(April 2011) Dr. Michael Bliss holds an ATP certificate and a CFIA, CFI-I and CFMEI. He has been a pilot for more than 40 years and an active instructor for 30 years. He oversees curriculum standards and development for American Flyers and is the chairman of its safety board. He says:
Whether it is better to learn to fly at a controlled or an uncontrolled airport largely depends on what you intend to do with your pilot certificate after you obtain it. If your desire is to make local or short flights to nearby airports and just enjoy the atmosphere of the local airfield, then the uncontrolled airport is probably the place you should learn.
However, if you intend to go on for an instrument rating or use your airplane for business or to take the family on vacations, then it makes sense to learn at a controlled field. While it’s true that having to deal with ATC on every flight adds an extra element of training that someone learning at an uncontrolled airport doesn’t have to handle, the payoff is more than worth it. Learning at a controlled airport ensures that you will become comfortable dealing with ATC and the various procedures for entering the complex airspace that general aviation pilots encounter. Isn’t it better to have these initial learning experiences with an instructor on board to guide you through them, rather than to experience them later on your own?
Flight instructors often discover that many of those who learn at uncontrolled airports avoid flying into controlled fields because they lack confidence in dealing with ATC. Unfortunately this puts them out of reach of the best services, both for the airplane and the pilot, that are available at the busier airports.
The pros and cons of the best training environment have been debated for years, and the issue won’t be resolved in these few words. However, we might find some guidance in what flight instructors call the Law of Primacy. It states that people learn best what they learn first. It reminds us that our first experiences lay the foundation for all that follows. If this is true, it would make sense that you should lay the foundation that best suits your future flying goals.