|By Russ Still
November 28, 2019
We all recognize that flight training, at any level, is expensive. A private pilot certificate could be earned for under $3000 in the 1970s. Today it’s more likely to be in the $10,000 realm. But there are a few things that student pilots can do to dramatically cut their training costs. The problem is that most people don’t bother doing them.
During your training you have the fixed costs of books, gear, ground study programs, and FAA testing fees. The FAA textbooks (Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, and the Airplane Flying Handbook) can be purchased for roughly $15 each in hardcopy. But are you digitally proficient? If so, knock those costs down to zero by downloading these government publications as PDFs from the internet. In the Gold Seal ground school, you’ll find links to the appropriate chapters included in the “Lesson Resources” for each lesson module.
Your bigger expenses will be airplane rental and flight instructor fees. These vary from one flight school to the next, but they remain the bulk of your financial output.
Your initial flight training hours will be “dual”. This means that you will be flying with a flight instructor next to you in the airplane. As the clock ticks by, you will be accruing charges for each hour, both for the airplane and the instructor. After you have soloed, some of your flight hours will be accomplished with only you on board. During these hours you will only pay the hourly rate for the airplane.
We’ve identified the two most important costs in flight training: the airplane rental and instructor fee. These are the expenses you want to minimize. To do that, simply learn faster and spend less time with the meter running. There are three strategies you can employ to do this.
1. Fly Frequently
The more frequently you can fly, the faster you will learn. With less time between lessons, the more you will retain from one lesson to the next. If you can fly three times a week, you will develop your skills with fewer lessons than if, for example, you only fly once a week. When there are long gaps between lessons, more time will be spent in review. This translates into more hours from start to finish and can be significant.
Not everyone has the flexibility to fly multiple times a week. But remain aware that if you can keep the time between lessons short, you will spend less money over the entire course of your training. Considering that you may be paying a total of $200/hour for plane and instructor, if you reduce your total training time by five hours, you just saved $1000! And guess what? You might reduce your hours even more than that by flying more frequently.
2. Do Your Homework
This is one that everyone can do. Study at home and come to your flight lessons prepared. This can result in huge savings.
Imagine that on your next scheduled lesson you’ll be learning steep turns. If you do your homework, you’ll already know altitudes, bank angles, load factor, sight picture, and ACS requirements. You’re ready to start flying the maneuver. Without doing your homework, your instructor will have to spend time spoon-feeding you this information while the meter ticks away.
Do your homework. Come to every lesson prepared. Do this and your instructor will spend less time (and less of your money) teaching you. This can easily mount up into hundreds of dollars of savings. So, it’s your choice. Knowing that you might save $300-$500 (and even more) in overall costs by doing your homework, are you willing to do it?
3. Fly With a Purpose
This is an extension of the "be prepared" idea. It applies to all of your training flights, but most importantly to your solo flights. Plan in advance what you want to accomplish before you fire up the engine. Have clearly defined goals every time you go aloft. Then, stick to your training plan. Accomplish your goals for the flight, then get the airplane back on the ground where it isn't costing you money.
It's wonderful to go check out your house from 2,500 feet and to enjoy the freedom of movement that flying provides. But your overall goal is to earn that Private Pilot certificate without wasting money. Fly with a purpose, stick to your plan, and you will save a substantial amount of cash.