Flying is expensive, but does it have to be?

Lately I have been seeing a lot of angst in the marketplace. Much of it aimed at the unconscionably high cost of flying, and the unattainably high cost of training to earn a pilot’s license.

Let me be honest here. I have all the same economic problems the average aviation nut has. I am not a Lotto winner. There are no DuPonts or Rockefelle’s in my family tree. At least not on a close enough branch that I can guilt them into footing the bill when I fly. So in that respect at least, you and I and that other guy sipping coffee at the FBO are all in pretty much the same boat.

Having established that as our reality, I will stand on rock-solid ground and acknowledge that flight instruction can be very expensive, and flying for pleasure can cost the average Joe Pilot a boatload in rental fees. But I’ll go out on a limb and say emphatically that neither of those things has to be true.

Yes, flying can be affordable. And your neighbor can learn to fly for a reasonably low total cost. Granted, it requires that we think and act somewhat differently than we have in the past, but it’s do-able. So let’s talk about it.

The high cost of pilot training is the result of a simple math problem. It can be expressed as the cost of the airplane per hour, plus the cost of the instructor per hour, times the number of hours required to become proficient. It looks like this: (COA + COI) X NOH = Cost of Flight Training.

Now most of us, myself included, got into this business by acting on an assumption that is not part of that equation. We assumed that it was necessary to rent an airplane in order to learn to fly an airplane. So we did.

For some of us that’s the most expedient way to go. But it’s not the least expensive, and it doesn’t guaranteed us a better, safer, more enjoyable experience. Considering those factors, it’s at least worth considering the possibility that for some of us renting isn’t the best option available to us.

Add to that assumption our second foray into poor consumerism. Most of us walked into a flight school, accepted the instructor assigned to us, and started writing checks to the school (s)he worked for. We didn’t go out and get references. We didn’t make any attempt to find an instructor we liked, or enjoyed working with, or even felt was competent and proficient as a teacher.

In retrospect, we might not have been the sharpest pencil in the box when we were seeking out training. So why do we persist in telling newbies that they should learn to fly the same way we learned to fly? It makes no sense. At least not for the full spectrum of flight students.

Let’s consider an alternative. What if the flight school didn’t require that all students rent the airplane? What if they cut one trainer from the herd and used it to sponsor a flying club? The school could establish a reasonable rate to buy into the club, something on the order of $2,500 or less. Less is better, frankly. They could establish flat rate club dues that cover maintenance, hangar, and administrative costs. $100 a month or less might cover that. The members of the club would then be free to use the airplane for a very low per-hour rate. And they would be able to either take instruction with any one of the approved instructors the flying club identifies, or fly on their own after earning their license.

This model would make flight training relatively inexpensive. It would also remove the existing barrier that flight students face when they complete their training. The big, “What now?” moment that each of them confront when they earn their license and realize they can’t afford to pay $150 an hour often enough to remain current.

Let’s assume 10 pilots are the limit to any one aircraft the club owns. If the club swells past that number, a new airplane could be purchased and the enrollment could grow accordingly. Now what do you suppose a T-Craft would cost to operate if it had 10 owners contributing to the pot? What about a C-150, a Piper Cherokee, a CT, or a Tecnam? Whether it was old an devalued, or new with the benefit of lower direct operating costs, both recreational flying and flight training would be cut down to size — in terms of cost in any case.

Best of all, the club members know that when the leave the club, if they leave the club, they will be refunded their original buy-in fee.

Now that turns the whole shebang on its head, doesn’t it? Flight training automatically gains a social aspect, because student pilots would meet fellow club members who are long-time aviators. Those students would remain regular fliers after earning their tickets, which would make them regular customers for fuel, headsets, charts, plotters, logbooks, T-shirts, cool looking lapel pins, and a slew of other products and services the FBO is selling. The restaurant on the field might see an uptick in business, too.

In all honesty making a shift to this model as an augmentation to the current model that so many of us came into aviation with would open the doors to a segment of the population who currently aren’t spending time at the airport – ever. It’s a step in the right direction, and one that doesn’t require anyone to stop doing what they are doing now. Although to be honest, with the right marketing, and the right customer support, this model might just become a real winner.

It’s at least worth a serious discussion, don’t you think?

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to You can reach him at


  1. says

    Regarding costs of flying (and avgas), it´s quite interesting to think about it from this perspective: how expensive is aviation compared to twenty years ago? The truth is that owning and maintaining a Cessna 172, considering insurance, storage, annual inspections, and fuel pricing, the cost of operating the airplane is within $500 per year with utilization of approximately 55 hours per year. So is this really the problem, or is flying just not worth the money it takes to do so or are there some external factors that are playing a part on why flying is down considerably from 10 years ago?

  2. says

    The only way that flying is going to be both cheap and safe is if we can convince many many more people to do it.  My BMW M3 is way more complex than any single engine aircraft, and uses way more raw material, but because it is based on the 3 series BMW (which sells in the tens of thousands per year) it only costs $70,000 new.  The maintenance on the car runs only about $3,000 per year, which is way less than a similarly complex airplane, because the car was carefully designed to require minimum man hours to maintain.  In contrast look at a Lamborghini Galardo which costs closer to $200,000 and is no more complex, and is actually smaller, than the BMW M3.  The reason for the huge increase in price… the Lamborghini is made in much much smaller numbers, though still several times as many are made as small aircraft from Cessna. 

     Aircraft are made in such tiny numbers that they are all built largely by hand and development costs are spread over tiny numbers of aircraft.  If we could buy 10,000 of a single type of aircraft per year the price could go down to perhaps 1/3 of what we are now paying (assuming the manufacturer designed the aircraft for mass production).  Of course the other big issue with small aircraft is the relatively huge fuel consumption and high cost of the fuel.  If we started buying liquid cooled diesels instead of antique air cooled low compression engines we would burn significantly lower quantities of cheaper fuel (diesels can burn Jet A or auto diesel).  As an aside, many parts of the world no longer have AVGAS and it may disappear even in the US in the foreseeable future.

    Of course this whole issue boils down to a classic tail chase of:  no manufacturer is going to take the risk of mass producing an aircraft unless they know there will be buyers, part suppliers aren’t going to set up mass production for avionics, engines, and all the other parts needed unless they know they can sell them, and there aren’t going to be enough buyers until the cost of buying goes low enough to make ownership realistic.  Eclipse Jet ended up in exactly this situation with the Eclipse 500.  They had endless parts shortages that limited the number of planes they could build, which ended up making the price of the plane jump from under $1,000,000 to over $2,000,000.  If they could have sold the 2,000 airplanes per year that they wanted build, the price would have stayed affordable. 

    So let’s convince everyone we know to go out and get a license and start buying planes, even if they can’t afford them, eventually the price will come down enough that we will all be able to afford to own and fly planes.

  3. Buzzypeterson says

    Clubs are not a good idea,  i’m sorry,  do the math on it and unless you fly the hell out of a club plane good luck with seeing your money back.  The thing to do is to find someone that has a plane that will help you..  believe it or not there are tons of folks who will do it that have planes that need to be flown.  Or buy yourself a Cessna 150.  Nothing bigger..  just a 150.. and don’t kid yourself thinking that your going to buy a good old taildragger because while your working on it the guy in the next hanger will pull out his dorky looking 150 and fly 50 hours to your 1.  

    The only other option would be what one of my friends did,  head to green sky adventures and get your rating at a fixed price in a matter of a couple weeks from someone that does only that.  Although the neighborhood FBO is a great place…  I would skip them..  even an FBO that claims to have licensed 40 students like I visited isn’t very impressive when you find out that it’s the states designated pilot testing examiner and they consider it “licensing” a student to give them a checkride…  these people are smooth thieves watch out for your wallet folks. 

    • Venus Savage says

      Pre-1980s 172s with a O320 D2G are a better choice than a 150. Annuals and 100 hour inspections cost the same on either aircraft, fuel burn isn’t that much more, and 172s have enough useful load and room for today’s larger flight instruction student.

  4. Buzzypeterson says

    Clubs are not a good idea,  i’m sorry,  do the math on it and unless you fly the hell out of a club plane good luck with seeing your money back.  The thing to do is to find someone that has a plane that will help you..  believe it or not there are tons of folks who will do it that have planes that need to be flown.  Or buy yourself a Cessna 150.  Nothing bigger..  just a 150.. and don’t kid yourself thinking that your going to buy a good old taildragger because while your working on it the guy in the next hanger will pull out his dorky looking 150 and fly 50 hours to your 1.  

    The only other option would be what one of my friends did,  head to green sky adventures and get your rating at a fixed price in a matter of a couple weeks from someone that does only that.  Although the neighborhood FBO is a great place…  I would skip them..  even an FBO that claims to have licensed 40 students like I visited isn’t very impressive when you find out that it’s the states designated pilot testing examiner and they consider it “licensing” a student to give them a checkride…  these people are smooth thieves watch out for your wallet folks. 

    • Brucs Johnson says

      If you forget the clubs, the next best thing is hire a plane at a FBO and the going rate for s
      C150 is still pretty expensive. Then a CFI has to be added to the mix and there goes your budget.
      Only the wealthy can afford to learn how to fly. Regular working stiffs, stay on the ground, so far t is cheaper but not nearly as fun!

  5. Bev says

    At our airfield there is a aircraft that is owned by a loose “club” as you suggest. Although it is not specifically for learning on, (it is a tail dragger) it is a way to fly for much less. The buy in is $7-8,000 for each of 12 owners, which you do get back when you sell. Monthly $150, hourly $65 dry.  The key is an airtight agreement, with all the details spelled out, and knowledgeable volunteers to take care of the maintenance and insurance etc. 

    The other alternative to renting is to buy your airplane before you start, perhaps with a friend or two or three or four. Years ago, I purchased a Cherokee 140, and then learned to fly on it. The $4,000 or so of rental fees I would have paid went towards owning my own plane. In 1996 I paid $24,000 for that plane and sold it for $38,000 6 or 7 years later and upgraded to an Arrow–probably the most useful, best bang for your buck around. Only the Mooney beats it on MPG.

    So if you want to know how to fly cheaply, just ask me–I am an accountant!

      • says

        If you have to ask “how much it is* – you really CAN’T aford it”!
        Just kidding, Frank!
        Buy a “time machine* that can transport you back to 1946 – the cost of a “private” would be about $400!
        NOTE: Cap cost of time machine not included!

  6. says

    And you want to know why so many FBO’s, flight schools are not profitable or out of business – you “cheap skakes” don’t patronize them! Perhaps a large “Hobbs Meter” in the pliots lounge would be the answer! Is there anyone OTHER then those who refuse to pay the “admission to the show” (FBO’s, flight school owners,etc) who might comment on this?

    The problem IS and will REMAIN for the “recreational” (small) FBO flight school, that until they start catering to those aviation consumers who can AFFORD and are WILLING to pay for services rendered, their facility will become nothing more than a social gathering home for discontent “children”!

    • Venus Savage says

      You’ve got that right. And all the social club members not only don’t fly, but may scare off potential customers with their “seasoned pilot” routines.

  7. Sigmund Sort says

    ?The Parksville-Qualicum Aero Club already does this and it does work… somewhat… for now. There are still tussles over who gets the aeroplane when and for how long. The club has most of the same rules as the flying schools on “minimums” which everyone seems to chase. It really isn’t much different from renting from the local flying school who has seen a down-tick in business, and the restaurant is NOT any busier for it. The money in the pool did not grow, it only shifted from one spot on the airfield to another. The overall trend is GA is dying mostly because it is sooo expensive.

    The “scheme”, as we’ve dubbed it, is only slowing the rate at which we see total collapse, but make no mistake it continues to deteriorate appreciably.

    Flying schools continue to pedal “the dream” of flying for a living, but those days are gone.
    Most pilots are struggling and cannot afford a car let alone start a family. Just check out the parking lot at LAX! That, my friend, is spreading like a bad cancer throughout North America.

    Aviation for a living is in a death spiral as is GA. Enjoy the last moments if you can afford to.

    Realistically yours,

    • Joanne McCracken says

      I agree. Cost has always been high. But now at over $200 per hour, it’s beyond the reach of must people.

  8. victor says

    Bob, that’s fantastic and a great way for several people to get their license! While the loss of an aircraft is unfortunate, you guys arre proof that good insurae is vital, as is a sound plan for training. That’s a win win for both the new pilots and the cfi, who got to log a lot of hours, stay proficient in their training skills and have a group of committed students. Best plan I’ve heard so far, and may just use that in the future!! Thanks fr the valuable comment!

  9. Luigi says

    The Flying Club model is not a new venture. I have been a member for some time and really don’t see the benefit. As a certified Pilot, I don’t have the time to fly every day and sometimes a couple months go by and I don’t even get to fly. That being said, all I’m doing is throwing money away for benefits I can’t take advantage of.

    Insurance and Gas are the 2 main factors impacting GA negatively.

    If gas prices come down and Insurance Companies were able to offer better rates, I think GA would pick-up again. Otherwise prospects will continue playing Flight Sim rather than doing the real thing!

  10. Bob Higgins says

    Years ago, four of us formed a non profit corporation and bought a 10 year old 172 – then gave a flight instructor an equal share in return for teaching the rest of how to fly it! As it turned out, the night before I was to take my private pilot checkride the aircraft was destroyed in its tiedown spot in a violent thunderstorm at the airport. After the insurance paid us what we had paid for the plane, I could calculate that earning my private pilot license cost me under $500. We replaced that aircraft with a 150 for training and a 182 for general use – and enjoyed flying!

  11. CFII Dave says

    Ditto for the comment on getting the FAA knowledge test done before flying. I personally require it before solo at the very latest but, earlier is even better for minimizing flight training time. The FAA PTS is the same for all PPL candidates and that is an excellent guideline for training. One could go so far as to virtually use it as a syllabus. That’s what you’ll be tested on so, make sure your CFI integrates it with Scenario Based Flight Training and you’ll be well on your way to the PPL in the fastest ways possible.

    Avoid the time building CFIs who think they’re on their way to the airlines, unless you’re sharp enough to call them when you think they may be bluffing you on your lack of ability. For instance, if you’re doing stall recoveries and you have performed the entire task repeatedly to PTS numbers, then you are ready to move on. You will BOTH know, because the numbers can be read off the instrument panel and they’re either within limits or they’re not. If the numbers are within PTS and the CFI doesn’t want to move on, demand a phase check by any other CFI, even in another flight instruction organization, to prove your competence. This could be neccessary during any given phase of training, or near the end to prove the student is ready for the PPL final flight test.

    At any time a new CFI phase check may be done, consider it highly valuable to your overall training. It preps the flight student for flying with someone OTHER than the CFI that they’ve become accustomed to, which of course ultimately they must do for most PPL flight tests.

    I’ve fully enjoyed flying with all kinds of students. The minimal hours to proficency type students are increasingly rare but, they are out there if they are willing to drive themselves to high speed excellence. Plan on sweating for that, because as soon as you learn one skill another will be asked of you until the final test is over. Others students are fine with me too as they don’t want that pressure in a liesure time activity. So for them, why not take 50% longer and enjoy more varied training grounds, more airports, even different aircraft? Like they say, money can provide for a more pleasant form of misery!

  12. says

    I would agree with Larry about the use of a simulator such as the Redbird. There is little discussion of the massive benefits regarding savings in BOTH time to get a PPL and the reduced expense. Almost every maneuver should be done in the simulator first. If, for example, you are learning the traffic pattern, you can fly it 10 times in an hour versus one or two in the plane. Freezing the moment and talking about issues plus practicing it in a short period of time will have a huge impact.

    Flight schools should be incorporating an efficient fleet management strategy, professional flight instructors who are focused on the students and a good AATD simulator in all levels of training, regardless of how much time can be logged for a given license or rating. It WILL save some money.

  13. victor says

    Three a day??? No wonder you were overwhelmed!! There has to be a limit to the “fly often” moniker. One lesson a day followed by one hour of ground school should be plenty for a 24 hour period, any cfi that thinks three lessons in a day is okay needs to have their ticket pulled. There has to be a sanity check in both the. Pilot and the instructor as to what’s acceptable. You can overdo any good thing.

  14. Mark C says

    I’m a member of a club owning and flying an Aeronca Champ, and I agree that it’s a great way to help make flying affordable. And with the low operational cost of a Champ w/an autogas STC, we can afford to get a lot of hours. I’m looking at forming a club or partnership for an aircraft that’s more appropriate as a “goin’ places” airplane. However, it’s important to remember that airplanes are expensive to maintain, and fuel is ridiculous and probably will stay so. Shared ownership helps spread the cost of hangar rent, annuals, and maintenance, but with more people putting more hours on an airplane, there is more maintenance needed, also. Our club doesn’t charge for the airplane wet, rather, we pay an hourly rate for the plane and pay for fuel used. This simplifies things when someone goes on a x-c and has to buy fuel at another airport, and better lets everyone know what dollars are going where in their flying.

    I have to disagree with Victor on becoming a full-time student to get your license. I tried that, I took a week of vacation and scheduled 3 lessons a day in a Champ hoping to have my Sport ticket at the end. It turned out to be too much, too fast, and I did not get to the checkride by the end of 22 hours of instruction. I’m now taking lessons twice a week in a C152 and find the time between lessons lets me better absorb what I’ve learned and think about questions and goals for the next lesson. I expect to be signed off for my checkride with another 25 hours or less, although once I get signed off to solo the Champ, I may get several more hours in just for fun. I bought a computer-based ground school course, FAR/AIM, and downloaded other study materials from the FAA website. With a couple sectionals, a couple A/FD’s, and a medical, I’ll have less than $6000 invested by the time I get my license. Self motivation and initiative will save a lot of money in training, but you can’t teach those, and many of those who drop out of flight training probably aren’t well suited to being pilots in the first place.

    One thing which really got me questioning my desire for a PPL was the FAA and their ridiculous medical requirements. I bit the bullet and spent $600 on the bifocals they say I have to wear to fly, I will take a MFT to prove that people with lazy eyes can be safe and competent pilots (like 10,000 before me, how much proof do they need), and I’ll continue to fork over $200 every two years for what amounts to a physical half as thorough as my regular annual physical costing less than $100, but I can see how a lot of less determined people would walk away.

  15. says

    In defense of CFIs, of whom I am definitely not one, I do sympathize with the majority who are not on a salary; they only get paid when they instruct. Weather turns bad or plane goes down for maintenance even though they drove to the airport? Too bad. No fly, no pay, etc.

    I flew with a CFI out of SMO late last year (airspace familiarization), poor guy was nearly starving to death trying to raise two kids as a CFI, his regional airlines job having gone away in the recession. I tried to fly with him again two months later, he’d just taken a job back in IT (his former career) and I think he had decided that his vocational passion was going to have to be sacrificed for the sake of his marriage and his kids.

    Thinking more about it, I don’t know a single CFI who is making more than a subsistence wage, or less. The CFIs I know who do it full-time and who are still smiling are married to spouses who can pay the bills with separate, decent salaries.

    My point? You barely pay someone at an hourly rate and give them bills and you have a strong disincentive to provide efficient training. Again, not sitting in judgment, just pointing out what I see as another major problem with the current training regimes. (Of course, I don’t see anybody offering to put CFIs on salary. Who is going to pay those costs? Students, of course! Through higher hourly rates!!! Vicious circle.)

  16. Ken Wisemqn says

    this is the exact formula I used back in 1992 to instruct students less expensively then as well. It works!

  17. Robert Haas says

    CFIs are charging way more than they are worth or flight schools are charging way too much for an instructor. The vast majority are biding their time, filling a seat and not caring too much about how much a student is spending. They have more to gain monetarily and, more importantly, in flight time by “training” a student for as long as possible. You need to be a wise consumer here and ask the questions, “what is your average student’s flight time at certification?” and, “What is your first time pass rate?”
    Students can save the most money by doing three things – 1) Study. Study until you can’t study any longer, then do many, MANY hours of chair flying. You do not need to pay for a fancy simulator (many provide negative training, to be discussed in another forum). 2) Do not fly 1 hour or pay for any training until you have taken the FAA knowledge test for the certificate you are going for. Instructors and flight schools love ground training. It is low to no risk, and low to no overhead. If you have the knowledge test completed, they are afforded less room in subjectively judging your knowledge. It also helps to know the Airplane Flying Handbook very well and to have planned a few cross country flights before you even look for a place to do your flying. 3) Once you start flying, do not stop. Fly every day. If they are charging you for WX CNXs, you chose some real hose bags to train with.
    If you can afford the up front cost, purchase an aircraft. Put it up for sale right away, if you don’t want to keep it. By the time you are done, through CPL/Instrument, it will sell for almost what you paid for it. It should only have 250-300 hours more time on it than when you bought it. You will recoup everything except fuel, insurance (6 months), incidental maintenance, and tie-down. If you want to press ahead, instruct independently while you are waiting to sell it.

    • Venus Savage says

      You are completely incorrect about CFIs making too much. I hope I never have to fly with someone like you, with attitute.

      Actually, no worries; I simply won’t!

  18. Ted K says

    CFII Dave is close to the mark. The cheapest way to learn to fly is to fly often. My daughter suffered through a eight months of poor airplane availability in order to get her Sport Pilot ticket. Without her strong dedication, she likely would have been one of the majority of students that just give up in frustration. FBOs should limit their students to those who will commit to fly often and the FBO and student should commit to schedules. Knowing that you have the airplane every Saturday from 8-10 is a strong motivator. Having to fight a gaggle of other students to schedule the limited aircraft is a recipe for frustration.

  19. says

    Aviation should be as much a social activity as it is technical. Unfortunately, it seldom is. The persons doing the flying ( the students, the regular pilots, the instructors, the frequent passengers, the husbands, the wives, the children of pilots, etc.) are all in this together and the more we fly, the better it is for all of the community. Airplanes are not an excellent investment in themselves for the average user. They share this quality with sailboats, motorboats, motor homes, travel trailers, recreational vehicles and any other commodity that is used infrequently.

    The less these commodities are used the higher their cost per hour of use. This comes from many of the fixed costs associated with their ownership. (Cost of acquisition,hangar rent or tie down space, annual inspections for condition and repair, erosion through non-use, yearly cost of insurance rather than hourly cost, financial depreciation, etc.) This in addition to the variable costs.(Fuel, oil, routine repairs to airframes, engines and installed equipment, etc. ) Without high usage of the asset, hourly costs grow beyond reason. Other non-financial costs are lost piloting abilities, loss of interest in the rules and regulations, loss of interest and joy in flying, less companionship with kindred spirits, less mentoring of the following generation, less sharing of our lives in a positive way.

    The more we fly for business and pleasure the more sustainable the lifestyle. As the numbers dwindle the less real everything seems. Airplanes become even more expensive, fuel and consumables are more expensive, there are less persons to share the expenses of the activity. We must reestablish the community feeling at the airports or even the airports will cease to exist.

    An unknown pilot is said to have done an informal survey of the number of persons disembarking from each airplane which landed at the airports he visited over a period of years. It is reported that, other than instructional flights which required two persons, the average number of persons on an airplane was below 1.2 although each airplane had two or more seats. Where has comradeship and teamwork gone? Why not take a non flying member of the community on each flight that it becomes possible? We may soon need their support to keep the airport viable. An active flying club would seem to make a lot of sense for economic and personal reasons..

  20. Robert Larson says

    As a member of the Wings of Carolina Flying Club ( I’m a part owner of our 11 aircraft (and we’re shopping for #12 if anyone has a C172 they’re looking to sell). We have several C152, C172, 3 Warriors and 2 Mooneys. Instruction is at a very reasonable (I think) $25 per hour. Now if we could just get gas prices to come down this hobby might really be affordable. The clubs rates are for two key factors. First, there’s no profit motive. Everything is done “at cost”. Second, as owners of the fleet we do a lot of our own maintenance and take care of the aircraft well. We have weekly Maintenance Nights where we learn from our A&P how to do basic preventive maintenance (spark plugs, grease the hinges, air in the tires, change the oil, etc.) This gets us more familiar with the aircraft than I imagine we would at a typical flight school. This is the only way I know to train (I’m practicing for my Private check ride now), but I wouldn’t want to do it any other way

  21. Paul says

    Simulators are a way to go for cheaper training.
    However, flying costs just too much. Just compare airplane and car interiors.
    SR20 with 10 year old KIA-style economy car interior costs almost $200 to rent. Want something nicer? What about $300 and more for SR22? Anything affordable ( < $150) is real crap. C150? It is a joke. Good for training and enthusiasts but it is worse than smallest italian car from 1950s. Small, ugly and really really spouse unfriendly.

  22. says

    I would really like to see the syllabus. A Pvt. license in 40 hrs., and two lessons /week? That is absolutely ridiculous. All the required, and on top of that proficiency ! I’ve had ONE in 20 yrs+ of flight instruction given. Possible, but not the norm by a long shot.

  23. Jay says

    For me it comes down to the mission, operating costs, hours flown each year. I own an airplane that I fly over 100 hours each year. It’s hangared, insured and maintained by an A&P. It burns 4 gallons per hour ( Aeronca). My total operating costs each year per hour range from $49 to $61 (fuel costs and hours flown each year being the variables).

    Now the plane only flys at 91MPH so that can be a problem for some and it it’s only a two place, again a problem for some. But, in my case, ownership is less expensive than a club. If I ever drop down to flying hours that drive the per hour rate to something around $100.00 I may have to rethink my position.

  24. Skyangel says

    I’ve belonged to a flying club in Salem, Oregon since 2000. There are 3 clubs on McNary field. SALEM PILOTS ASSOCIATION has 30 members and two aircraft – a 180 hp Cessna 172 and a Grumman Cheetah. Both have GNS480 GPS from our neighbor Garmin across the field (4 Garmin employees are members). Our club costs $600 nonrefundable to join, $32.50 per month fixed costs plus one hour minimum flight time – currently $70 wet for either aircraft. Scheduling is via a club webiste at Our aircraft are better kept than your average rental as everyone has a stake in keeping “our” airplanes in good shape. We have a miximum of 2 students at a time who are expected to become certificated within 18 months of joining. It’s the best deal out there as I have 29 other people (one is my husband) who share the costs of operating these aircraft which I couldn’t afford to own on my own. This club was formed in 1952 with 4 members and a Cessna 140 and has continuously operated since. I highly recommend flying clubs if you want an economical flying choice.

  25. says

    So I think I might have spotted another factor. As I and many other have pointed out, the costs per se don’t really change much whether you have a club or rent from an FBO. (If you matched equipment, maintenance schedules etc. the costs are remarkably close, surely? As I said before, all you’ve eliminated is the FBO profit.) Isn’t a flying club, then, much like an insurance policy – many club members are actually, in effect, subsidizing the flying of the handful of more active members? I’m not passing judgment, just trying to understand how a flying club can be factors cheaper than an FBO, not just a small percentage cheaper.

    Two other points about flight training specifically: 1. sims – YES!!!! Huge potential savings. And possibly reduced accident stats from VFR flight into IMC; encourage students to get additional training above and beyond FAA minimum reqs. 2. Better lesson planning, from students and CFIs. Know what you’re going to do before you go, execute the plan, minimize the “junk” flying. (Put another way, if you ever find yourself straight and level and you’re not cross-checking the two VORs or doing some other exercise, you ain’t maximizin’ yer time!)

  26. CFII Dave says

    After teaching flight for over 15 years I can tell you as a CFII that people do get their PPL in 40 hours at 2 lessons per week. They are sharp students, pay attention all the time, and do ALL their homework before the next lesson. Most students simply are not that disiplined and that’s OK but, they shouldn’t whine about the increased cost they incur to get the same PPL because of their own limitations or choices.

    Flying clubs are nothing new in keeping costs as low as possible. Alternate Air, in Seattle has been a no frills club since the mid-1990s and has the lowest rates I’ve ever seen at a big city airport (KBFI). And don’t forget that new students can give airplanes more than their fair share of pounding and associated higher maintenance costs.

  27. Andrew says

    The airfield by me offers a rental club with a one-time (non-refundable) $400 fee, and a monthly fee of $45. Joining knocks $13 off the DA20 (the least expensive trainer offered), and $7 off instruction.
    For flying only twice a week, though, that $400 hurdle and monthly $45 is a bit hard to take. The $45 is worth it for doing at least 3 lessons a month, but the $400 takes a while to “pay for itself”. And I’m not even figuring in ground, supplies, or any lessons being cancelled due to weather.
    For someone working pay out of pocket for training, a flying club doesn’t make the flight training cost all that much easier of a financial pill to swallow. =/ I could see how it would help if someone happened to already have a large chunk of their training cost in their bank account already, but those flying paycheck to paycheck won’t see much benefit, imo.

    I’m wonder if what you’re talking about is something a bit different than a rental club, more along the lines of a shared ownership deal, or a sort of co-op. With the rental clubs I’ve see at airports here, you have your choice of a handful of aircraft, and there’s no limit to the number who can join.
    Maybe 10-15 people to a single aircraft IS less expensive… I’d have to see it happen here in person and crunch some numbers to tell.
    Do you think someplace already offering a rental club would be open to that sort of shared ownership alongside it?

  28. says

    Yes, yes, yes, all’s well and good. BUT, none of you really put down on paper the real doller costs, did you. General Aviation flying IS NOT for the average middle class person or even family. True, flying clubs can cost less. True, flying 30, 40 year old aircraft cost less. And true, flying off country airports — away from the people — can costs less.
    If private flying clubs were the answer, none of you would have need to voice your views. If flying clubs were the answer, then there would be flying clubs at every and all airfields: Private, Public, Military, and commerical.

    To make the point, the cost of general aviation by for the average middle class person or even family is out of reach for 90% of the people. Else, why is it that general aviation airports are not busy during the week, for the most part.

    To make the point, the cost of general aviation aircraft are even out of reach for 90% of FBO’s. Else, why don’t FBO’s have new aircraft.

    To make my last point, the cost for FBO’s is out or reach for most FBO’s. Else, why are there so many substandard FBO’s.

    Yes, yes, yes, all’s well and good. BUT, none of you really put down on paper the real doller costs, did you ?

  29. says

    As Victor has mentioned already, the costs are spread but it’s not made cheap. If you consider that the rented aircraft goes for a rate that covers depreciation, maintenance, gas/oil and profit for the FBO, all the club actually achieves is elimination of the profit component. CFI rates are usually not easy to change, either. So the net result is cheaper flying, but not cheap flying.

    I fly out of an FBO with a large, diverse fleet, which is why I would choose to be a member of this “club” before more traditional shared ownership clubs with 10+ members. Aerobatic machines tend to be owned by four or fewer people, for a host of reasons. Still, the club model is always worth considering and everyone’s situation is different.

    Another alternative to renting and club membership is “plane pooling” – fly with friends and split the costs. Again, there will be issues (liability, insurance, maintenance, etc.) but it’s another piece of the puzzle.

    In my view, until the cost of driving the prop around goes down by an order of magnitude, and until the capital cost of planes as well as their upkeep goes down by a factor of two, flying will remain expensive and therefore elusive to many. (Weren’t LSAs supposed to be cheap to buy and fly….?)

  30. says

    I belong to the Engineers Flying Club in Oklahoma City, OK and I just got my private ticket about three months ago. It took me about a year and a half to finish it and I agree with Victor that the longer you take, the more it costs. It took me longer because I am older (early 50’s) and because I fly as a hobby and want it to be fun, not a chore. But even at that, I know I saved at least 30% total cost by flying the club airplanes and using the club instructors. But more importantly to me, the educational aspect of being a club member is priceless! We have members in our club with tens of thousands of hours and the advice and education I have received from them just by attending the club meetings is a benefit that I don’t think you can get for ANY price anywhere else. The club has two 172’s and a 182 (all IFR equipped), 45 members maximum, $500 non-refundable to join, $125 per month, $34-44 per hour dry and fuel onsite at a discounted price. If you live in the Oklahoma City area and are interested, check it out at KPWA or Thanks, Jamie for a great article!

  31. says

    I learned to fly gliders in Europe, and the experience was pretty much the one you foresee. Buying into the club did not require a capital investment (as the club was well-established and large). What flying clubs here and there require, though, is volunteer power. Clubs do minor repairs and maintenance, they take care of their airfield, their ground vehicles, their management and accounting. Instructors in the UK and Germany are usually volunteers. Members must be willing to chip in – you never just show up and fly with your instructor for an hour on your way home from the office. Second, keep capital cost in mind. While fairly low, it’s part of the equation. The big benefits aren’t merely financial. They’re social, as you state.

    Perhaps those Cessna and Schleicher pilots can learn from each other. Check out the SSA website for a club nearby. I’m sure they’ll welcome you for a trial flight.

  32. says

    It is undeniably expensive to fly a small airplane, and the costs rarely lead to much profit from renting their aircraft. Fuel, maintenance and insurance have all gone through the roof int he past ten years, and the trend does not appear to be reversing itself.

    We have been working on another training model to lower the total cost for a certificate. It involves our full motion Redbird simulator. While we cannot replace the hours required be the FAA to be flown in an airplane, we can make those hours much more efficient by training first in the simulator.

    We typically see a student pilot taking upwards of 60 hours of flight time in an airplane before they go for their check ride. Many of those hours are inefficient in terms of training, going back and forth to practice areas and resetting the aircraft for a given maneuver. The sim allows us to reset the flight to any point on earth or in time instantly, thereby making the training hour more concentrated on actual flight training, by halving the time for the actual flight in the sim for the same amount of instruction. Add to this the price of the sim at about half the price of the airplane and the result is almost quadrupling the effectiveness
    of a dollar spent on a flight lesson.

    The simulator can be a very effective tool in producing skilled pilots at a lower cost. Just ask the airlines how much of their training is done in simulators instead of an airplane. They are way ahead of us when it comes to economic efficiency and training efficacy.

    After a pilot has his or her certificate, we can continue utilizing simulators for advanced training and currency. It is a gift that keeps on giving.

  33. Pete says

    From my own experiance, I would venture to say that a significant portion of Part 61 training occurs in the way described above. When I first started training, I priced out the difference between signing on with a smaller Part 141 school, traveling to another airport for a school that sponsored both 61 and 141, and finally joining a private flight club that had instructors associated with it. The flight club came out ahead, by far, and the intro flight with the instructor solidified it. I’ve never heard of a flight club established by a school or specifically for training, but I have known seen several that have a large student population.

  34. says

    I think the flying club is definitely the way to go for some. I am currently preparing for my PPL checkride after joining the Wings of Carolina Flying Club about a year ago. We have a number of planes in the club fleet. When I joined, I deposited $600 for the piper warrior i would be flying. The monthly dues are $60 and I “rent” (really, Im a fractional owner of the club planes) the warriors for about $100/hour (thanks to fuel prices that jumped to almost $6/gal). I fly when I can and it doesnt cost me an arm and a leg for it. All maintenance is covered by the “rental” costs and most maintenance is performed by our director of maintenance (who hold A&P/IA/CFII, etc.) There are a number of club members that are flight instructors, training from PPL to commercial and multi-engine ratings, and they are paid directly by the student…no taking a slice of the pie like a typical operation. The club has stringent SOPs and everyone keeps a safety first mentality that helps keep insurance costs down. This year, the club will be celebrating its 50th this year on June 18th.

  35. Daniel Wisehart says

    Good idea, Mike, but I wonder if you have tried it out with your own airplane? I have tried something like it, and the costs to keep the airplane flying are a lot higher than what you expect at first blush. I will say that if the hourly rate for the airplane is a dry rate that the members understand and then they directly pay the fuel and oil costs, they feel better even if they pay the same amount. Also, if you e-mail the members to show how much money the club took in and what the insurance, tie-down and maintenance costs were each month, they may feel a bit depressed by it but they understand why the airplanes are as expensive to rent as they are.

  36. Kent Misegades says

    Another good article, Jamie. One of the secrets to Europe’s vibrant sport aviation community (far from dead as some would have you believe, and source of most new LSA designs) are countless flying clubs. Many own their own airfields (no user fees!) that include maintenance shops, flight instruction, a club house, even sleeping quarters for weeklong summer vacation flying bivouacs. Most have a cafe where the public can watch operations on weekends and have an adult beverage, with their kids enjoying a nearby playground, petting zoo or even swimming pool. Glider clubs have benefited from the increased power of Rotax-equipped towplanes that double as training and cross-country airplanes when the soaring season is over. It makes little sense, really, to buy an expensive airplane only to park it for most of the year in a hangar. One expects other investments to “work” when not being used, that’s what a club can do.

  37. says

    Way to go, Mike. I’m so encouraged to know that some folks are using real initiative and creativity to sway the price variable in their favor, whether for training or for recreational flying after earning the ticket.

    Go ahead and crow a bit. If you’re a member of a flying club that is cutting costs for your members, let the world know. Post your club name and location right here.

    Why not spread the word. The more successful these clubs become, the more common they’ll be.

  38. Victor says

    I would agree that the club format of your story does seem to work well, but there are other factors at play that aren’t mentioned. When a club chooses to use an older aircraft for ther flight training you are saddled with the upkeep costs – and the congruent downtime associated with that upkeep – that any older airframe will undoubtably have.

    at $95 per hour, the owner of the airplane I train in is making ZERO dollars at the end of the month. So, you take the $95 per hour of flying, the $35 per hour for an instructor… the truth is, no matter how you slice it, it’s an expensive endeavour.

    The best way to keep students in training is to help manage their expectations ahead of time. Telling a person that they can get their Private license in 40 hours isn’t realistic these days unless they are willing to fly EVERY DAY.You can’t get ready for a checkride in 40 hours flying for an hour or two twice a week. It simply can’t be done. No one can become proficient enough to pass a checkride in 40 hours spread out over that time period, at any cost (not to mention ground school).

    The truth is, in order to make getting your license afforable means you have to be willing to make getting it a priority. Studying books at home or with a group of prospective pilots is great and time well spent, but you have to have your fligt time scheduled closer together than once or twice a week. When I got my PPL, I flew 5 days a week and did ground school 5 days a week. I got my license at 42 hours, but getting my licenses was my fullt time job. I know everyone can’t do this. I understand that. I was very lucky that I was able to go through flight school as a pure student. No side job, no family to take care of etc. I lived in dorms, I flew… thats it. It was also back in 1993. I am in a different situation now and feeling the angst of the “twice a week-er”

    I am now working on my commercial and flying about twice a week simply because thats all the time the instructor I am using has available. It’s going to take me THREE TIMES the amount of flight time to become proficient because we spend so much time getting BACK up to speed from the flight that happened 5 days ago.

    The answer isn’t solely to make the cost of flying lower (although it does need to be mitigated), the answer is to ensure that prospective pilot knows that his time investment is key to keep his cost down. I would much rather spend $5,000 – $8,000 over 2-3 weeks to get my Private license than to spend $10,000 – $15,000 over the course of a year to do the same, but spacing those flight lessons out.

    Making it cheaper isn’t the holy grail of more pilots. How often they fly can be the biggest money saver of all. Encourage your students to fly MORE OFTEN, not just MORE. It’s hard enough to remain PROFICIENT flying once or twice a week, much less get ready for a checkride. And we’re just talking about a VFR private ticket. Not Instrument, not Multi Engine.

  39. Douglas says

    Club membership is the way to go.
    I am the president of a flying club in eastern Ohio. We fly a Cessna 150M Commuter.
    We charge $250 to join (non-refundable) and $80/month which includes insurance and 1 hour of hobbs time. Each additional hour is $60 wet. Our insurance company limits each plane to 15 members.
    You’re right. It doesn’t get any cheaper than that!

  40. Mike Ferrigno says

    You hit the nail on the head. I belong to a club that has recently produced three pilots, one retired and two in high school that joined the club, got their instructors approved and got their tickets in a relatively short period of time. We have about 35 active members for two 180hp 172Ns. Costs: $1000 to join (500 back if you leave), $50 per month.and $85 per hour. We recently raised the rates $10 cause of fuel costs. We would like to have 50 members so we will be advertising for that in avaition periodicals. The local planes for rent can’t touch this.

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