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It's easy to find comments and claims online (including on this site) about the average number of hours that's required for a new US private pilot to pass their checkride. Some are very precise - 67 hours seems popular - but no one appears to have any actual data to support their statements.

This comment is typical:

We aren’t sure that 67 hours is the actual average. You can find as low as 55 and as high as 85 as the national average. A quick Google search found a dozen different answers to the average flight hours. None of the sources seemed authoritative. The FAA doesn’t seem to have a published number.

It's quite surprising (to me) that the average number of hours is so mysterious. Checkride applicants have to report their hours in the IACRA application process anyway, so presumably the FAA has the data. And it would be a very useful piece of information for schools and pilots to have for planning/budgeting purposes. In fact, I would expect part 141 schools in particular to have very detailed records on their students' hours, and perhaps even use them as a marketing tool ("get your private certificate in 10hrs less than the national average!").

But despite all that, there's no official, reliable number that I can find. So, what is the average number of flight hours from zero to passing the checkride?

Details:

  • Number of flight hours required to successfully pass the initial private ASEL checkride
  • Data from reliable sources only, i.e. FAA or a credible third-party study that identifies its sources and methodology
  • FAA private ASEL ab initio candidates only (no add-on ratings)
  • Part 61 and/or 141
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  • $\begingroup$ This should be fairly easy since all PPL candidates have to fill out the same IACRA form that specifically spells out the number of hours training (and types of hours). I'm not sure if they release IACRA data publicly though. @MichaelKjörling I'm not sure they would be statistically different, CFI's are punished if they push applicants through to DPE's that can't pass. The occasional one is OK, but they can have issues if they push too many through that fail, so they tend not to do that until they are 99% sure. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jul 9 '18 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I agree that it should be fairly easy to find the number, however as I mentioned in my question it apparently isn't :-) $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jul 10 '18 at 13:42
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This document from and published by the FAA does include a range although they do not cite their source or where they pulled the data from. It is as official a number as I can find.

One difference between a part 141 school and a part 61 school is that fewer flight hours are required to qualify for a pilot certificate in a part 141 certificated school. The requirement for a private pilot certificate is 40 hours in a part 61 school and 35 hours in a part 141 certificated school. This difference may be insignificant for a private pilot certificate because the national average indicates most pilots require 60 to 75 hours of flight training.

The range most likely varies heavily due to the way people train. I know people who have gotten it in <50 and people who are up around 90 and still have not flown the check ride. It varies largely with how much time you have to train as well as local weather. I was flying once a week (occasionally twice) during my training) and I was somewhere around 63 when I got my ticket.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good find! It's still quite a wide range, but at least it's an FAA source $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jul 10 '18 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Ive added some notes on the range, I think it varies heavily as its quite highly correlated to your abilities to train and how that interacts with your personal life. $\endgroup$ – Dave Jul 10 '18 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Dave Agreed. I'd think you'd need a lot of statistical data to do any realistic and useful analysis. Off the top of my head, you'd need to know who is doing "full time" training, who can afford it upfront, age etc. FWIW, it took me 60 hours over several years which, sadly, involved often repeating lessons to get back to up to speed (I.e., do something, take a break, do the same thing again) $\endgroup$ – Dan Jul 10 '18 at 20:04
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The averages I have found are what you are seeing, in the 65-hour neighborhood. You pose some other questions though, and I agree that the numbers should not be as variable. If you are seeking to obtain your Private license and are trying to cost-out the hours, remember to consider where you are training. All of your hours are counted from the time the engine starts, so if you are operating out of a busy airport with long taxiways and you are mixed-in with heavy commercial traffic, expect your time to be toward the higher end. At a busy airport, there are delays waiting for ground control to let you leave the ramp, delays due to the distance to the departure end of really long runways plus you will need to travel farther from the airport to get into suitably uncongested airspace in which you can perform flight maneuvers (then all the same stuff on the way back, the long flight to your home field, delays, long taxi back to the ramp, etc.) It all depends on what you need the average numbers for. If time and expense are an issue, students are better off at small airports away from busy hubs. If PPL student is moving on to a professional career, it's OK if a lot of your time is spent at busy airports, because even if it takes you more time, you are gaining a lot of valuable lessons by operating in/out of the type of airport in which you will find yourself as a professional (and listening to lots of radio communications and learning from them.) I passed my test on the first try right around the averages you have seen - I was around 65 to 67, fairly busy training airport at a Part 141 school. As a CFII at a Part 61 FBO, I was sending folks up for check rides closer to 50 hours, so 'average' is heavily dependent upon the size/volume of the airport and the instructor's technique and/or preferences (and the average gets larger if you have large gaps of time in your flying as a student). But yes, it is odd that it is difficult to find a single average number of hours.

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