Around the Pattern

Ramblings about flying for fun and profit.

Tag: flight training costs

You Want to Learn to Fly, But… Part 2


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.

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You Want to Learn to Fly. But… Part 1

An informal survey by AOPA on their eBrief newsletter asked individuals why they had quit their flight training before getting their pilot’s licenses.AOPA Flight Training Survey Results. (click for larger view)The results of the survey, shown here, indicate that by a huge margin the biggest barrier to completion is the "Expense of renting and aircraft and receiving instruction."  At about the same time AOPA was contracting with a prominent opinion research firm (APCO Insight) to obtain similar information in a more formal manner.

The results of the formal survey were presented at the AOPA Flight Training Summit during AOPA’s annual meeting, held this year in Los Angeles. This is an excerpt from the information presented during the summit:

The research also made the important distinction that cost was not a statistically significant reason people drop out of training. While cost is a factor, Benson found that value, and a student’s perception of a school’s ability to be fair and honest, were more important. Student pilots are more concerned about getting good value with the money they spend than about the actual dollars and cents amount. They want to know that the flight school and instructors put the students’ interests first and look for ways to minimize cost and maximize the effectiveness of every dollar spent. Factors like flight simulators and well-maintained aircraft that are available to fit the student’s schedule affect this perception. quote source

The two survey results seem to be contradictory unless you assume that the majority of the people queried in the formal poll had the monetary ability to complete training and elected to discontinue the course and to use those funds in a different manner..

Scott Spangler wrote an article in early November about the state of the flight instructor/flight school industry and again in December about what might be done in light of the flight training survey results. As of this writing, his first article has 100 comments and the second has 50. Clearly this survey and its conclusions have hit a nerve.

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