Then you are ready to start training in the air. This requires a minimum of thirty-five hours, first with an instructor and then solo. Trainees learn to take off and land on short grass runways and fly at night. Other exercises include stopping and restarting the aircraft in flight.
“The aim is to prepare you to the standards of the General Authority for Civil Aviation,” says Mr Mohammed, as it is this body that takes care of the final oral, written and practical exams and issues your licence.’
“It’s not just about getting a license – it’s about enjoying the adventure. There is an expression in Arabic that means stealing from happiness. And we literally fly with happiness!” – Islam Saeed Gwayed, Head of Safety and Training at the Saudi Aviation Club in Thamamah
The General Authority of Civil Aviation written exam is a computer-based multiple-choice quiz followed by a final assessment of your ability to fly.
The whole process takes three to four months. The total cost is approximately 60,000 Saudi Riyals or $16,000 including the exam fee.
You can choose to study the required information yourself, review the material online and then proceed directly to the written exam from the said authority. It’s a cheaper option, but it doesn’t include the immersive experience of a real class with a professional instructor or the camaraderie of other students.
Some academies also offer sport aircraft license training, which allows you to fly a small sport aircraft with a maximum total payload of 600 kg including pilot and passenger. It only requires twenty hours of solo supervised flight, but again does not involve a deep dive into the full Private Pilot Licence course.
After passing the written and practical exams at the General Office of Civil Aviation, you will receive a PPL license, which allows you to fly a light single-engine aircraft.
Other types of aircraft, such as seaplanes and twin-engine aircraft, require more advanced qualifications. In addition, the PPL only allows “visibility flight rules”, which means you will not be able to fly in low visibility conditions. Flying the aircraft in adverse weather conditions requires an instrument rating with additional training and testing.
While most students see PPL as a stepping stone to a career as a professional pilot, many simply desire flying as a fun weekend adventure sport.
But pilot Islam Saeed Gwayed, head of safety and training at the Saudi Aviation Club in Thamamah, north of Riyadh, sees flying as life-enhancing in more ways than one.
“First of all, when you’re flying an airplane, you live 100% in the present moment. It allows you to get away from all your everyday problems and stress.”
“Then it builds leadership and decision-making in a person. Flying a plane comes with a lot of responsibility and it all depends on you as the pilot.”
“Thirdly, you learn a lot about the weather conditions, the landscape, as well as all the technical aspects of the aircraft and how airports work. And when you observe the world from the cockpit, perception is very different from reality.”
“Finally, it’s a hobby that can lead you to other hobbies. If you want to play golf in Taif or dive in Yanbu, just get on a plane and fly there.”
Buying an airplane doesn’t have to cost you millions. Used sport aircraft (such as the four-seater Cessna Skyhawk 172) are available for as little as 250,000 Saudi riyals (about 66,700 euros). Shared ownership helps create prices even more affordable.
Mr Mohammed recommends Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an ideal location for private pilots, “because a lot of the airspace is relatively less restricted than, say, London, where you have Heathrow, Stanstead, Gatwick and Luton in addition to airports. all military bases. Flying a plane there can be a real challenge due to the air traffic.
“There is a greater selection of flight routes for you to use. And it is a big country with very diverse destinations. There is nothing better than seeing the Kingdom from the air.’
Mr Gwayed has advice for apprentice private pilots: “Have fun!”
“Some students tell me they can’t wait to finish their training to get their license. But I tell them to relax and take their time. They will probably learn more because they won’t be as stressed about getting their license. It’s not just about getting a license, it’s about enjoying the adventure.”
“There is an expression in Arabic that means stealing from happiness. And we are literally flying with happiness!”
This text is a translation of an article published on Arabnews.com