7 schools to take flying lessons in Toronto
Flying lessons in Toronto? If you have always wanted to learn how to fly there are plenty of schools in and around the GTA that can show you a thing or two. Whatever your motivation for learning how to commandeer a small aircraft thousands of feet in the sky, the first step is earning your recreational permit or private pilot's license.
When picking a flying school in Toronto, there are several factors to consider. Cost is the most obvious one. Flying airplanes is not cheap -- an hour in the plane with an instructor will cost you anywhere from $150 to upwards of $250, depending on the school and the airplane -- and for most people minimizing the expense of flight training is a major priority.
Comparing the school's hourly rental rates is fairly straightforward, but be aware that many other factors go into determining the overall cost, such as fuel surcharges (ask if they are included), waiting times on the ground, proximity of the practice area and, most importantly, the quality of your instruction.
The school's location, size, airplane maintenance, and culture (formal? relaxed? geared primarily toward full-time or part-time students?) are important as well. The best way to get a feel for the school is to call in and book a hangar tour and maybe even a "familiarization flight" -- a short flight most schools offer at a bargain rate as an introduction to flight training.
Here are seven schools in Toronto and around the GTA where you can take flying lessons.
Island Air Flight School and Charters Inc.
Base: Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (CYTZ) - Toronto Islands, ferry at the foot of Bathurst Street
If you live or work close to the city core and don't want to drive to the boonies for your flight lessons, the Island is your only option. The ferry terminal is easily accessible by bike and public transit (streetcars or a free Porter Airlines shuttle from Union Station). From there, the world's shortest scheduled ferry ride takes you to the field. The airport's only school -- Island Air -- operates a mix of Cessna 150 (two-seater) and 172 (four-seater) aircraft out of a hangar right next to the Porter Airlines terminal. This is a good place to train out of if you want to fly in a busy and challenging airspace and enjoy unbeatable views on your take-offs and landings. The major drawback to training on the island is the cost -- with space at a premium, renting a hangar is not cheap, which drives the rates up. Also, the practice area is about a 10-minute fly away, which does add time to your lessons and charges to your bill.
Base: Markham Airport (CNU8) - 10953 Hwy 48, Markham
Though it originally started at the Island Airport in 1996, Canadian Flyers is currently operating out of Markham - a tiny private field with one short runway (not that that's necessarily a bad thing - short and narrow runways make good pilots!) The prices are slightly higher than in some other GTA locations, but that's compensated for by a convenient location as far as airspace goes - there is no need for an expensive trek to and from the practice area. The airfield, as you might expect it to be, is uncontrolled, but Buttonville and Oshawa are only a very short flight away, should you wish to practice your radio procedures.
Toronto Airways Ltd.
Base: Buttonville (CYKZ) - 2833 Sixteenth Ave, Markham
Together with its sister school Canadian Flight Academy (Oshawa), Toronto Airways is one of the largest flight training operations in the country, boasting over 40 airplanes in its fleet and 50 instructors on its roster. While can only train at one location, this collaboration also means that once you earn your license, you can rent a plane from either of the schools, without a need to do a separate checkout flight in each. Due to its size, Toronto Airways is able to offer not just regular ground school classes, but many shorter special-interest courses for students and licensed pilots (e.g. weather refreshers, GPS training). Flying out of the 8th busiest airport in Canada will definitely keep you on your toes as far as radio work goes. However, that sometimes translates into long waiting times on the ground, with the engine idling (and your money flowing away). The fact that the airport is slated to close some time in the next few years is something to keep in mind as well.
Canadian Flight Academy Ltd.
Base: Oshawa Municipal Airport (CYOO) - 1250 Airport Boulevard, Oshawa
Associated with Toronto Airways, Canadian Flight Academy operates out of Oshawa Municipal Airport. While not as busy as Toronto City or Buttonville, Oshawa is still a controlled airport, which means you are exposed to talking with air traffic controllers from day one of your training. Lower hangaring fees translate into lower rental rates, and the practice area is very close by, contributing to further savings.
Durham Flight Centre
Base: Oshawa Municipal Airport (CYOO) - 1190 Keith Ross Crt Oshawa
Another flight school at Oshawa Municipal, Durham Flight Centre is one of GTA's newer training locations. With only a handful of aircraft and instructors, there might be less choice and flight booking flexibility, especially considering that DFC delivers Centennial College's pilot training program. However, the aircraft rental rates are among the most reasonable in the GTA, and the fact that one of DFC's students has recently won a prestigious national Webster Memorial Trophy competition inspires confidence in the quality of instruction.
Brampton Flight Centre
Base: Brampton Airport (CNU8) - 13691 McLaughlin Road, Caledon
Another school graduating Webster award winners, Brampton Flight Centre has a solid reputation in the flight training business. That may have something to do with the runways at Brampton - at only 40' wide (compare to Buttonville's 150'), they teach aspiring pilots precision flying from the get go. The Brampton Airport, with its distinctive red-roofed hangars, is uncontrolled, and definitely gets abuzz with on a good flying day, teaching you to look out for other aircraft and negotiate with other pilots without the assistance of air traffic controllers. Yet, Pearson airspace is right overhead, so you will get experience talking to the controllers as well. Unfortunately, the proximity of Pearson also means a short air "commute" and from the practice area for each lesson. Also, the flight training facility is owned by the Brampton Flying Club, which means you have to buy an annual membership ($185 per year + $25 initiation fee) to train out of there.
Base: Burlington Executive Airport - 5296 Bell School Line, Burlington
The only flight school in the GTA to operate out of an airport that has a grass as well a paved runway, Spectrum Airways is a convenient training spot for students from the south Halton region. Another uncontrolled airport, Burlington can nevertheless get busy on a sunny weekend, so you will get plenty of practice picking out airplanes in the traffic pattern. And, as anywhere in the GTA, you will still get to talk to Pearson controllers, polishing your radio procedures.