After that, you are ready to start training in the air. The latter requires a minimum of thirty-five hours, first with an instructor and then alone. Trainees learn how to take off and land on short grass runways and how to fly at night. Other exercises include stopping and restarting your aircraft mid-flight.
“The idea is to prepare you for the standards of the General Directorate of Civil Aviation,” says Mr. Mohammed, “because this is the institution that takes final oral, written and practical examinations and issues you a license.”
“It’s not just about getting a license – it’s about enjoying the adventure. There is an expression in Arabic that means to steal from happiness. And we literally fly with happiness!” – Islam Said Gwyed, Head of Security and Training at the Saudi Aviation Club in Tamam.
The Civil Aviation Authority written exam is a multiple-choice computer quiz followed by a final assessment regarding your ability to fly.
The whole process takes three to four months. The total cost is approximately 60,000 SAR or $16,000 including exam fees.
You can study the necessary information yourself by browsing the material on the Internet, and then go directly to the written exam in the specified body. This is a cheaper option but does not include the exciting real class experience with a professional instructor or the camaraderie with other students.
Some academies also offer sport aircraft license training, which allows you to fly a small sport aircraft with a maximum combined payload of 600 kg including pilot and passenger. This requires only twenty hours of supervised solo flights, but again, this does not include a deep dive in the full course for a private pilot’s license.
After passing the written and practical exams of the General Directorate 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 skill. Also, the PPL only allows “visual flight rules” which means you won’t be allowed to fly in poor visibility conditions. Aircraft handling in severe weather requires instrument qualification with additional training and testing.
While most students see PPL as a stepping stone to a career as a professional pilot, many simply aspire to fly as a fun weekend adventure sport.
However, pilot Islam Said Gwyed, head of safety and training at the Saudi Aviation Club in Tamam, north of Riyadh, believes flying improves lives in several ways.
“Firstly, when you are at the controls of an airplane, you are 100% living in the moment. It allows you to get away from all your daily problems and stresses.”
“Then it develops leadership and decision making in the person. Flying an aircraft comes with a lot of responsibility and it all depends on you as a pilot.”
“Thirdly, you will learn a lot about the weather, the landscape, as well as all the technical aspects of the aircraft and how airports work. And when you watch the world from the cockpit, the perception is very different from reality.”
“Finally, it is a hobby that can lead you to other hobbies. If you want to play golf in Taif or scuba dive in Yanbu, you can just get on your plane and fly there.”
Buying an airplane doesn’t have to cost you millions. Used sports aircraft (such as the four-seat Cessna Skyhawk 172) can be purchased for as little as 250,000 Saudi Riyals (about 66,700 euros). Co-ownership helps shape prices even more accessible.
Mr Mohammed recommends Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an ideal destination for private pilots “because most of the airspace is relatively less restrictive than, say, London, which has airports from Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick and Luton, in addition to all military bases. Flying a plane there can be a real challenge given the air traffic.
“There is a larger selection of flight paths here that you can use. And it is a big country with very diverse destinations. There is nothing better than seeing the Kingdom from the air.”
Mr. Gwyed has some advice for new pilots: “Have fun!”
“Some students tell me they can’t wait to go through 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 out about getting a license. It’s not just about getting a license, it’s about enjoying the adventure.”
“There is an expression in Arabic that means “steal from happiness.” And we literally fly with happiness!”
This text is a translation of an article published on Arabnews.com.