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Part 61 or Part 141?

Part 61 Versus Part 141

As you start reviewing your flight training options and talking with different people you will hear the terms “Part 61” and “Part 141” thrown around.  Each of these is a reference to Federal Aviation Regulations (“FAR’s”) that govern the training requirements for each license, certification or rating.

By default, every flight school/instructor is able to train students under Part 61 providing they are rated to give that course.  Somewhat confusingly, maintaining appropriate teaching standards under Part 61 is entirely the responsibility of each individual instructor despite the fact they might all be employed by the same company.  This does not mean that flights schools operating under Part 61 do not have required standards or policies, just that the FAA holds instructors individually responsible for their results.

A Part 141 flight school is a designation awarded to a Flight School by the FAA as recognition that they have met, and commit to continue to meet, certain standards laid out by the FAA regarding content, course structure, standardization, testing, documentation, aircraft maintenance and many other items.  In simple terms, a Part 141 school has committed to following a systematic process designed to ensure quality of instruction and end result.  In return for this commitment, the FAA allows these schools to offer courses that require less flight hours than for the same course operated under Part 61 – for example the Private Pilot course under Part 61 requires forty hours of flight time and under Part 141 only thirty five hours.  It is very time consuming, expensive and complex to obtain and retain Part 141 school status and involves substantial and continued oversight by the local FAA office of all aspects of the Flight School’s operations. 

The vast majority of Flight Schools operate under Part 61 only.  Part 141 schools such as Heart of Virginia Aviation Inc will usually offer both Part 61 and Part 141 options.

Most, but not all, college level associate or full bachelor degree programs in aviation operate under Part 141 standards.  Students sponsored by the Veterans Administration must complete all their courses under Part 141 or they will not be funded. Schools looking to take international students need to have had Part 141 designation for at least two years prior to being able to apply.

Both Part 61 and Part 141 courses ultimately lead to a requirement that the candidate meets identical standards and knowledge requirements set out in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), the Practical Test Standards (PTS), where still applicable, and in the Airman Certification Standards (ACS).  In other words, if the system is working correctly, pilots trained by either Part 61 or Part 141 should be at the same level once they pass the final check ride.

Part 61 allows maximum flexibility for the Instructor to adapt the course to the needs of each specific student while Part 141 relies on the idea that following a rigidly defined process will consistently produce a predictable outcome and guarantee quality standards thanks to enhanced FAA oversight and clearly defined practices.

So, how do I decide which is the right path for me?

In certain cases that decision will make itself:

  • There may not be a local flight school with Part 141 privileges
  • If you are VA funded then you will have to do a Part 141 course
  • If you are doing an aviation degree and you wish to benefit from substantial hour and age reductions on your path to the airlines you will be required to take, as a minimum, the Instrument rating and Commercial license under Part 141 at the enrolled school or via one of their approved training affiliates – in the case of an online aviation degree

In other cases, the decision will be influenced by personal goals or your current experience level:

  • The instrument rating is typically the second most important step after achieving the Private Pilot license.  Under Part 61 you must have built at least fifty hours of “Pilot in Command” time flying cross country (defined as flights of at least 50 nautical miles from your starting point with a landing at that destination) before you would be eligible to take the Instrument check ride in addition to forty hours of instrument training.  Under Part 141 those fifty hours are waived meaning that you can move straight on from Private to Instrument without a gap in between and you only need to have 35 hours of flight instruction.  So, if you are a new or very low time pilot looking to get to an instrument rating as fast as possible then taking Instrument under Part 141 is the best option.  On the other hand, if you have had your Private license for some time and already meet the cross country requirements then there is a case to be made for either route.
  • The initial Commercial license can be taken under Part 61 once you have 250 hours of total flight time along with certain amounts of specific training and meet other experience requirements that are laid out in the regulations.  Under Part 141 you can take a 120 hour course that will allow you to take your practical test before you meet the normal 250 hour requirements.  If your total flight time when you start the course is less than 130 hours then Part 141 could save you flight time and get you to the commercial license level sooner.  In an extreme case where you take your Private pilot license at 35 hours plus the check ride time, you could have your commercial license (without instrument privileges) after as few as about 158 hours.  The importance of the Commercial, and potentially getting there as fast as possible, is that it opens the door to being able to add Instructor privileges and earn money as a pilot. 

The Part 141 dilemma:

For Private, Instrument and initial Commercial Licenses the FAA gives you reduced times but once you move beyond those certifications the situation actually reverses.  Part 61 minimums for additional certifications are mostly limited to a certain number of instruction hours to be taken in the two months prior to the practical test, a requirement to have passed written tests and be able to perform to the required test standards.  Under Part 141 the requirements are always very prescriptive and typically involve far more hours of ground and flight instruction than under Part 61 making them far less flexible and far more expensive.

So, I should do the Private, Instrument and Commercial under Part 141 and then do everything else under Part 61?

If only it were that simple or logical.  Without going into massive amounts of detail, the costs of going from zero to Commercial Pilot under both Part 61 and under Part 141 will be very similar because the Part 141 route requires more hours to be flown with an instructor and effectively limits self study options.  Part 141 may get you to the point of being a commercial pilot in less hours but you will be unlikely to have spent less money so the net cost per hour flown will be higher under Part 141.  As you build time the total hours flown count so that may not seem to be a good trade off.  Under Part 61 you can build time towards your Commercial using something called “Shared PIC” which in simple terms means that by flying with another pilot you can share the aircraft cost but both claim the flight hours.  That is not allowable under Part 141.

What should I do if I have zero time and want to become a commercial pilot and instructor at the lowest possible cost and as fast as possible without going to college and without any VA funding?

Take an accelerated program as follows:

  • Private under Part 61
  • Instrument under Part 141
  • Commercial under Part 61
  • Instructor certification under Part 61

Conclusion

There is no “one size fits all” answer which is why we are happy to work with you on a one on one basis to craft the right solution for you.