I took my first lesson on April 18th of last year and passed my check ride on September 15th of this year. 18 Months is a long time over which to spread the task and if you can shorten the time you will lessen the cost, but if you’re juggling work, family or any other number of life activities your situation will likely be similar to mine. I acquired a new business half way through and took more than six months completely off from flying.
I’m going to include a lot of things in this list that some might see as optional. I’m a tech geek so I always have all of the accompanying technology for any project I’m working on. Remember, the point of getting your Private Pilot’s License is one day flying a plane by yourself somewhere without any special sign offs or approvals. So you might as well go ahead and get all the things that you will practically use to do that while you’re training.
I took my check ride at 59 hours and the average I tend to hear is around 50-60. I had 3-4 hours of logged ride along time, 4-5 hours of taking friends and family joy riding with my instructor, 3 hours in tail draggers, and 2 hours of complex in my 59 hours. Let’s leave that in since that’s how you learn things and run the numbers based on 60 hours, which will include the plane rental for the practical exam:
Airplane, Flight Club and Instructor
Flying Club Membership – $60 / month X 18 Months – $1,080
- I think it is important to note here that the flying club membership covers your insurance costs so you DO NOT need to hold private airplane rental insurance. Also, if you’re in Cleveland, Ohio you should check out T & G Flying Club. These guys are awesome. Shameless plug for my flight school over.
- You have to fly about 3 hours a month in a Cessna 152 to break even on the membership. With 60 hours in 18 months I’m pretty much breaking even on the club membership even after paying the dues during the more than 6 months I took completely off. If you curious about member vs. non-member rates you can check out the prices here and do your own math.
Aircraft Rental – $78 (wet) / hour X 60 hours – $4,680
- I primarily flew the cheapest Cessna 152 they have. This is the member rate that I get with the above listed flight club membership.
Instructor – $60 / hour X 40 hours – $2,400
- This is for Ground and Flight Training
Books, Exams and Ground School
Formal 12 week Ground School Course – $250
FAA Private Pilot Written Exam fee – $150
Books, Charts and Materials – $200
FAA Check Ride fee – $400
Technology, Electronics and Miscellaneous
David Clark H10-13S Stereo Headset (from Amazon) – $325
CX-2 Pathfinder Flight Computer (from Amazon) – $75
Apple iPad Air 128GB (from Amazon) – $500
Anker Astro E7 Power Backup for iPad (from Amazon) – $50
ForeFlight Pro Plus Subscription – 18 Months – $300
Travel to the Airport – $648
- I flew 50 flights during the course of my training, which equates to roughly 80 trips at 15 miles round-trip each to the airport. Here in Cleveland you can expect to get weathered out a little less than half the time, especially when you’re doing your solo flights and your cross wind personal minimums are low. I used the federal mileage rate for my calculations.
Buying My Instructor Beer After Lessons (read free-ish ground school time) – $150
The main reason for writing this article is that when I started researching this process it was difficult to find a true breakdown of the costs as they apply to someone trying to incorporate this type of training into a regular life schedule. Every cost breakdown I found was geared towards an intensive program and left a lot of the actual costs out. Without further adieu, here’s the grand total and breakdown:
How could you cut these expenses?
I think you could get these numbers under 10K. Do I think it would subtract from the experience as a whole? Yeah, probably, but this is what you could do:
- Cut Out Extraneous Flying – I spent close to 5 hours in a 172 with an instructor taking my girlfriend, friends, and family flying. That’s $750 right there. I spent another 3-4 hours just doing something fun with the airplane, flying to an island or checking out and old, abandoned theme park. If I had spent that time doing steep turns, stalls, and landing practice I would have got to the check ride sooner. But hey, if you subtract all of these things you’ll save a $1,000, but it sort of takes the fun out of it.
- Train at an Airport That’s Not Too Busy – If the plane is running you’re paying for both the airplane and the instructor. Why spend that time waiting in line to takeoff? Time spent in your car driving to an airport is considerably cheaper than time spend on the taxiway.
- Drop the Technology – Get a headset on eBay, drop the iPad, battery backup and ForeFlight subscription. You’ve saved $1,000. You do not need any of these things to pass your check ride. However, when you start actually flying you’re going to want them so you might as well learn to use them while you’re training.
- Shorten your training time – This is the big one. I spent 18 months getting this done. If you have the time, the cash, and the natural skills you can get this done in a month or two and cut your total hours down to 40 or 45. That should easily knock $2,000 off your total tab.
And that’s it folks! When it’s all said and done you get to have that special moment that is your first flight as a pilot with passenger: