If you've ever dreamed of soaring with the birds, the Earth scrolling beneath your wings, then you might have noted the fairly popular deal we posted on flying lessons last week. Groupon offered a Discovery Flight and Ground Lesson at Pilot Journey for $65, discounted from $130. Although the deal is now expired, we had seen it two months earlier as well. (Remember to set up an email alert to receive notification if we list it again.)
If you're one of our readers who jumped on the deal, you may now have visions of flight school (and maybe Top Gun) dancing through your head. However, this deal is (obviously) meant to whet your appetite; if it does in fact inspire you to follow your dream of becoming a pilot yourself, you'll need to pony up for a handful of pilot-to-be-related expenses. But just how much would it cost you to get your private pilot certificate?
First consider just what type of certificate you want to earn. There are nine licenses issued by the FAA, each with an increasing number of privileges. The first four are probably the most pertinent to those considering taking up flying.
You don't need a student pilot's certificate for your discovery flight, but you will if you decide to pursue pilot training. The student certificate is necessary to fly solo, wherein you'll practice takeoffs, landings, and navigation. To obtain a student certificate, you'll need to pass a physical by an approved Aviation Medical Examiner, which costs $85 to $150.
There are three tiers of physical health requirements for pilots, which become applicable with higher pilot licenses. The student pilot must rank in the bottom tier and have an eyesight of 20/40 or better with correction. Some health issues, such as diabetes controlled with insulin, may require a potential pilot to seek out a waiver by proving compliance with the program.
Sport pilots fly low-speed aircraft that can travel up to 138 mph. Unlike that of more comprehensive certificates, no medical clearance is required to fly an ultralight plane, but sport pilots do need to have a valid driver's license. Pilots with this certificate can fly cross-country, but are not allowed to fly after dark or in many restricted airspaces, and are limited to one passenger.
Pilots with a recreational certificate are allowed to fly within 50 nautical miles of their home airfield, but only during the day, and are restricted from any airspace that is controlled by an air traffic controller, such as around large commercial airports. They may fly only fixed-gear planes with a single engine and carry no more than one passenger.
This is the target certificate for most pilots. In 2010, there were 202,020 licensed private pilots in the United States. Private pilot certificate holders are able to fly cross-country, at night, and in and out of airports with an air traffic control tower. Private pilots can also carry multiple passengers, though they cannot charge for transport.
Of course, the original question was, how much will it cost you to get a pilot's certificate? According to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), lessons commonly cost from $90 to $125 an hour (plane included) depending on where you live and what plane you train on. To obtain a private license you'll have to put in at least 35 to 40 hours in the air, depending on the school you attend. However, the FAA finds that it's more common for those seeking a private certificate to do 60 to 75 hours of air training. Given those figures, flight training alone runs between $5,400 to $9,375. There are also charges for taking tests and for the physical.
This is in line with the estimates from PilotJourney.com of $5,500 to $10,000, total cost, to obtain a private pilot license. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) also estimates the cost in the range of $5,000 to $9,000. With figures like that, PilotJourney.com advises practicing pilots to not pay thousands of dollars upfront for their education because you never know when a company is in financial peril and might go bankrupt before training is finished.
And air training is only part of a pilot's education. There's mandatory ground school attendance where students learn all about air flight, planes, and all the regulations a pilot must follow. To earn a new certificate, students must pass the class's written exam, which can be taken in a classroom setting for a fee (the Wings of Carolina Flying Club, for example, charges $195 plus supplies) or as a computerized course. The Private Pilot Kit from King Courses will set you back a cool $579, while GroundSchool FAA Private Pilot for Windows is only $39.99.
Of course, having obtained a pilot's license at such a cost is only the beginning of your flying expenses. Now comes the decision to rent a plane, or scratch that itch, so to speak. Expect to pay at least $75 per hour for rental, depending on the model. This is the source of the old bromide, "If God had meant us to fly, he'd have given us more money."
If the cost of learning how to fly does not deter you, we hope you get started by checking out PilotJourney's free "Learn to Fly Kit," which includes a video, $5 coupon, and more. The AOPA also offers a great deal of free information here.
Want to enjoy the action without the hassle of flight school and airplane rental? Then you might get a kick out of a flight simulator game, like the popular Flight Simulator X Gold Edition for Windows ($28.26 with free shipping, a low by $2). Your feet will never leave the ground, but perhaps your spirit can still soar (assuming your fat wallet doesn't weigh you down).