Studying as a private pilot in Middle-earth: moving and living in a New Zealand village
I would like to share a rather unusual experience and complement the wonderful bvitaliyg article on how to come to heaven and become a pilot. I’ll tell you about how I left for a New Zealand village near Hobbiton to sit at the helm and learn how to fly.
How it all started
I’m 25, I’ve been working in the IT industry all my life and don’t do anything that was even remotely connected with aviation. I always liked my work, but in recent years, personal development has increasingly lagged behind professional, and the rhythm of the capital's life has motivated a change of scenery.
Aviation seemed a fitting challenge. I never sat at the helm, didn’t know anything about flying a plane, had a poor understanding of English and did not have large amounts of money.
Flight courses in Russia did not appeal to me, since small aircraft in our country are in great decline and much has not changed since the days of the USSR. I saw no demand, no supply, no prospects.
I did not want to study in the USA because of the feeling of conveyor belt. In the States, literally every third person has a pilot license, and some receive these licenses in 2-3 weeks with a standard course duration of 2-3 months. This is even faster than passing on rights, only ten times more expensive.
I wanted to study in an English-speaking country, so in Europe there was little choice. Life in the UK seemed overly expensive and complicated in terms of visa restrictions.
The choice settled on New Zealand. An English-speaking and developed country with amazing nature and responsive people seemed to me an ideal place to study. I also loved the Lord of the Rings and knew that the shooting of the trilogy took place there. A private school was found 20 kilometers from the set of Hobbiton, near the town of Matamata.
There were no clear requirements for the English language. It was supposed that he should be free to understand and talk. Aviation English was not required for an amateur pilot license.
I had to get an English course in Moscow. I even managed to find a New Zealand teacher who taught IELTS training courses. In two months it was possible to raise the level from 6 to 7.5 and successfully pass an interview with representatives of the school. Formally, a level of at least 6 was required, but I did not have to take the exam myself, although some New Zealand schools require it for admission.
The course of a private pilot on a Cessna 172 plane at my school cost about 12 thousand US dollars. This is quite noticeably more expensive than American schools, but much cheaper than Australian.
In general, the cost of a PPL private pilot's course around the world varies from 7 to 15 thousand dollars, depending on the country of study. The CPL commercial pilot's course is significantly more expensive, and the full course from scratch to the ATPL linear pilot with the ratings necessary for working in the airline is about 60 thousand US dollars.
The cheapest in the Republic of South Africa, where you can learn for 7 thousand. Given the abolition of visas between Russia and South Africa, for many, this option may indeed seem interesting.
There is an opinion that studying for a private pilot or an amateur pilot is a very dubious investment, since it will not be possible to directly recoup the costs, because with this license you cannot earn money. You can, of course, go step by step, getting a license for a license as funds become available, but it's just that it's much more expensive and longer.
Many people prefer to save money and study on the comprehensive courses of the commercial pilot CPL, or, if finances permit, immediately on a linear ATPL.
You need to understand that aviation in terms of a career is a very complicated, long and expensive story. Even having received the maximum ATPL admission with the required ratings and having the theoretical ability to work in the airline, nobody will simply take you to work without experience. It is good if, after several years of work as an instructor, they will be invited to conditionally Costa Rica to work as the second pilot of a regional airline for an extremely modest salary. Everyone understands that every year the United States produces thousands of pilots who need to compete and gain hours. There are ways to convert an American license and fly to Russia, but it is also expensive and dreary.
I initially did not see aviation as a way to make money through flights. With a basic private pilot license, you can greatly diversify your resume no matter what you do. Aviation provides such skills and experience that it is impossible to value with money and which ultimately will make you an interesting person and a sought-after specialist.
At first it seemed to me that New Zealand’s visa was basic, but it wasn’t so simple.
A tourist visa is also suitable for a private pilot’s license, but firstly, you cannot work on it, and secondly, in any case, you will have to transfer the entire amount for studying from Russia to get it. In the case of a student visa, everything is much worse, because you will need to transfer it not only for study, but also for several months of housing and various other costs. The result is indecently expensive.
The bank assured me that SWIFT transfer takes several days, but in fact in Russia recently passed a law under which all transactions and transfers above 600 tr pass thorough checks. They can neither be removed normally nor transferred abroad. Money went more than a month.
Relocation and Housing
I must say that the importance of the housing issue is greatly underestimated. The fact is that most of the aerodromes where training takes place are located far from settlements. New Zealand is a vivid example, our school was located 10 kilometers from the nearest village with a shop and 200 kilometers from a large city.
At school, I was assured that without a car it would be extremely difficult, so all students buy it first thing. The cost of a car in New Zealand will add a few thousand dollars to the total cost of courses. I managed to agree to rent a room in one of the houses on the territory of the airfield. This allowed me not to buy a car, but added a ton of other problems.
The main thing is that they had to live in almost complete isolation from civilization. For several months, I clearly understood that there is no other country in the world that would be more different from Moscow in atmosphere and lifestyle. In New Zealand, no one is in a hurry at all, startups are not taking root in the country and workaholism is not welcome.
Shopping was always a real adventure. I had to walk several times, which is 10 kilometers one way and 10 kilometers back with packages. Here I want to thank the New Zealanders who were always ready to give a lift. If you went out on the road, then every second car will stop nearby. So I met a whole host of wonderful people.
As for housing conditions, here the situation was far from comfortable. The fact is that most students of the school were Indians, and Indians are not always clean and consider their housing very temporary and not worthy of attention. My neighbors were guys from India, Malaysia and Tibet. The guys themselves are pleasant and non-conflict, but still the cultural gap between us is enormous.
I would also like to say about the temperature in the house. I arrived in the month of May just before the start of the New Zealand winter. Winter is certainly not like in Moscow, but the minus temperature sometimes lasts a long time. In the houses no one heard about central heating, so your main friend will be a heater, and the average temperature in the morning is good if it is more than 10 degrees. For the excessive use of heaters, you will have to pay extra and considerable money for the rent, which, in turn, amounted to 200 New Zealand dollars per week.
I can’t say that difficulties with living conditions went smoothly, but at the same time I had no reason to regret my choice. New Zealand is a completely unique country in its relation to people and nature. Here all the problems are forgotten, you just every day rejoice that you live.
Before my arrival, I assumed that a large volume of theory awaits me before practice. Everything turned out absolutely the opposite, from the very first day at school until the start of theoretical classes, I flew off for several weeks.
Practical classes were structured as follows: we had an internal online schedule where instructors assigned themselves to a student every day. The school specifically forced the instructors to take different students so that no one would get used to any one style and relax. Most of the instructors were British with English hard enough to understand, but there were New Zealanders as well.
On the first day we were given a logbook, where we recorded our hours and class, which we practiced during the flight. Before each flight, the instructors conducted a short briefing, which told what forces act on the plane, what happens in the air and what to do in a given situation. At the end of the briefing, there was a small oral test to check the assimilation of the material, and then we went to the plane and performed pre-flight preparation, after which we sat down at the helm and practiced the exercise.
In principle, there is nothing more complicated than school physics in the theory of training for a private pilot, but you need to remember a lot of information. Much falls into the habit immediately, but something needs to be practiced every day.
It seems to me that the training program itself is standardized, and the exams are about the same as in Europe and the USA, except that New Zealand still prepares more pilots for the Asian market and is not very popular with the rest.
Our school took flight safety very seriously, but at the same time forced it to be as independent as possible from the first day and not rely on an instructor. On the one hand, during absolutely every preflight preparation I had to pour gas into the test tube 11 times and check its quality. On the other hand, I have been self-landing already from the second day of classes.
As bvitaliyg correctly noted, aviation is not only about flights. These are emotions and incredible responsibility. I do not remember that at least once in my life I experienced what I had the chance to experience during self-piloting an airplane. We flew over the Hobbiton set, flew up to the waterfalls and mountains of the northern island, performed different elements in different weather conditions, and even learned to get the plane out of a tailspin.
I was captivated and inspired by videos and stories about flights, but I absolutely agree that not a single video can convey even a small part of the sensations from the minute at the helm. It will stay with you for life.