Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Learning To Fly: All About Priorities

There’s a practical solution to every barrier in aviation

Sport Pilot Vs. Private Pilot

For people who dream about flying but feel blocked by the many barriers of entry (as the industry calls them), the greatest news in aviation history is undoubtedly the FAA's introduction of the sport-pilot certificate.

Announced in 2004 after a great deal of hard work by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the sport-pilot certificate was created by the FAA specifically to make it easier for more people to get into aviation.

The barriers to entry in aviation have always been cost and time. Since general aviation's early days, the private pilot certificate has been the "gateway" certificate ("license" isn't the proper term) for those who want to fly.

Whether somebody wanted to just fly around in a Piper Cub on weekends, or wanted to fly a 747 across the ocean, the first step has always been the same: earn the private certificate first, and advance from there.

The private certificate requires the student pilot to build 40 hours minimum flight time (composed of various sub-categories such as solo hours, night hours, etc.).

Although that 40-hour requirement still stands today, FAA studies show that most pilots are earning their private certificate in an average of 70-75 hours, nationwide. This is mostly due to today's more complex airspace, regulations and cockpit technology.

The following list paints a realistic picture of the private certificate cost:
Aircraft rental @$125/hour (70 hours) = $8,750
Instructor @$40/hour (about 40 hours dual, the rest, solo) = $1,600
Ground time with instructor @$40/hour (20 hours pre- and post-lesson instruction) = $800
Ground school, computerized course or self-study materials = $350
Books, accessories, charts, headset, other materials = $300
Written exam fee = $125
Designated examiner's fee (for checkride) = $300
TOTAL = $12,225

These are what I call "full-disclosure" numbers, typical in most metropolitan areas. You can save money in more rural areas, or by finding an independent instructor. Some FBOs will try to lure students with a basic, 40-hour flight-time cost only, so as not to discourage them from starting.

But studies show that only about 40% of students who start flight training will continue their training to earn their private certificate. Those who quit frequently cite "running out of money" as the reason. If students knew better what the true costs would be, they could prepare accordingly.


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