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I live in the UK and would like to learn flying jets, but most courses seem to start with propeller planes. Not sure if this might be a misconception about the safety of different aircraft types, but I remember having read or heard somewhere that small propeller planes are, well, less safe than jets; maybe because they are more fragile and less powerful than jets when it comes to bad weather and are also difficult to recover from dangerous situations... not sure and cannot find the reference for now.

But also doing a quick search for popular aircraft types, the propellers like Cessna seem to have huge numbers of crashes/incidents compared to jet engine aircraft.

So the question is - why are propeller planes favored in training e.g. for the Private Pilot License? Is it simply because they are cheaper and wouldn't be such a huge loss of they crash?

Are there any alternatives where I could start with a jet engine?

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Why should a prop plane be less safe than a jet? –  Fabrizio Mazzoni Aug 25 '14 at 14:03
Wouldn't you expect that whichever type of plane is used most by inexperienced pilots would have the most crashes/incidents? –  Gabe Aug 25 '14 at 16:35
Don't know about the “recover from dangerous situation” bit but bad weather is something you can mostly avoid. Many accidents result from inexperienced pilots flying anyway because they want to get somewhere but if you are in training, you would simply not get in the air when it's dangerous (and your instructor should certainly be wary of that). –  Relaxed Aug 26 '14 at 7:40
ICAO regulations require you to have a valid pilot license and an instrument rating (and thus plenty of previous experience) before starting a type rating on any jet. It is therefore not only illogical but also illegal for a school to offer initial pilot training on jets. –  Radu094 Sep 3 '14 at 20:32
@Radu094 regulations can be changed, though of course bureaucracies tend to be very slow to do so. And the better the reason to change them, the slower they tend to be. –  jwenting Sep 8 '14 at 15:46

7 Answers 7

Light Propeller Aircraft, if flown within their design limits, are just as safe as jets. If you do a proper and thorough daily inspection, you are far less likely to suffer any form of mechanical failure in the air. In saying this, the majority of all crashes, be it in a Jet Powered Airliner or a Propeller Driven Light Aircraft are caused due to pilot error.

You start out learning in a light single as:

  1. They are lighter, and slower and can usually take the beating handed out by inexperienced pilots, this being:

    • Hard landings
    • Slipping onto the runway
    • Just hammering the day lights out of the engine.
  2. Jet Aircraft are extremely expensive, and generally fairly heavy. Inexperienced pilots generally pay AU$80,000 for a Commercial Pilot License (In Australia) which qualifies you to fly single engine aircraft not over 5,700kg under the VFR by day. This is an absolute, level entry qualification looking for a job (most people will find that they at least also need a night VFR rating or a MECIR), so to add the cost of doing training in a jet on top of that, even if it is just for PPL, will be massive.

  3. Jet Aircraft will be insured to be flown by pilots who have an amount of total experience and experience on aircraft/engine type. So, again, unless you're willing to pay the massive excess and premiums to be put on the insurance, you're going to have to fly a prop.

Now, you have identified that a lot of crashes are light singles (i.e. Cessna). This is because generally, these aircraft are not flown with the same discipline as a Jet Aircraft. Also, the pilots flying them are generally lower hour pilots who do not have as much experience (again, this is a generalisation, not an exact figure of the total community).

As for starting in a Jet, I honestly doubt that there is any flight school on the planet that will allow you to start training in a Jet (Even Fighter Jet pilots start out flying tiny little single engine aircraft).

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In the USAF and US Navy JPATS program the express wish in the specification was for a jet-propelled entry trainer. The idea was to train beginners on jets to avoid teaching concepts like rudder input on take-off to counteract prop torque. In the end, a modified PC-9 turboprop was selected. However, it does compensate for torque by computer control, so it flies almost like a jet. –  Peter Kämpf Aug 25 '14 at 13:41
@PeterKämpf - Really? - Australia still uses the old CT-4 to do basic training, and then moves onto Pilatus PC9's. –  James Ham Aug 25 '14 at 13:43
@PeterKämpf: Interesting. The US military also operates a few types of prop aircraft, so I suppose if they had done this, they would have had to split trainees into "prop" or "jet" groups at the very beginning of training. –  Nate Eldredge Aug 25 '14 at 15:34
@NateEldredge not necessarily; currently they train everyone on prop and "convert" most people to jet later. Surely the reverse would also work - start everyone as jet and "convert" to prop as necessary? –  Nigel Harper Aug 26 '14 at 11:25
In the event of a botched takeoff or landing (with an inexperienced pilot more likely to cause an accident), I would think the slower, less massive prop plane would cause less collateral damage as well. F = MVV and all. –  Snowman Aug 27 '14 at 3:49

In the hands of an inexperienced pilot, a jet is definitely the unsafer choice.

Due to the general higher speeds, there is less time to recover from errors and they require more anticipation to be ahead of the game. Small errors will grow into large errors in relatively short time. In slower aircraft there is more time to correct.

In addition, jet and turbine engines have slower response times than piston engines, which is important when you need to abort a landing for example.

The fact that there are more accident and incidents with propeller aircraft is telling little about the inherent safety about these aircraft, instead it says something about the relative inexperienced pilots that often operate them.

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There's also the issue with slower engine response times, which is particularly important when you need to abort a landing for example. –  falstro Aug 25 '14 at 13:59
The question also seems to assume that prop's are generally less safe and therefore shouldn't be used for training... missing the point that a reasonably large proportion prop accidents are DUE to inexperienced pilots flying them in training. Jet's have fewer accidents in part because they're rarely flown by inexperienced pilots. –  Jon Story Nov 26 '14 at 12:11
Also, because of the higher speed, small errors are amplified into large errors in a smaller amount of time. In a slower airplane, the error may have been noticed and corrected before it became a large error. –  Lnafziger Dec 10 '14 at 5:58

Small propeller aircraft have more incidents and accidents, because they can be flown by single pilot and that pilot is often not very experienced (PPL requires only 40 hours in US and 45 in Europe), while anything transport category requires two pilots and the pilot in command has to have ATPL and for that they need to have 1500 hours experience (yearly limit is 1000 hours). Note that transport category propeller aircraft like ATR-42/72 or Dash-8 don't have significantly higher accident rate compared to transport jets.

If flown by experienced pilots, a single engine plane is slightly less safe, because if the engine quits it has to do emergency landing and it may not always be possible over rough terrain.

On the other hand though, propeller planes are slower (propellers are efficient at slow speeds, jets only at high speeds) and easier to handle because jet engines react slowly to power changes. And smaller aircraft has less inertia, so it reacts to control inputs more readily too. Therefore you want to start with a small propeller aircraft in which mistakes can be more easily fixed, build up some experience with the general behaviour and only then progress to the faster and larger jets that require gentler handling and more thinking in advance.

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I seem to remember (and don't have time to look it up right now to verify) reading a statistic where piston multi-engine aircraft were actually involved in more fatal accidents than piston single-engine aircraft after an engine failure. Mainly because of improper procedures... Are you sure about the single engine plane being "slightly less safe", or is this just conjecture (and trust me, it makes sense to mee, but I'm not sure that it's true). –  Lnafziger Dec 10 '14 at 6:01

Small piston airplanes are "cheap" (as airplanes go) to operate and jets are an order of magnitude more expensive. For example, you can find small piston trainers on the order of \$100/hour to operate whereas a jet is often well north of \$1000/hr to operate. If your wallet can accept this, this is just one barrier to starting training in a jet.

Small piston training airplanes are everywhere. Go down to your nearest airport and you'll probably find a few. Jet airplanes for training for the most part just do not exist. The vast majority of jet training happens in simulators, and these simulator courses are really only designed to provide type ratings and possibly ATP ratings, not primary training. This means you'll probably have to buy or lease a jet. This will be very expensive. This is your biggest barrier to starting training in a jet.

If you own or rent a jet, you want to insure it.  I sincerely doubt you'll find anyone willing to underwrite hull loss insurance on a jet used for primary training of an unrated pilot. Perhaps you could find coverage for a premium equal to the full replacement cost of the jet, but that really isn't practical. This is a barrier to training, but if you can afford to do this you might not care that you can't find insurance.

Speaking of type ratings, it is very likely you are going to need one of those to operate the jet, this will complicate your training and checkride because type ratings are tested to ATP standards, which means you will be required to fly to a higher standard with tighter tolerances than you would otherwise be requires at this stage of your training. You'll also be crippled without an instrument rating because you can't fly the jet above 18,000 feet (USA) without one.

Speaking of checkrides, you'll need to find an examiner that is typed in the jet you are using and who can conduct the checkride. Easier said than done. A typical jet isn't really suited to the private checkride either. The required cross country navigating with a map and the required diversion would be a lot of work in a very fast and complex airplane for a brand new pilot.

Before you can go on a checkride, you need training. You need a CFI who is typed in the jet and that CFI is going to be more expensive than the CFI you would be using in the piston airplane. Probably much more expensive. You will probably also need to spend much more time with the instructor than you would in the piston airplane because the jet moves much faster and you will be flying to ATP standards instead of private pilot standards. More practice == more money.

If you want to be in a jet ASAP and you can afford to own one and insure it, your best bet is to just do the private in a piston airplane then do an instrument rating in a piston airplane, do your multi-engine rating in a piston airplane, and then get a type rating in the jet to transition into flying the jet. You'll probably also need to hire a typed pilot to fly with you (for insurance costs) until you build a significant amount of time in the jet. If you didn't buy a jet capable of single pilot ops, then you'll need to hire a pilot because the plane requires two pilots anyway, but the entirety of my post assumes you picked a single pilot capable jet.

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There are a lot of good answers here already that cover some of the most important answers: the extreme cost difference, jet engines respond slower, very low availability of training equipment and flight instructors, inability to (legally) fly the jet at the altitude it's designed to fly at (since you need an instrument rating to enter Class A airspace, which is everything above 18,000 ft in the U.S.,) etc.

However, another important thing to note is that you can practice maneuvers in a small, single-engine aircraft that simply aren't practical to practice in most jets. In a PA-28, it's no big deal to practice stalls and stall recovery (which is a required skill for a private pilot certificate.) Practicing stalls in a Learjet, let alone a 737, is quite another story. Same for 60 degree banks, slow flight, etc. These are things that all pilots need to practice, but which just aren't practical (or safe) to practice in most jets.

As for jets being 'safer,' as others have said, the safety record of light aircraft is more related to the average skill level of the pilots usually flying them versus the average skill level of the pilots usually flying jets. An airline pilot will have thousands of hours of flight time. Many accidents in small, single-engine aircraft, on the other hand, are from low-hour pilots and even student pilots. A student pilot flying a jet will be decidedly unsafe. Student pilots are much safer when flying small, light, and (relatively) slow aircraft that are also not nearly as complicated to operate. The light aircraft are much more forgiving to the mistakes that student pilots make than jets will be.

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Look at the ATP practical test standards (PTS) and you'll find most of the maneuvers you list to be part of the ATP checkride. Steep turns (45°), straight ahead and turning stalls (to the stick shaker) and recovery with minimal altitude loss are all part of the ATP checkride, type ride and recurrent training. Yes, that is typically done in a sim, but could easily be done in the real airplane. In sim training slow flight is also covered in a jet (slow enough that the stick shaker is active but fast enough that the pusher doesn't activate). –  casey Aug 25 '14 at 18:50
True, but would you not agree that those are much more serious conditions in a jet than in something like a Cherokee? Requiring an ATP to practice something is quite different than requiring it from someone who's never flown an aircraft before. I suppose I should have clarified that it isn't practical for a student pilot, though, rather than just that it isn't practical. –  reirab Aug 25 '14 at 18:56
Not really. The only real difference in the jet is that you'll be doing to ATP standards and the maneuvers will be performed in IMC (no visual reference outside), which is not the goal of primary training. A steep turn is a steep turn. Once you know the airspeed for entry for your airplane and understand the need to add power to maintain altitude, it doesn't really matter what airplane you are in. –  casey Aug 25 '14 at 19:00
ATP checkrides are often done in light singles and twins, and occasionally sims. Doesn't happen in real world large airplanes simply because it's too expensive to use them for something that can be done MUCH cheaper another way. –  Brian Knoblauch Aug 26 '14 at 13:02

A big part of learning to fly is learning to "stay ahead of the airplane". Know what the airplane will NATURALLY do on its own, versus what you WANT it to do. Things happen a lot quicker in a jet, so a slower prop is a better place to learn this skill. One thing that pilots must learn is emergency procedures such as engine failure, and in a prop plane you have more time to make a safe decision about a forced landing.

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This is mostly true, except that the last part isn't true from cruising altitude. You can glide much longer and much farther from 30,000-40,000 ft at 400+ knots than you can from a few thousand feet at 100 knots. From the same altitude, though, you would have somewhat more time (but still probably less distance) in a light aircraft. Of course, your options for non-lethal places to land are greater with the light aircraft. Also, the odds of both engines failing at cruise on an airliner are much smaller than an engine failure in a light single-engine aircraft. –  reirab Dec 12 '14 at 5:08

There are probably more incidents with propeller aircraft for a few reasons. First jet pilots in the USA will have more experience (I concur with other posts that experience is a primary factor in this case). Certainly, propeller aircraft have limitations when compared to jet aircraft (less power). However, kept within their capabilities, propeller training aircraft are very safe. I would expect any pilot to agree that a small Cessna will more readily glide than jet aircraft. This learning to take off and land in a prop helps the student pilot get a feel for flying- a feel for the fluid force of air over the wings, nose, and tail.

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