Pilot's License

How much does it cost to get a pilot’s license (with plane rental)? Are there different kinds of licenses? What are differences?

The cost of a license varies. It depends on where you live, how much the school charges, how long it takes you to become proficient, which airplane you use, etc.

Around here a Cessna 172 (four-place) rents for about $75/hr. Figure another $25/hr. for the instructor. (Instructor fees will vary.) The FAA requires a minimum of 40 hours (20 dual, and 20 solo) for a Private license. So that’s:

20 hours dual @ $100/hr. = 2,000 20 hours solo @ 75/hr. = $1,500
Total: $3,500

Plus there is the cost of books. Figure a hundred bucks or so. You’ll need to take ground school. You might be able to take a course at your local community college for about $50. Or you can spend a couple-hundred on a DVD course and do self-study. Or you can pay the instructor’s rate for private sessions. In any case, you’ll need to finish ground school. There will be a fee for taking the Written Test.

Once you have finished training and have been “signed off” as being proficient enough to take the flight test, you will need to take your Flight Test. I don’t remember how much it is for airplanes, but my heli rating cost $300 for the Flight Test.

Now, I said that the FAA requires 40 hours of training. In actuality, most people require 50-60 hours. Figure that in to the costs.

There are two basic kinds of licenses you can get: Recreational and Private. I got my Private before there was such a thing as a Recreational certificate, so I really can’t answer many questions about it. You’ll probably want to get a regular Private certificate, as you’ll have fewer limitations.

Hoo boy, there are a bunch of them.
To break it down some, you have to be certified in the category of aircraft you want to fly. The categories are:

-Single engine, Land
-Multi engine, Land
-Single engine, Sea
-Multi engine, Sea
Lighter than air
-Free Balloon
Powered Lift

There are endorsements you get for:
Hi-Performance (more than 200hp)
Complex Aircraft (flaps, retractable gear, and controllable prop)
High Altitude (for pressurized airplanes certified for flight above 25,000 feet)
Conventional landing gear Airplanes with a tailwheel or skid
Type Ratings for specific types of aircraft like 747, 727, etc.(normally turbine or large propeller aircraft)

There are “classes” of pilots:
Recreational 35 hours, Not very common. Limited to one passenger and no night flight, among other things.
Private 40 hours, Probably most common. Lots of people who fly as a hobby have this one. You can fly at night, take several passengers, etc. The main limit is you cannot be compensated for flying.
Instrument Lets you fly in clouds, or low visibility.
Commercial 250 hours, Permits you to fly for compensation/hire.
Certified Flight Instructor Self-explanatory
-Multi engine
Airline Transport Pilot 1500 hours, required to be an airline captain.

So, if you were an airplane private pilot with an instrument rating (not uncommon), your certificate would look like:


Or, if you were a commercial helicopter pilot, with a seaplane rating, it would say something like:


If you are just talking about flying for fun, you will mainly be interested in the Recreational, Private, or maybe the new Sport Pilot ratings.

My Private rating was 43 hours of flight time, of which about 22-25 was dual instruction. That, plus the checkride fee of $250, worked out to be about $4000 or so.

The last statistic I saw from the FAA was that the average pilot was taking about 60 hours of training to get their private license.

Joey G: You have more patience than I. I thought of all of the different combinations that could go into a license and said to myself, “Ah, ta heck wit’ it. Someone else will be by to do that part!” :stuck_out_tongue:

Tell me about it. I started typing before I realized what I was up against. :slight_smile:

The sad part is, I barely even scratched the surface as far as priveleges/limitations are concerned. I started typing stuff about 12500lbs and Part 61 and 141 and thought, “Screw it, he probably doesn’t want all this crap”. :smiley:

IIRC, I got my last Third Class Medical in June of 2000, and paid about $85.

Golfer, you should look for local flight schools in your yellow pages and ask them for an overview of the costs. I’m sure they get that question all the time. Also ask for the name and number of a flight surgeon who can do the medical exam.

Also, look into joining a flying club. Since it’s not a profit-making business you will get cheaper plane rental, and there will probably be several instructors in the group.

They’ll probably tell you, “It depends.” There are places that say, “It will cost this much.” While I have no basis to question the quality of their instruction, I would feel more comfortable with an FBO that did not give a specific amount. People are different, and some will take longer to learn how to fly than others. A reputable FBO will make as sure as they can be that you are safe in the air before allowing you to take your flight exam. An FBO might teach you enough to pass the exam, but will you retain it? A good FBO will do what they can to ensure that you do.

I don’t have much factual information to add, other than times to solo and times to certificate vary heavily from person to person. Looking back over my log book, I had my first solo at around 35 hours and got my license at around 80 hours. Some people solo in as early as 15 or 20 hours and some can take a 100 hours or more to get certificated. Also, I’m estimating I spent around 4 grand to do it, but I never bothered to tally it all up… :slight_smile:

I never bothered to either. It’s money well-spent, and I had such a great time doing all of it that I never felt the desire to come up with a final tally.

The only part I didn’t like was that damn check ride.

While folks can and have done the license in 40 hours for $4,000 or close to it, I usually tell folks to budget for 60-80 hours and $6,000-8,000.

If you look close - that’s an average $100/hour.

Take the time to shop around and do some research. Different flight schools operate differently, have different costs, and flying clubs can save you money. It’s usually recommended that when you start you take a short lesson with more than one instructor to find one you “click” with.

I took longer than average to get my license - but then I had moved from one state to another, taken 8 months off to help care for a dying relative, and otherwise was interrupted. In other words, if your life interferes with your hobby you could take longer and spend more money. I don’t regret doing doing so, but others might.

Don’t get too cheap. There is a certain cost to flying safely. Airplanes are renting for $60-80 and hour, but large urban areas are slightly more expensive. Also, most new trainers, like the Cessna 172 SP, are renting for $90-110 an hour around Chicago. You don’t need a brand new airplane, just a well-maintained one. If the rent is significantly cheaper than the above something likely wrong.

You can do the whole ground school first, or you can ground school and fly at the same time.

You must pass a 3rd class physical before you solo. It’s recommended you take care of that as soon as possible. Look here for more information. There’s plenty of other places to look for info, too.

Thanks everybody. I just started looking into this and was thinking of doing this in the spring or summer.

Hey, everyone seems to have forgotten accutrements!

Books (incl. maps, lists, cardboard flight computer, etc), as mentioned, will be a hundred bucks or so…BUT, that is only the beginning. You can do the ultimate basics, but that probably just won’t do. You will start feeding the ongoing perception that you will be “flying for life.” Therefore you will justify dropping bank on:

Sunglasses: $50 for good mid-priced ones, $100+ for Ray-Ban Aviators
Headset: $200? I bought mine for a bit more 12 years ago.
Legboard: $20
Flashlight: $15-$20
Flightcase: a Samsonite briefcase will work for now, $30
Flight computer: $30-$100
Maps for every area you want to fly to in the next few years: $80+
Gas-checker: $5
Timer and yoke-holder:$20
Leather bomber jacket with the patches and fur collar and that real weathered look: $350
Misc. stuff to help you along: $100-$200

Plus, you will be grabbing food and soda’s from the airport machines/cafe for +237% inflated prices: $5 a trip minimum

And yes, I probably missed a few things.

Have fun, it’s a blast…


Get a decent headset. Nothing like a long cross country to make you wish you had one. I used a cheap borrowed one all through my private, and thought it was okay. But when I started working on my commercial, I splurged and bought a Lightspeed Thirty-3g ANR head set. Ohhhhhhh mannnnnn is this thing nice. Noise is very fatiguing and will wear on you, last thing you need during training.

I got my PPL 2 1/2 years ago, and spent about 7k. I trained in Piper Warriors that rented at about $70/hour, and I ended up logging about 65 hours before my checkride.

The 6-8k estimate is probably pretty sound. Of course, it helps if you fly frequently and get it done in a timely manner.

In my case $485 for non-Rays… no, didn’t buy Serengetis, either. Prescription, donchya know.

Got a nice pair for $160

Don’t use one. As with most things aviation, seem made for 6 foot tall skinny dudes, you know the ones - they actually are the FAA’s “average” 170 lbs. So the darn boards are too long for my upper leg and the straps don’t go all the way around my …>cough<, >cough<… thunderthighs.

Where do you shop, dude? I got three at WalMart - including the one with the nifty red lens - for under $20.

Briefcase? You know, when I got my recent subscription to Time magazine their “premium” was a nifty “overnight” bag that would do nicely… Actually, for the last 7 or 8 years I’ve been using a very nice tie-dye bag I picked up in a artsy-clothes boutique for about $12.

Oh, alright, I did shell out $75 for that…

Well, somebody sure has racked up the cross-country time, ay? Don’t buy 'em until you need 'em.

Yoke-holder? Aren’t those hands? :smiley: [snort, chortle] But seriously, do you need that before you start on an instrument rating?

Or you could go for the ragged blue-jeans and t-shirt look like some of us…

My big ticket item was definitely the ICOM 23A handheld transciever. Not cheap, but I’ve had to use it during radio failure and it also has a built in VOR reciever. Just a tip - practice with the VOR before you need it.

Sure, you can spend a LOT on the paraphenalia and extras. I’d say get picky what you spend the bucks on. There are things you can do on the cheap without consequences. Spend the money where it really counts.

That’s 60-80 hours over how much time? A year? A month? A season? If I were to have my first flying lesson today, when might it be reasonable to expect to be able to fly? (obviously it depends, but are there any estimates…?)

How can you tell a decent flight school from a bad one? Or will it matter?

Are there future costs? (do you need to get re-licensed every year? or once you have a license, is it good forever?)

Amarinth –

The 60-80 training time will typically stretch over a six month to 1 year period. Keeping the training time compact is the best way to do things. In fact, I’d recommend doing ground school (and the written exam) before ever hopping in the plane.

A private license is good forever but your medical needs be renewed every 2 years, if it’s a third class medical. In the state of WA (and most states) there’s a pilot registration that’s $10 annually or some such.

Choosing your training is highly subjective and a lot will rely on your relationship with your instructor. I think that most of us would recommend a school with multiple planes that are well-maintained; multiple instructors. My daughter much prefers working with female instructors; you may prefer retired military pilots; etc.

In Seattle, Wings Aloft is an excellent training center and learning to fly out of Boeing Field is challenging, though you may spend more time waiting for departures than you care to. Regal Air at Paine Field (Everett) is excellent.

Holy crap, there is? I have never heard of that. Anyone else on here have to pay?

Illinois pilots have an annual fee, too - I think it’s $10. Those of us in Indiana do not have such a fee.

And I think Michigan is still making all students undergo a criminal background check - or did AOPA finally get a stay on that? Not sure, so if you’re in Michigan do check on that - or else take lessons in Ohio or Ontario, I guess.

It’s true it’s best to keep training time compact. There are some folks who have earned their license in as little as two weeks calendar time - but don’t expect to. More typicaly is 6 months to a year, although some of us take longer. (I took 5, due to several circumstances beyond my control. I don’t recommend you do that if you can avoid it.)

Some folks are very big on the idea of doing the whole ground school first, but I found the ground school and flight training played off each other nicely - the ground school helped me understand flying, flying helped me understand ground school.

A good flight school doesn’t make promises that can’t be kept - in other words, they don’t guarantee your license in X amount of time for Y amount of money. They’re flexible, within reason. They explain rules and costs up front. They aren’t penny wise and pound foolish (one local bad apple wants all night landings to be done without landing lights because replacement bulbs “cost too much”. This is stupid. Don’t give money to people like this.)

Ideally, you’d want more than one instructor, and more than one airplane. The airplanes don’t have to be new, just well maintained. The upholstry doesn’t have to be perfect, but switches and knobs should work. The paint job may have scratches and dings, but the wings don’t have big honkin’ dents or tons of patches on them. Seatbelts should not be frayed. The interior doesn’t have to be sanitary, but the clutter should be minimal. The landing gear tires should have treads on them.

What sort of trainer you use isn’t as important as your comfort level while sitting inside it. As an example, Cessna 150s are usually less expensive, but anyone 6 foot or taller will be physically uncomfortable in them - they’re just too small. It’s worth it to spend an extra $10-15 an hour for a Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee where there is room for elbows and knees.

A good instructor is someone you feel comfortable with - personality counts. He or she should help you get comfortable the first flight lesson - seat adjustments and so forth, and if you’re short maybe under-the-butt cushions. There should be a pre-flight briefing - “Here’s what we’re going to do today” and and a post-flight briefing - “Here’s what we did, the good, the bad, and the whatever”. While the instructor will need to demonstrate things YOU should be doing the majority of the flying even from the first lesson. There should be a syllabus and structure - “first you learn this, then this, then this…” The instructor should be able to answer your questions in a way that you find understandable. The instructor should NOT belittle you for making mistakes - you are a student, by definition you will make mistakes. A good instructor is also reliable - they’re on time or nearly so, and if they have to cancel they’ll let you know BEFORE you get to the airport if at all possible. In return, be reliable yourself - if you have to cancel call and let the flight school know.

Check out more than one instructor, and more than one school. Your primary training is an investment - so make it a good one.