One of my life goals is to learn how to fly a plane. I can't do it now due to time constraints, but I am curious: How much, in general terms, does it cost to learn how to fly? I.e. piloting lessons, license fees, etc. I would be doing it in the US.

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Assuming a regular private pilot's license (i.e. not sport/recreation), a part 61 instructor, and a rented aircraft, then you need to budget for the following:

  • Aircraft rental (this usually includes oil and fuel)
  • Instructor time (air and ground)
  • Materials (books, DVDs, charts, fuel tester etc.) as recommended by your instructor
  • Headset
  • Third-class medical
  • Insurance
  • Written test fee
  • Examiner's fee for the actual test

If we assume the aircraft costs \$120/hr wet (i.e. including oil and fuel), an instructor costs \$40/hr and you need 50 hours to be ready for the test (40 is the minimum required) then you can do a calculation like this:

  • 35 flying hours with instructor: \$5600
  • 15 flying hours solo: \$1800
  • 15 hours ground school (instructor's time): \$600
  • Materials: \$500
  • Headset: \$500
  • Third-class medical: \$150
  • Renter's insurance: \$700 (per year)
  • Written test fee: \$150
  • DPE test fee: \$400 (plus \$120 rental for the aircraft)
  • Total: \$10,520

You can play around with these numbers, there's a lot of variation and research is obviously important. But the single largest cost will be the number of flying hours you need, so anything you can do to reduce that time is worthwhile and the simplest - but unfortunately not the easiest - way to do it is to fly as much as possible, i.e. several times a week. Given weather and other factors, you should probably even plan to fly more than you actually can on paper: a bunch of flights will certainly be cancelled.

You can also train in the most 'minimal' aircraft you can find: a two-seater aircraft without a glass panel could be \$50/hr cheaper than a four-seater with a G1000. Unless you have a very clear idea about what sort of flying you'll do in the longer term there's no point in paying for anything that isn't directly required for the private pilot's test.

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    I know this is an old post but I'd just like to add that I have non-owned aircraft insurance for \$160/year. The biggest variable to insurance is the amount of coverage you need. My flight school only required $5000 to cover the deductible, if you are insuring the whole aircraft value the cost can be significantly different. – Ron Beyer Mar 3 '16 at 3:43

The minimum required hours of instruction is 40 hours. How many will you need to get the license? That depends on a lot of factors. Very few students are good enough at 40 hours to pass the practical test.

If you can only fly once per week, you will "forget" some of what you learned on the last lesson. "Forget" is in quotes because some of the forgetting is intellectual, and some is forgetting the sight picture and muscle memory of what you should be doing. Bottom line is that if you only fly once per week it will take longer. It took me about 70 hours over a period of about one year, flying once per week with the usual weekends not flying for family obligations and weather. 70 hours was, back then, about the national average.

So multiply 70 hours by your flight school and CFI's combined hourly rate. Then add some for ground schooling.

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    This is a great answer because it was correct 20 years ago, it's correct now, and it's likely to be correct 20 years from now. – Dan Pichelman Jan 6 '14 at 15:54
  • With weather, unscheduled maintenance, family obligations etc, once/week can turn into once/month or worse. If possible, try to plan on 3 or 4 times per week. That way missing one doesn't hurt you so much. – Dan Pichelman Jan 6 '14 at 15:59
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    The number of hours you take will depend a lot on how much time you can devote to flying and studying. I taught for several years at a college where my students were flying at least 4-5 times a week. They probably averaged 40-50 hours before their tests. Outside of college, where my students only flew a couple of times a week, they probably averaged 50-60 hours before their tests. – Shawn Jan 9 '14 at 0:27
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    And a good quality, motivated (and motivating) instructor will make a HUGE difference in both the time it takes you to complete your rating and the quality of the instruction you absorb. A bad CFI will run you off from flying very quickly. Whereas a good one will pass along lessons that you'll remember for the rest of your life. – Shawn Jan 9 '14 at 0:28

StallSpins answer is probably correct, however as you haven't flown a plane before, I suppose you don't know a lot of aircraft terminology (like VFR/IFR) either.

First of all, you should know that there are different types of licenses. The one you want to do is the PPL - a Private Pilot License. In the US this enables you to fly single-engine Planes during the day and the night in so called "VFR-Conditions", meaning that you navigate by matching a map with the terrain below you and fly a course you defined before. Obviously you cannot fly if you cannot see much of the terrain, there are some minimums like visibility in order to fly.

Also you cannot use this license for commercial actions like shipping cargo or transporting persons, if you get more money from it than it actually costs you.

Even though most schools advertise that the PPL costs 6000-9000 USD, this only includes the minimum hours (and I have been told by US flight instructors that it is not possible to actually stay within the minimum hours). I would therefore say it costs at least 10,000 to 14,000 USD, depending on how good you perform.

This is still cheaper than my European PPL, I paid about twice as much for it.

  • May I know in which country you got it ? – Antzi Mar 3 '16 at 11:05
  • I have done my ATPL in Germany and the US – Force Mar 8 '16 at 12:31

I added mine up after I finished, and it came to about \$12,000 over about 18 months.

I didn't push myself to finish as cheaply or quickly as possible.
I think I finished around 55 hours.
(I also flew out of a relatively expensive airport/region)

If cost is a major factor, you can find ways to trim some costs.

Basically, every moment you spend preparing, studying, "chair-flying", and practicing procedures on the ground is a cost that you don't need to incur in the air.

Make sure you have each procedure down solid, know your target airspeeds, altitudes, and courses, then hopefully when you get in the air, you won't have any wasted maneuvers because you forgot to setup properly. Make every moment of actual HOBBS time count towards flying experience, and not for something that could've been covered on the ground, and you can probably trim 25% or more off the cost.

Highly depends on where you go. The big pt 141 school north of me charges \$9,000-12,000. You'll learn in IFR equipped mid-80's model 172's.

Learn with me or my partner, and you'll pay about \$6,000 if you don't waste time. We have a 172C and a 172M. They're not really IFR equipped (they are but not enough for any real IFR flying) but they're well maintained and all that. Without sacrificing safety, we keep our costs to a minimum and that's passed directly on to the student.

The big school has a good part 141 curriculum and great instructors, but the average guy wanting to learn to fly doesn't need a special course or high-tech instruments and other costly devices for training. It's far cheaper to learn with the basics and then transition into that other stuff when you need it. I can promise people they're not missing anything, because I went through a 141 college program and I'm teaching the exact same stuff, almost the same way under part 61.

Anyway, I would say to look at \$6,000-\$10,000, depending on the aircraft and your location.

  • where do you teach? – Max Hodges Apr 20 '15 at 17:41
  • This would be a totally acceptable time to plug your own school! :) – verybadatthis Jan 16 '16 at 20:44
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    I would like to congratulate StallSpin for not promoting his flight school, but simply answering the question based on his knowledge. Though, I would think that it would be OK to state where in the country you are so those in your area who may want to get in touch with you could. – FreeMan Jun 20 '16 at 17:34

I would just like to note that if your dream is just to get up in the sky and fly, there are cheaper options than the "full" PPL. I have no experience with the US LSA license but in Europe there is a similar "ultralight" category that allows you to fly small sporting aircraft with limited MTOW, but thanks to modern materials, most of these newer small planes are very advanced, comparable to bigger airplanes in many ways. Other restrictions include: a limit of only a max. of 1 or 2 persons on board; you can only fly in good weather and during daylight.

I have fulfilled my dream of flying by doing a course for ULL (ultra-light airplanes license) in Europe, which cost me about 3,000 EUR (it's hard to separate all the costs like driving to the airfield, non-essential books etc). As for the American LSA, there are many articles in the internet like this, estimating the costs at around 4,000 to 5,000 USD.

It's important to note that even once you have the license, the costs of flying are still high. But these smaller airplanes are cheaper and have cheaper operating costs (no, you definitely won't save any money, but you'll fly more for the same price).

A very different alternative are also gliders, which bring many people to flying and - once again - if you just want to fly, gliders might be perfectly "enough" (or maybe even better) for you, at a fraction of the price.

And finally - even the training flights are great. I didn't have to "suffer" through the training, I've enjoyed most of the flights, so I wouldn't separate the costs of "before" and "after" strictly.

(My opinion in this answer comes from a strictly free-time for-fun aviation point-of-view. People aiming higher probably won't agree with me.)

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