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.”
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.