Becoming a Pilot & Airline Pilot Career FAQs


Common Questions & Answers for Aspiring Aviators

 

Private Pilot Costs


"I have always wanted to become a pilot!", is generally followed by "How much will it cost me?"

How much becoming an aviator will actually cost depends a lot on where (school, club or part of the country) and in what aircraft you chose to do your training. Many places advertise a certain price for the Private Pilot certificate (it's actually a 'certificate' not a license). That price generally covers 40 hours of airplane time and 30 hours with a certified flight instructor/CFI and usually does not include many misc costs like books, a headset, flight bag, aeronautical charts, FAA written knowledge exam & the flight test ("checkride") fee. Most importantly, an advertised price for the PPL is usually based on finishing your pilot training in the FAA minimum requirement of 40 hours flight experience, and does not include the cost of any additional flight hours you may need to prepare for the PPL flight test. The average student pilot takes their flight test with approximately 74 hours of flight experience due to work, scheduling or weather delays prolonging their training. Therefore that advertised price can almost double before you actually get your PPL if you aren't committed to studying and flying hard! You will get your PPL nearest that 40 hour mark and save the most money if you fly at least 2-3 times per week. Flying only once a week, or worse only every few weeks, sets you up for an extended training period and paying over & over again to relearn skills you lost on past lessons due to too much time between them.

To obtain a Private Pilot License you must hold a "Third Class Medical", which also doubles as your Student Pilot Certificate while in training. An Aviation Medical Examiner-AME (a Dr. just for pilots) gives you a physical and issues you your medical certificate meaning you are healthy for flight. (Depending on the type of flying a pilot does, you need either a First, Second or Third Class medical. While pilots flying commercially must have the more stringent physicals of the First or Second Class, operations as a Private Pilot only require a Third Class medical.) The cost is approximately $100 but varies slightly depending on the rates AMEs in your area charge.

In what aircraft will you train? You and your Certified Flight Instructor/CFI can decide which plane will be best for you and your budget. Aircraft rental rates may vary for the same type of plane depending on the size, i.e. 2 seats or 4, where you rent it (club or school) and how new the aircraft is. (A side note: Most of the general aviation training fleet in the US are 20+ years old due to a stop in aircraft production for a few years due product liability lawsuits. Newer models can rent for $30-40 more per hour than their older models. As long as they are well maintained, as all reputable school/club planes should be, the age is not an issue. The hours are all the same to your logbook, but not your pocket book! Generally, flying club rates are around 10-20% less than flying school rental rates, esp for newer aircraft. For example, San Diego flying club Plus One Flyers rents a 1972 two seat Cessna 150 for $72/hr, 1973 four seat Cessna 172 for $95/hr or a newer 2006 model C172 with a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit for $143/hr. For those who want a "low wing" aircraft versus the Cessna wing on top of the fuselage build, a Piper Archer rents for $99/hr.

The C152 (or similar two seat trainer) is generally the least expensive way to go, but many chose to train in C172s or Archers as they are a bit roomier (4 seats, not 2) and have more horsepower, payload & leg room for taller students. Click this link for a virtual tour of a C172 cockpit. If you buy a block of time, like 10 or 20 hours upfront, you may also get a few dollars per hour off the rental price. Some factors to consider when choosing where to rent in addition to price are the number of aircraft in their fleet and aircraft availability. If they only have one C172 and it's never available when you are, then that will pose a problem in scheduling your training and getting your PPL in a timely and cost efficient manner. The model airplane you pick is entirely up to you. Go to this link to find out more about General Aviation Training Aircraft.

If you already know your own local school or club rental rates, try the Training Cost Calculator courtesy of FirstFlight.com to estimate how much your PPL will cost.

You will need 40 hours of flight time minimum to take the Private Pilot flight test, so if you are renting a C172 (at the excellent club rate above of $95/hr) that will cost you $3,800 in aircraft rental alone. If you finish closer to the national average of 74 hours it will cost $7,030! Plus, these rental rates do not include your Certified Flight Instructor. Most CFIs charge $35-45/hr, and you will need at least 30 hours of flight instruction (about $1,200 worth). Occasionally, you will need to do some ground lessons with your CFI in addition to your preflight & post flight briefs (ground instruction rates are often less than flight). Also, if you do not sign up for a formal ground school (many are offered at Community Colleges), you will do this one on one with your CFI. You will pay additional hourly charges for ground instruction as well, but many CFIs charge a lower rate for ground than for flight. Some CFIs may have thousands of hours of 'dual given' (instruction), while others may be relatively new at instructing.

You will also need some pilot supplies for this endeavor. You can purchase these from your local pilot shop or online at sites like Sportys Pilot Shop & PilotMall.com. Ebay has a lot of new & used pilot supplies and gear for sale too. Complete flight bag & book sets or "Student Pilot Kits" are also available from Jeppesen and include all your necessary items. They have kits with just the basics or ones with many extras. While there is almost no limit to the gadgets & toys you could buy in your local pilot shop, the bare bones items you will need for your PPL training are:

 
Jeppesen Private Pilot Manual $72
"FAR/AIM" book (regulations & operating rules) $19
Pilot logbook $13
Navigation Plotter $11
An "E6B" Flight Computer $13
Sectional Chart $8
Private Pilot Written Test Study Guide $18
Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide $22
Private Pilot Practical Test Standards Book $6
and a Flight Bag to hold it all!
*Prices as listed on the Jeppesen site.

You might also look into purchasing a headset. It's much easier to hear the radio when you are wearing one and not listening to the speaker while wearing earplugs in flight. A headset will probably be your biggest pilot supply expense. They can be had from $150 to well over $1,000 depending on how fancy you want to get. You can price some popular models at http://www.marvgolden.com.

Some suggested reading materials include:
The Federal Aviation Regulations; Parts 1, 61, 67, and 91
The Aeronautical Information Manual
FAA AC 00-6, Aviation Weather
FAA-H-8083-3, Airplane Flying Handbook
The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge

Sometime during the course of your training you must take the FAA Airman Knowledge Written Exam. A passing test score must be brought with you to your PPL flight test. The cost is approx $100. Your instructor will tell you all about it and can help you prepare. You can also study and take practice tests online for the written exam via such websites as http://www.exams4pilots.org

Once you are all finished and ready to take your Private Pilot Flight Test, you will also have to pay a fee to the examiner to administer your oral and flight exams or "checkride". The Private Pilot checkride examiner fee is around $300.

Taking all these expenses into account, a student that finishes their training in the FAA minimum of 40 flight hours will pay approximately $5,800.


This includes:
Third Class Medical $100
40 hours C172 rental @ $95/hr (averaged) = $3,800
30 hours Flight Instruction @ $40/hr (averaged) = $1,200
Misc pilot supplies $300
FAA Computerized Written Exam Fee $100
Examiner fee $300

A student that finishes their training closer to the national average of 74 hours will pay approximately $10,480.


This includes:
Third Class Medical $100
74 hours C172 rental @ $95/hr (averaged) = $7,030
65 hours Flight Instruction @ $40/hr (averaged) = $2,650
Misc pilot supplies $300
FAA Computerized Written Exam Fee $100
Examiner fee $300


Getting Your Instrument Rating


The FAA has consistently modified the prerequisites for obtaining an Instrument Rating, which allows pilots to fly into clouds or weather, to make the level increasingly attractive and accessible to new Private Pilots. Today, there are no minimum hours of total experience required, a move designed to encourage early starts. This is in contrast to past years when the minimum flight experience for an Instrument Rating was 125 hours! Here are all the numbers, as they presently exist in FAR Part 61.65:

40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time
15 hours with an authorized Instrument Instructor (the balance does not require a flight instructor).
20 hours in an aircraft (the balance can be in an approved ground trainer or simulator, provided the time spent is under the supervision of an authorized instructor).
Additional required time:
50 hours of cross country as pilot in command (landing more than 50 nm from departure, solo cross-country as a Student Pilot qualifies.)

As a new PPL with 40 hours logged, you will have to fly an additional 50 hours on cross country flights to take your IFR checkride. 10 of them can be VFR cross countries while many can be incorporated into your IFR training and only 15 additional hours are required with an instructor. It is legal to fly "under the hood" as long as there is another qualified pilot in the right seat (PPL or higher) acting as a "safety pilot" who scans for traffic/maintains visual separation from other aircraft. Many times you can save instructor fees or split the rental cost with another pilot to build your 40 hours. Here is a ballpark estimate of Instrument Rating costs:

10 hours x $95/hr = $950 (VFR X-country, aircraft rental)
15 hours x $135/hr = $2,025 (aircraft for IFR training @ $95/hr & CFII @ $40/hr)
25 hours x $47.50/hr = $1,187.50 (rental time split with your safety pilot while under the "hood".)

If you were to do your training in the minimum required time, then this totals: $4,162.50. However, remember that few actually do that, so expect to pay 30-50% more depending on how your training moves along.

Basic pilot supplies needed for IFR training:
Jeppesen Approach Plates (what airlines use-the best) $17 or N.O.S. (Gov't issue) plates $5
Approach plate binder $5 (drugstore) to $95** (Jepp leather binder)
A view limiting device: "Foggles", "JeppShade" or a "Hood" $12-$25
Knee board $13-$35
Digital Programmable Timer $10
Instrument Rating Manual & Syllabus Text $30-$82
Instrument Airplane Practical Test Standards book $6
Instrument Written Exam Study Guide (Gleim) $23
*Text prices vary by publisher. Jeppesen, ASA & Gleim are the most popular. Price comparisons from Jeppesen.com & www.pilotmall.com

**I have purchased the leather binders for over half off the list price on Ebay. The used binders are fine as the leather is sturdy. Lasts a lifetime! You can basically expect to drop an additional $200 on pilot supplies. In addition, there will also be fees for your Instrument written exam & flight test or "checkride":

FAA Computerized Written Exam Fee $100
Examiner fee $300

This brings the total estimate for the additional flight time to meet requirements (if you got your PPL at 40 hours) and your Instrument Rating training to about $4,763.

Some recommended reading for the IFR student:
Instrument Flying Handbook
Instrument Procedures Handbook

Some online accounts of getting an Instrument Rating:
My IFR Training Diary by Joe Campbell
Dylans IFR Training Journal
Web Hosting Companies