The answer to the question “How much does it cost to become a pilot?” varies greatly depending on license and aircraft type, location of training, and the duration of the training.
In addition, there are other factors to take into account, including the quality of the flight training and the flight school and the continuity of the learning, or the lack of it.
People assume that recreational flying is far too expensive and that it is the preserve of the wealthy, but that is a misconception. While it is true that the costs involved in obtaining commercial pilot license are much higher than those involved in gaining a sport pilot license, to get a pilot’s license for recreational use is within the reach many of those with enough disposable income.
It’s just a matter of priorities. If you do have disposable income you may choose to spend it on holidays, home improvements, the garden, the latest smartphone, subscriptions to streaming services, eating out, drinking, hobbies etc. In other words, all the things that many people do for enjoyment and entertainment.
If you add up all that expenditure and audit your finances for other ways in which money you could save money for flight training then you may be suprised to discover that you could afford the flight lessons.
This post is written with student pilots in the USA in mind.
To find out what’s involved and what to expect at pilot school, download this free private pilot training syllabus supplied by Rod Machado.
So, how much does it cost to become a pilot?
All aspiring pilots, apart from those who are taught how to fly in the military services, start with a sport pilot certificate or a private pilot certificate.
For sport pilot license you should budget for about $6,000. For a private pilot certificate you should budget for about $10,000.
It’s not easy to put an exact figure on the costs because of the many variables that will affect the final figure. Here are the main reasons some student pilots pay or less for their flight training.
- Location of the flight school. Prices vary at different flight schools. Flight training at small flight school based at a grass airfield in the country will be less expensive than a large one at a busy urban airport.
- Type of aircraft. The hourly rate for a state of the art aircraft will be higher than an older, smaller, more basic trainer.
- Continuity of training. Learning anything new is quicker and easier if you’re able to commit to regular and frequent pilot training then the total time required to be ready for the ultimate flight test at the end of the course.
Flight school students soon learn that there are additional costs involved, other than the flight training costs.
- Medical exam conducted by a licensed aviation medical examiner
- Private pilot ground school books, software, or subscriptions to online ground school
- Instructor fees for any supplemental or additonal flight training required
- Exam fees for the ground school exams
- Exam fee for the practical test at the end of the course
Private Pilot Ground School
All the flight instruction provided by your chosen flight school will include pre and post flight briefings from the flight instructor designed to ensure you derive the most benefit from the flying lesson. The flight school should also provide ground training courses.
However, most student pilots prefer to supplement these training courses with other resources in book form or online. It gives them the freedom to study when and where they like.
The good news is that there is some free private pilot ground school to get you started. This course from the Pilot Institute will give you some valuable knowledge and introduce you to the format of their other courses.
In addition, try this free ground school course presented by Rod Machado. Having tried this one and the one above you can choose the format and provider that appeals to you more.
Eventually though, you will have to start a small collection of ground school and other aviation manuals.
Having become a private pilot there is then the ongoing costs of airplane rental. A private pilot has to fly a minimum amount of hours per year as pilot in command (PIC) in order to maintain currency i.e. keep the private pilot’s license current.
Again, aircraft rental can vary according to location and type. Most flight schools will provide aircraft rental so you can stay with you who you know or choose to rent at other flight training establishments and flying clubs.
Alternatively, a sport pilot license or a private pilot certificate can be maintained by buying a share in an aircraft (group ownership) and paying a monthly fee into an engine fund for when it needs to be overhauled.
This is a common arrangement that enables private pilots to fly more often at a reduced rate. They also have a capital cost invested in the aircraft which can be sold at a later date.
A private pilot license can last a lifetime, or at least as long as the pilot is able to keep renewing the medical certificate.
Instrument Rating Cost
So far we’ve assumed that the private pilot or sport pilot will be flying single engine aircraft under VFR (visual flight rules). A private pilot who wants to extend their privileges and fly under IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) will need to gain the Instrument Rating (IR). This will also be required if they want to eventually become a professional pilot.
To gain an Instrument Rating you need to budget for approximately another $10,000.
This will cover the cost of flight training on instruments under the supervision of certified flight instructor, aircraft rental for hour building under IFR, and the Instrument Rating ground school and knowledge test.
How much does it cost to become a commercial pilot?
To become a commercial pilot who is paid a salary or who earns money as freelance professional pilot on short contracts you need to obtain a commercial pilot license.
There are many commercial pilots who spend their entire aviation career flying in this way, while others use it a stepping stone to becoming airline pilots.
Anyone thinking of a commercial pilot license should start by gaining the required medical certificate. Commercial pilots and airline pilots have to pass a much stricter medical exam in order to gain and keep their commercial license (CPL) or airline transport pilot license (ATPL). The medical certificate is renewed more often the older the pilot becomes.
To gain an commercial license you need to budget for approximately another $40,000.
This will cover the multi engine rating cost, commercial ground school books, additional pilot training and flight hours, and the ground school and knowledge test.
How much does it cost to become an airline pilot?
All the figures provided so far are estimates that can easily be more or less depending on the variables listed above. The cost of an airline transport pilot certificate is the most difficult to estimate because of there are so many more variables.
The cost of becoming an commercial airline pilot can easily exceed $100,000 but it can be achieved for less than that depending how it’s financed.
For example, if you are hired as a commerical pilot by one of the regional airlines you may find that some or all of the training costs are covered by your employer in return for a signed contract that commits you to fly for them for a minimum number of years.
How much does it cost to get a pilot’s license?
In conclusion then, the total costs are these estimates:
- Sport pilot license cost: $6,000
- Private pilot license cost: $10,000
- Instrument rating cost: $10,000
- Commercial pilot license cost: $40,000
- Airline transport pilot license cost: $100,000
Start by speaking to a flight instructor and booking a flight experience introductory flight. Search online for your local flight school and ask to meet some flight instructors. Then get your medical certificate.
To become a pilot is to gain a whole new perspective on life, literally and figuratively. From the moment you see your name on that student pilot certificate things change for the better. If you start young then what begins as a hobby could one day lead to a pilot career.
You may not eventually gain a commercial pilot certificate but you could end up as a flight instructor yourself, teachine new students how to fly, having gone through all the required training to gain a flight instructor certificate.
Many flight schools will offer discounts for paying up front for flight training but be wary of this method. While it can seem like a good deal your money could be lost if the flight school goes out of business.