post, you’re half way there lol!). The minimum requirements to site the PPL flight test are a pass in the theory exam, 40 hours of flight experience including 10 hours command (5 of which must be cross-country) and 2 hours of instrument (as with the GFPT, one hour of this can be on a synthetic trainer or simulator). Although 40 hours is the minimum requirement, you will probably find you will have 50-70 hours before you sit your PPL. At the end of the day, the test is standards based, so the faster your learn and the better you get, the earlier (and cheaper) you will be able to achieve your PPL.
As I say, the flying for PPL involved longer cross-country flights. The first one will probably be a mix of you and the instructor doing the work, but after that you will be expected to do all the navigation, and as much of the flying as possible, with the instructor there to tell you what to do, or to take over if it gets too hard (which does happen, and not always through your own fault – I was faced with unexpected 25 knot crosswinds and an approaching thunderstorm on my 3rd navigation – the instructor managed to get us down – if I’d been solo, I would have had to have diverted)
Realistically, studying full time, you will be looking at taking 4 months to achieve your PPL. I suppose you could squeeze it into a smaller time period, but you would have to be careful not to overwork yourself, and also to make sure you do actually learn all you are taught. The cross-country flights can be quite tiring – I certainly wouldn’t want to be flying them every single day at this stage. If you are lucky enough to always strike good weather, then that will help cut the time required down, but I wouldn’t be relying on that. As I say, 4 months is a reasonable time to be looking at. If you are hoping to get through faster to fit in with holidays, definitely mention this to the flight school, so they can make sure that happens, but be prepared to do some hard work.
I do hope I have covered everything you should know. I am glad to see you are excited about this – being well motivated is a big help, and will make the whole experience that little bit better. From here, I would suggest you do a bit of research into the different schools available, and get in contact with some of them. Like I said, do look around and make sure you are getting the best value for your money – you won’t regret it. Also make sure you get all the paper work etc sorted out as quickly as possible – fiddling around with SPL applications and the like is a real nuisance, and the faster you get it done, the faster you can be on your way to your PPL.
If you have any other questions, or want to know anything else which I haven’t covered, you are most welcome to email me – I can be contacted in my profile. I would be very happy to help you out with any other questions or concerns you may have.
"So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth." - Bahá'u'lláh