The last post talked about how much it costs me to fly my own plane compared to what it cost me when I first bought it.  This time we’ll look at estimates for getting a pilot’s license through a flight school or buying an airplane and using it to get a license.

The Flight School Route

Flight Training Costs

I did some searching for flight training within 40 minutes of my house.  I looked at flight schools using Cessna 172 rentals (new, old, glass and round dial) and Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) . I used search methods that I thought a  prospective flight student might use. The lowest rental rate that I found was a Cessna 150 that had been converted to the tailwheel configuration – going for $99/hour wet (fuel included). That was considerably less than the available glass panel aircraft which were renting in the$120-$180/hr range and about the same price as a Zenith LSA being rented in a nearby town. The cost of the flight instructor varied with the rating sought rather than the aircraft type and was in the $50-$65/hr range.

The flight requirements (FAR 61-109) for a private pilot license specify a minimum of 40 hours total time and minimum amounts of instruction (20 hrs) and solo(10 hrs) flight time. The national average for students getting their Private Pilot’s License (PPL) seems to be more in the 60-80 hour range. The Sport Pilot certificate has fewer training hour requirements (FAR 61.313), specifying a total time of 20 flight hours with a minimum of 15 hours of instruction and 5 hours solo. Sport Pilot training can be accomplished in any aircraft, however the flight evaluation must be accomplished in a Light Sport Aircraft. For that reason, most students elect to receive all of their instruction in the LSA they will use for the check ride.

Adding things up for the PPL, 70 hours of flight time at $100/hr is  $7000. Of those 70 hours,  let’s assume 40 hours of instruction.  (Some schools state that no matter how long it takes you to get your certificate, you will only get the minimum 10 hours of solo time – apparently their insurance rates are better if the flights include an instructor. At $50/hour for the instructor the total becomes $9000. Add in study materials, test costs (computer and flight) and miscellaneous expenses and you can round it up to $10,000. That number compares to a local school’s ‘accelerated training’ program that they list as just under $12,000.

I have not seen any figures on the actual time that it is taking to receive a Sport Pilot License.  If you assume the same relative increase in training times as the PPL when compared to the minimums required by regulation you would expect to end up with 35 hours of flight time and 30 hours of instruction. The bottom line for a Sport Pilot License would then be  around $6000.

The 8 December 2010 AOPA Aviation eBrief newsletter included the results of their poll on the length of time their readers took to obtain their PPL.  The results shown here indicate that 40% of the respondents completed their training in the minimum required time, while 60% took longer.

AOPA Flight Training Time Survey

There is no indication how many people responded to the survey which appeared in their December 6th issue of the newsletter and ran for roughly three days. Nor was there an indication of when the respondents received their training. The flight environment was considerable simpler 20 years ago.

My impression has always been  that you could easily beat flight school costs by buying your own plane and then just ‘renting’ an instructor. So my next step was to see if that was really a viable alternative.