Ballpark Estimate: $6,000 to $12,000
If you’ve ever flown in a small aircraft, you’ve probably experienced that rush of excitement that comes from being one with nature with just a slim piece of metal to separate you from the sky. The feeling that goes along with flying is one that many people insist just can’t be duplicated through any other hobby. If you share that enthusiasm, then it’s probably worth all of the time commitment, effort and expense to earn your own private pilot’s license.
The Freedom of a Private Pilot’s License
If you have your own private pilot’s license and access to a plane (either one you own, borrow or rent), one of the benefits is of course that you can save time traveling from place to place. A distance that would be about a five hour drive can be spanned in about an hour or two in flight time. (Just keep in mind that you will also need to allow extra time to prep your plane for takeoff and also tie down.) But many people who earn their private pilot’s license don’t do it because they want to take off on the weekends to explore nearby destinations without having to spend as much time in the car. They do it because they love the bird’s eye view you get from a few thousand feet above the ground. You can avoid highway traffic jams (although if you fly at a busy time, you may have to circle a few times before being cleared to land) and can go have lunch a hundred or two miles away and still be home in plenty of time for diner. It’s the freedom of being able to pick up and go, and temporarily leave behind the stress and noise of your life, that appeals to so many who fly.
Who Can Take Lessons
To take private flying lessons, there are some basic requirements you must meet. These include:
- You must be at least 16 years old to fly solo (which is a requirement of the licensing process), and 17 years old to receive a private pilot’s license/certificate.
- You must be able to read, understand, and speak English.
- You must pass a physical examination called a Third Class Aviation Medical Exam. This checkup is given by an FAA-authorized Airman Medical Examiner (AME) to determine primarily if you have any mental or neurological problems or a serious medical condition like chronic heart disease. The cost for this exam is around $90 and is good for 3 years for those under 40 years of age, 2 years if older or a student. You can find the one closest to you by going to www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator.
Selecting a Flight School
If you meet the requirements listed above, then you are ready to start earning your license. The first step is to find a flight school in your area. These are usually located through small private airports as well as in some of the larger commercial airports. You can also do a search online to find the schools in your vicinity. If you call or stop in to the flight school for information, you will want to ask about the time commitment and the cost involved in earning your license. Usually, the training can be worked around your schedule, so you can move through the paces as quickly, or as slowly, as you desire.
Flight Time Requirements
To be able to earn your private pilot’s license, there are some flight time requirements you must fulfill. You will need at least 40 hours of total flying time in combined dual and solo flights, as follows.
Dual Flight Time
20 hours min. of dual-flight with an authorized instructor, which includes at least:
- 3 hours of cross country time in a single-engine airplane.
- 3 hours of flight training on control and maneuvering solely by reference to cockpit instruments.
- 3 hours of night-flying for applicants seeking night flying privileges: including one cross-country flight of over 100 nautical miles total distance with 10 take offs and 10 landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport. If the applicant fails to meet the night flying requirements, he is issued a license bearing the limitation “Night flying prohibited.” This limitation can be removed when the holder shows he has met those requirements.
- 3 hours of flight training in preparation for the practical (FAA flight) test. (Note that this must be taken within 60 days prior to test).
Solo Flight Time
10 hours min. of solo flight in a single-engine aircraft including at least:
- 5 hours of solo cross-country time. One solo cross country flight must be at least 150 nautical miles with full-stop landings at a minimum of three points with one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of at least 50 nautical miles between the take off and landing locations.
- 3 solo takeoffs and landings to a full-stop at an airport with an operating control tower.
The Licensing Process
In addition to achieving a minimum number of practice hours with an instructor, there are some other steps along the way to getting your license that you must fulfill. Here is a rundown of what you must do.
This is a required program of classroom study which encompasses aerodynamics, weather theory, navigation, weather reports, radio communications, FAA regulations, etc. Although it will help you through the FAA written test, its real purpose is to provide you with the knowledge you will need to be a proficient and safe pilot.
When your instructor thinks you’re ready to fly solo, he’ll endorse your log book and student certificate and you’ll be cleared to take off and fly around the local area all by yourself. This is usually a nerve-racking moment, but also a rewarding one at the same time.
The Written Knowledge Test
This two and a half hour test consists of 60 random multiple-choice questions taken from a pool of roughly 700 questions. Acquired knowledge for this test is obtained via the ground instruction school and can be supplemented by home study with DVDs or books. The passing grade is 70 percent and is good for two years. If you haven’t completed the practical test within that time, the knowledge test must be taken again.
The Practical Test
The final step is the flight test, or practical test with the FAA Examiner sitting beside you. The first part is an oral exam which will take from one to two hours. Following this phase, you can taxi your plane to the flight line to begin the flying portion of the exam. You’ll be tested on such things as take offs and landings, airport operations, navigation, slow flight and stalls, instrument maneuvers, emergency procedures, and night operations. At the end of a successful test the examiner will issue you a temporary pilot’s license good for 120 days, enough time until your real license arrived from the FAA’s Oklahoma office.
What It Costs
What it costs to get a pilot’s license involves three main factors that are billed at an hourly rate. These include:
- The hourly rental rate for the airplane (varies)
- The hourly rate for the flight instructor who will be sitting next to you in the cockpit. (approximately $45 per hour)
- The hourly rate for the ground instructor who will prepare you for the FAA written exam. (approximately $45 per hour)
Hourly rental rates for a single-engine aircraft depends on the type of plane you rent. For instance:
- Cessna 152 (older) – $80 to $90
- Cessna 172 (newer) – $125
- Grumman Tiger – $140
- Cessna C172 with glass-canopied cockpit (latest) – $150
- Cirrus SR20 – $150
Other expenses to consider:
- Student pilot kit – $300 (headset, manuals, plotter, logbook, flight planner, etc.)
- FAA medical exam – $90
- FAA written exam – $90
- FAA-Designated Examiners fee – $350 (Practical test or final flight test)
The average amount you can expect to pay for your license is between $6,300 and $11,800, which takes into account your instructor’s fee, the type of plane you rent, and the cost of the accessories and fees associated with the tests.
Just keep in mind that if you are looking at two flight schools and each gives you a different price estimate, you don’t want to base your decision on the costs alone. Since the FAA requires a minimum 40 hour package of dual and solo flight time, some schools will know they can provide you with a cost estimate identifying at least that minimum number of hours. Yet the reality is that the average student will take around 60 to 70 hours. Therefore, when you get a quote, be sure to ask the school how many hours they are estimating and the rental rate of the plane they are quoting in their figure. This will help you to compare apples to apples.
Experts also recommend to keep the costs of getting your license down, you plan to fly the least expensive plane you feel comfortable in, at least two or three times a week. Air time is usually about one hour, with a half hour spent for the pre and post-flight briefings. While you might think it is too expensive to fly this often, keep in mind that the more frequently you fly, the more quickly you will become a competent pilot and the more confident you will get in your abilities. Ultimately, this skill will enable you to move through the licensing process more quickly and will save on the overall number of hours you will need to invest in to get ready for the final licensing exams.
A Final Note
Once you have a private pilot’s license and have successfully passed the night flying portion of the training, you are allowed to operate an aircraft under visual flight rules (VFR). These are a set of aviation regulations under which a pilot may operate an aircraft by visual reference to the environmental outside the cockpit. In other words, pilots flying under VFR assume responsibility for their separation from all other aircraft and are generally not assigned routes or altitudes by air traffic control. Furthermore, there are specific requirements for VFR flight, consisting of minimum visibility, distance from clouds, and altitude to ensure that aircraft operating under VFR can be seen from a far enough distance to ensure safety. For instance, in the U.S., VFR flight in not allowed in airspace beginning at 18,000 feet.