Learning to fly and obtaining a Private Pilot’s Licence isn’t cheap but you can avoid unnecessary expense with a little forward planning. Flying lesson costs will vary but in the long run the cheaper hourly rate may not be your best option.
In this post I discuss the cost of obtaining a fixed wing Pilot’s Licence for flying light aircraft in the UK. There are two types available; PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence) and LAPL (Light Aircraft Pilot’s Licence).
The LAPL gives the pilot fewer privileges than the PPL so the requirements are less stringent. As a rough guide the cost of a PPL will start at £8,000 and the LAPL will start at £6,000. Costs for other types of aircraft like microlights or helicopters for example, will vary proportionally according to aircraft type.
Flying Lesson Costs
As well as the lessons themselves you will need to add several other smaller sums:
- Flying lessons (CAA minimums plus contingency)
- Student pilot kit (books, maps, navigational computer etc)
- Headset (the school may lend them but for several reasons it’s best to have your own)
- Travel to and from the flight training club or school
- Other training aids e.g. DVDs, apps, software
- Ground school exam fees
- Licence application fee
Minimum Hours and Actual Hours Logged
If you visit the CAA’s website and read the requirements for a PPL(A) you will see that you need minimum of 45 hours of training. This should include a minimum of 25 hours of dual instruction and 10 hours of solo flight. I’ll leave it to the CAA or your flying instructor to explain the finer details.
The keyword here though is minimum. Some people do manage to complete all the requirements at or close to that figure. Will you be able to do so? You will need to factor in a contingency into your budget for extra hours above the minimum requirements.
Continuity of Training
As my previous post illustrates you will save yourself a lot of money if your budget organised and available at the start of your training. If you run out of money the continuity is broken and when you return to training you’ll have to revise and repeat previous exercises.
So plan your finances in such a way that you won’t run out of money at a critical stage. Trust me, there’s nothing more frustrating! As you empty your bank account or reach your credit card limit you realise that you’re about to shelve your logbook just when things are getting interesting.
Flying schools are subject to the same economic forces as any other business, so your flying lesson costs may increase over time due to inflation.
Choosing the right Flight Training School
Flight training costs vary around the UK. You’ll pay more per hour at a club with a shiny fleet of new aircraft and an immaculate club house with all the facilities than you will at a small grass strip with a portakabin as an office.
Things to consider when choosing a flight school
- Proximity. How long will it take you to get there?
- Runway(s). If it’s a grass airfield will it be out of use in very wet weather?
- Facilities. Do the buildings look well maintained?
- Fleet. How many aircraft are there and how old are they?
- Instructors. Talk to a few and ask to be shown around.
- Reputation. Google the school name and read what others are saying about it.
The school that is closest to you might not be the ideal choice. On the other hand you don’t want to travel for an hour more to reach your flight school at short notice if a weather window opens.
Learning to fly abroad
The attractive prospect of learning to fly wherever there are near constant blues skies and uncluttered airspace lures some to book flight training holidays in Florida, South Africa, Australia, or perhaps just across the Channel.
The attractions are obvious and the additional cost of flights accommodation and subsistence may seem a price worth paying, particularly if the hourly rate is favourable.
However, there is another cost that is sometimes overlooked. If you cover most of the syllabus in areas where the weather is often predictably pleasant and the airspace is wide open and free of restrictions how will you cope when you return to the UK?
Will you have the necessary skills and, just as importantly, confidence to make a judgement when the weather is borderline? Will your navigation skills keep you out of Controlled Airspace and Danger Areas?
Some students who return from flight training trips find themselves asking for additional training with a UK flying instructor in order to bring their skills up the standard required in Britain’s comparatively congested airspace.
Perhaps your flying holiday would be better spent hour building after you’ve obtained your PPL. On the other hand, learning to fly in a quiet airstrip in predictable weather might give you the time to learn how to fly the aircraft well and without other distractions.
You are going to be spending thousands of pounds so it’s worth remembering that you are the customer. You may be in awe of the instructors and in particular the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) but they depend on students like you for their livelihood.
If you have any complaints or concerns don’t let them fester. If you feel it’s appropriate go and see the CFI and ask for a quiet chat. Assuming he/she is professionally minded then you will be met with an open mind.
For example, you may find that you don’t get along with your instructor. This is unusual but it does happen. We’re all different personality types and just occasionally we don’t gel with the person sitting next to us for hours on end.
So remembering that it’s your money you’re spending go and address this with the CFI and he or she should offer an alternative. This is likely to save you money because you will learn faster with an instructor who is on your wavelength.
Conclusion and a warning
Like any other commercial establishment running on tight margins and reliant upon a strong economy flight schools can go out of business if mismanaged or if they run out of students. For this reason it’s never a good idea to hand over large amounts of cash upfront. If they tempt you with a discount for a large deposit then perhaps a few hundred pounds might be worth the risk but I would suggest not handing over a thousand or more.
Perhaps things have improved greatly since I was a student pilot so feel free to ignore all my advice! Just remember that you want to go from zero hours to Pilot In Command, so managing the finances is your first lesson in being control.
Feel free to add your comments, suggestions, stories, and other feedback in the comments below.