Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Learn to Fly: A Practical Guide

Today, it’s easier than ever to fulfill your dream of flying

Given this knowledge, the next step is gathering information. Aviation can be overwhelming with its various levels of certification, its lingo and the public's perception of it. There's much misinformation about general aviation, and confusion exists about the different avenues for becoming a pilot. Weeding out the good information from the bad is a difficult task in this day of Google searches, aviation blogs and public forums. Here are some basics:

The cost of flying is the elephant in the room. It's the most-often-cited reason why people don't take flying instruction. The bad news is that flying has never been and is never going to be what we could call "cheap," though neither is golf, sailing, traveling or most other hobbies. The good news is that the vast majority of people in aviation are far from wealthy. The secrets to the cost puzzle are setting your priorities, sufficient research and getting creative. For the record, I've never met a person who wanted to learn to fly and couldn't find a way. My mantra is, "There's always a way to fulfill a dream."

The FAA has made it easier by introducing the "sport-pilot" certificate, which cuts costs in half and provides all the sizzle of the private certificate for a lot less money. Sure, there are tradeoffs, but if you want to—need to—learn to fly, the sport-pilot certificate is the place to start. To offer some very general estimates, expect a private certificate to cost you between $8,000 and $10,000, while a sport-pilot certificate can be had for $4,000 to $6,000. Costs will vary depending on four key factors:

1. How often you train: Four times per week is ideal and will end up taking less time overall than if you train one time per week.
2. Location: Small airports in rural areas are less expensive than busy airports in big cities.
3. Aircraft type: A new Cessna 172 or Diamond will cost far more than an older Cessna 150 or small tailwheel aircraft such as a Cessna 140. The aircraft you train in will make the biggest difference in your final costs.
4. Learning speed: Only you can determine how much you'll absorb and how much you retain from lesson to lesson. Everybody learns at a different pace.

Aviation safety is a key consideration for prospective flying students. The most current aviation accident statistics are contained in the 22nd Joseph T. Nall Report, which covers accidents through 2011. According to that report, 2011-2012 was the second-safest year for general aviation in the past 30 years. The last 10 years have shown a steady decline in the number of fatal general aviation accidents, and the years with the fewest accidents have been the last five. In fact, each decade since 1972 has shown dramatic improvements (as high as 27%) in safety over the previous decade. Looking at raw statistics, there were 216 fatal general aviation fixed-wing accidents in 2012, resulting in 333 fatalities. The accident rate is about 6.30 per 100,000 hours of flying.

A comparison we can make is recreational boating. According to the United States Coast Guard, there were 651 deaths from recreational boating accidents in 2012. We can't easily compare the accident rate of the two because the Coast Guard calculates the rate per 100,000 registered vessels, not operational hours. Meanwhile, in 2012, some 33,561 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculates the accident rate based on number of miles, not driving hours or number of vehicles.


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