Trim the cost of learning to fly

It has been said that copper wire was invented when two pilots found the same penny. We are a notoriously frugal bunch, due in part, no doubt, to the cost of our passion. But it is possible to cut costs when learning how to fly.

Accelerated learning programs

Stretching out the training process tends to add to the cost of flying because when there is a gap in training you often must back-track to relearn things and regain proficiency. If an accelerated program meshes with your learning style, consider this option. This includes ground school courses.

Taking a 10-week course then taking the appropriate written test gets the written out of the way, and the 24-calendar month “shelf-life” of the written test is a great incentive to finish your training.

Fly at least three times a week if you can. Have a primary instructor, with a back-up standby instructor in case the primary CFI can’t make the flight.

Flying more than three times a week can be counter-productive because you won’t have time to absorb the lessons.

Part 141 vs. Part 61 training

Because of the structured environment, under Part 141 a student can qualify for the private pilot ticket in 35 hours, as opposed to 40 hours under a Part 61 program.

Under Part 61, 50 hours of cross-country time are required for the instrument ticket and a total of 250 hours must be logged for the commercial certificate. Under Part 141, the 50 hours of cross-country experience are waived and the total time to qualify for the commercial certificate is 190 hours.

But fewer hours may not necessarily be the best option, says Greg Brown, the 2000 Flight Instructor of the Year and a well-known author, because — in the long run — the quality of the experience under Part 61 may outweigh the reduced training cost of Part 141.

“Part 141 programs are more restrictive,” he explains. “You have a list of approved airports you are allowed to go to, and you have to be alone in the airplane. Under Part 61, after you have acquired your private pilot ticket you can fly those additional 60 hours and share the cost of the flight with friends and go someplace you want to go. The cost of the flight is less for you and the quality of the command experience is far superior when you are planning your own trips.”

Sport Pilot

The sport pilot ticket requires a minimum of 20 hours of training rather than 35 to 40 for private pilot, which means it is less expensive to acquire. The airmanship skills are the same.

After you have achieved your sport pilot ticket you can build your hours. The challenging part can be finding a Light-Sport Aircraft to train in and a CFI who can fit in the airplane with you, because LSAs are limited to a gross weight of 1,320 pounds.

Use a simulator to practice IFR skills

Time in a Flight Training Device (commonly referred to as a simulator) can help you develop and perfect instrument skills. Although the time in a sim doesn’t count toward total time, a sim is an excellent training device because the instructor can pause the sim and “reposition” the aircraft if need be to help with the learning process.

“Although the time you log in the sim by yourself cannot be logged as dual instruction given or solo flight time, it still benefits the student, because they can practice skills they’ve learned with their instructor and get proficient,” notes Brown.

Combine the commercial and CFI training

If you want a career in aviation, you will likely spend some time working as a flight instructor to build your experience. Brown suggests combing the commercial and CFI training to reduce costs to expedite the transition to the right seat.

“You want to get onto the CFI ticket because once you earn that ticket you can start bringing in money,” he says. “If you learn the commercial maneuvers from the right seat, and take the check-ride from the right seat, you don’t have to relearn the maneuvers from the right seat when you begin your CFI training.”

Brown also suggests taking the commercial pilot, CFI and ground instructor written tests at the same time.

“The tests are almost identical,” he says. “Once you pass the ground instructor test you can start teaching and getting paid, which cuts down the cost of flying.”

Keep up that proficiency

Make flying a priority to keep those hard-earned skills. Consider joining an organization, such as the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Angel Flight or Civil Air Patrol. The CAP is particularly busy with search and rescue training, while you can volunteer to participate in the EAA’s Young Eagles program, which gives first flights to kids between the ages of 8 and 17 to introduce them to aviation.

To keep your knowledge up to par, take part in the FAA’s FAASTeam and Wings events, which offer online and in-person seminars on topics ranging from how to get a good weather briefing to the use of GPS applications.

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  1. says

    Meg, I am glad that someone has pointed out the significance of getting a good flight instructor over the pros and cons of a Part 61 or 141. The fact of the matter is that the national average for the attainment of a Private is 73 hours (on average). As a flight instructor, when I meet with potential Sport Pilot it is important for me to point out that dispite the 20 hour minimum, the syllabus/regulations requires covering 90% of the Private syllabus. The message is that a Sport Pilot will take somewhere in the 60 hour range if the customer, as the article states, flys on a regular basis (2 or 3 times a week).

    Thanks for the great story!

  2. says

    A home simulator can be a good investment also you need a decent computer to run either x-plane or MS Sim X but shouldn’t cost more than $5-600 is you don’t want photo realistic graphics and then I would suggest getting a yoke and pedals ($300-$400 in sim equip). I find that I don’t really need the instrument panel parts and just using the virtual cockpit provides at least the practice of scanning the real panel (you can usually find one that matches the plan you fly). I would suggest getting a radio panel and trim wheel though as its hard to trim out the plane using the keyboard or mouse while setting up landings etc. Mine is a little over kill but I also develop software so its a dual purpose computer. I have three monitors driven off one computer that has two high end video cards. You would be surprised at how accurate the sim is, but don’t use it to develop stick/rudder skills but do use it to develop the habits of checklists and flying by the numbers. Also practice navigation and IRF. The sim is accurate in the middle of the flight envelope but not quite as accurate in stalls, slow flight, and the flare for landing. So you can use it to repeat your flight lessons when you get home.

    But honestly fuel cost and fuel efficiency is the major cost and until we address both aviation will continue to falter. A friend and I were talking about boats a while back, and it got me thinking what are the safety and cost of boating. Well fresh water boating in the US has slightly worst safety over the last 5 years than general aviation there was .03 deaths more per 10000 hours more in boating from the numbers I was able to find. Admittedly many of the accidents was canoes, but hey sail planes are in the GA safety numbers. A nice speed boat approaches 90+k a decent used one is around 10k so cost of entry is less with new Cessna’s approaching 300k and used ones being going for 30-40k, but you can get a pretty nice used plane for what a new boat cost, so unless you are buying a status symbol you can entry both hobbies for around the same cost. If you ignore the training cost. Fuel on a boat is about half as much as flying per hour, and you can do your own wrenching on the boat, this IMHO makes boats more attractive to most people. Where I live it cost 50-60 a month to keep a boat dry at the marina and 35-65 a month to keep a plane tied down at the airport (depending on which one). I’ve not researched boat insurance. Of course you have other expenses with both hobbies but both end up costing about the same in fixed costs. I think boating will in the near future start requiring some sort of training to operate one due to the increased number of accidents.

    BTW from reading on boat safety the large cabin cruiser is the safest type of boat to own, but I think its because you are the largest thing on the lake and may not be the safest for others.

    I’m going off topic here but it surprises me that the media doesn’t harp on the safety of boating they do report the deadly accidents which there have been something like 7 on the lake close to me this year… well no it doesn’t surprise me they don’t focus on boat safety. Boats don’t make the news when they run out of gas, run aground, clip the dock, or forget to put up the propeller when they drive it up on the trailer. But have the smallest scratch in a plane and the news is all over it. As an example there was a plane clip a parked plane with a wing while taxing at slow speed a few weeks ago at a local airport and there was 3 news crews sent out. You could hear the frustration with the guy from the FBO they kept interviewing, but this is the world we live in.

  3. Roger Frechette says

    How true,
    It seems the perception is, that if your an owner/operator of an aviation business in any way you must be wealthy, thus you can/should offer reduced costs to all who are seeking your services.
    That same person will purchase a set of golf clubs to be used twice a year, a motorcycle, boat, for thousands of dollars and sell them in two years or less for lack of use and think nothing of it. They fail to realize that obtaining a pilot rating is an investment unto themselves to be used over and over again just like any other form of valuable education.
    I’m told There are 10,000 (ten Thousand) less pilots on the FAA roles this year then the previous few years. Eight of ten students quit training before they finish obtaining a pilots rating. I hope EAA, AOPA and other aviation groups continue to monitor this downward spiral and find a solution to this unpleasant trend.

  4. says

    Ms. Godlewski; But WHO does the “cost -cutting” benefit – the FBO/flight school?
    The very reason that many, if not all small FBO’s/flight schools fail, is LACK of spending by your average recreational aviation consumer. I have yet to see ANY commentary (here) as to how the recreational pilot (in general) can bring MORE revenue to the noble, and often struggling operator, who is, and may not even know it, “funding” indirectly the so called passion of a minority of; let see how much longer “Mr/Ms. Nice Operator” will help us fuel (pun intended) are love for aviation – shame! NOTE: Pass the plate?

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