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So You Want To Be a Pilot But Not Go Broke? 

If you are thinking about becoming a pilot, right now is a great time to consider such a career. Airlines are facing dramatic pilot shortages and an aging workforce that has a mandatory retirement age. Or, if you want to be a recreational pilot, rule changes by the Federal Aviation Administration have made it easier to get flying. 

In the past, most airline pilots were ex-military pilots with all the training needed for heavy jet airliners. With the recent advent of drone warfare, the number of pilots flying missions has decreased, thus decreasing the pilot population available to the airlines and air services. Transitioning from flying a military aircraft to a civilian airliner or air transport required a small amount of training. 

But one thing hasn’t changed – airplanes and flight training are very expensive. 

There are two main paths to getting a pilot’s license. The first path is via a flight training program operated under Federal Aviation Regulations part 141.  

A part 141 program is a very structured classroom-like program that can take significant time and money to complete the syllabus.  

The other path to a pilot’s certificate is Federal Aviation Regulations part 61. These regulations detail the certification requirements for pilots and instructors. Unlike the part 141 program, instruction under part 61 is most often one-on-one and you progress at your own pace. Instruction is far more individualized and tailored to each student. Flight instruction will cost less as the student is paying the instructor directly.  

The other cost issue to consider is that all pilot’s certificates have minimum flight time requirements. For example, the Private Pilot Certificate requires 40 hours of total flight time and 20 hours of instruction flight time. This time can be in a $30/hour glider, $101/hour Cessna 162 or a $180/hour Cessna 172. To the Federal Aviation Administration, flight time doesn’t matter – flight hours are flight hours and count toward the minimum flight time requirements. 

So, an obvious tactic to not go broke is to minimize your aircraft costs where possible.  

For those of you reading this article who want to become a professional pilot, you will have a lot of minimum flight time to meet. The rating required to fly for an airline is the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate. This rating requires 1,500 hours of flight time. So, saving $100/hour on your aircraft flight time will be a significant savings: $150,000! 

For prospective pilots who just want to go fly and enjoy the amazing sights of Prescott and Arizona from the air, your path also has some ways to save money. A more affordable aircraft can result in savings of nearly $100/hour in cost. If you fly the minimums for a Private Pilot’s Certificate, that’s a $4,000 savings.  

Another way to save money is to evaluate what you want to do as a pilot. Do you want to fly all over the country? Are you interested in pursuing additional certificates and ratings such as the Instrument Rating, Commercial Pilot or Flight Instructor? Do you want to fly at night? In bad weather? 

Depending on your answers to those questions, the Sport Pilot’s Certificate may just be for you. Created in 2007 to encourage more people to get into aviation and flying, the Sport Pilot’s Certificate requires half the training and flight time that a Private Pilot’s Certificate requires: 20 hours total flight time instead of 40 and 10 hours of instruction instead of 20. 

However, there are limits to the Sport Pilot’s Certificate and they are: 

  1. You can only fly a Light Sport Aircraft or LSA – the Cessna 162 is an example of a two-seat LSA. These aircraft are either one-seat aircraft or two-seat aircraft and limited in speed to around 138 mph at sea level. Most LSA aircraft will cruise approximately 118 mph.
  1. You cannot fly at night.
  1. You cannot fly into big airports such as Phoenix Sky Harbor. 

If your flying needs are purely recreational, for example, flying down to Payson for breakfast or seeing the Dells from the air, then a Sport Pilot’s Certificate may be your most affordable way to fly. You just can’t fly bigger or faster aircraft.  

I hope these tactics on saving money will help all prospective pilots reading this article realize that flying is not exclusively for the extraordinarily rich. Done right, anyone can fly and not have to take out a mortgage to do so. QCBN 


By Lance Leighnor

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