The cost of learning to fly is often found to be the main obstacle standing between aviation enthusiasts and their dream of one day flying an airplane on their own. In this post I hope to shed some light on the topic by sharing the actual cost figures for my initial flying training, from pushing the door of the Redcliffe Aero Club for the first time on March 17th, 2007 to obtaining my Private Pilot Licence 585 days and 76 flight hours later.
The dollars quoted here are Australian dollars. One unit of our national currency is worth 90 US cents and 60 eurocents. The cost of flying training varies considerably between countries, so if you're reading this from overseas any direct conversion of the costs into your local currency won't help you much. As a rule of thumb, flying training in Australia is a bit more expensive than in the US but a lot cheaper than in Europe.
Granted, the figures given below are extracted from a statistical sample of exactly one, but at least these are real figures. Which begs the question, how representative is yours truly of the average student pilot? Let me put it this way: no-one ever referred to me as a problem student (at least not while I was listening) but I was never called a born aviator either.
Some flying skills I acquired rather easily, others took much longer to sink in. I trained in very typical General Aviation aircraft, namely C152s up to GFPT and C172s up to PPL. My training schedule was disturbed many times by spells of bad weather and multi-week business trips overseas. I also had to fit flying lessons within the typical schedule of someone with a full-time job, a partner and a social life. There are a couple of navigation exercises that I had to do twice, either due to weather or because of me busting controlled airspace.
There were also a couple of occasions when I walked back to my car after a flying lesson thinking that flying was not the thing for me after all. Of course each time I came back and of course the next time was great. So all in all I think my experience is fairly representative.
The costs of PPL training can be broken down into five categories:
- Dual hire of the aircraft: you pay for the aircraft and for the instructor sitting next to you in the right seat.
- Solo hire of the aircraft: you pay for aircraft hire only.
- Briefings: that's when you receive one-on-one classroom-style instruction from your instructor, typically before and after each flight.
- Fees: you cannot escape paying fees for your medical, for theoretical exams and flight tests, and for that useless ASIC card.
- Pilot paraphernalia: maps, ERSA, textbooks, protractor, ruler, flight computer, headset, etc.
Total budget is therefore $19,382. It's a lot, but notice that 87% of the budget went directly toward time spent in the air, either solo or under direct instruction. I flew 76 hours in total, i.e. 25 hours more than the 51 hours that are considered as a minimum by the training curriculum of the aero club where I learnt.
Because $19,382 is a scary figure, we'll now talk about it in terms of a monthly flying training budget, since most flying schools follow a pay-as-you-go charging model: you pay if and only if you fly.
In my case the monthly expenses averaged $1000. This is only an average: be prepared for an increase in the cash-burn rate in the final few months though. The last two or three navigation exercises in the PPL are long flights, which can easily add up to more than 10 hours of flying in one month if you're lucky with the weather.
This is why I would recommend saving money before starting training so that you know from the start that you will not have to put flying training on hold because of a cash-flow problem. The more often you fly the less you have to re-learn with each lesson, and therefore the lower the overall number of flight hours required. For example, you could have $10,000 saved beforehand and then set aside $500 each month for flying expenses over 20 months.
In conclusion, learning to fly is expensive. There's no two ways about it.
That being said, I believe anyone whose income allows them some degree of discretionary spending can afford flying training up to the Private Pilot Licence and even beyond, provided they plan their training properly and have their priorities straight in the entertainment and hobbies department.
You may have to cut back on other discretionary expenses, but once you've caught the bug you won't look back. And you will need to free time up anyway, because for the next year or so learning to fly will consume a lot of your free time and spare brain cycles.
You may also want to check with your family and partner that they are in agreement and supportive of your plan. Discuss financial arrangement of course but also the time demand flying training is going to put on your evenings and week-ends. Don't downplay the risk factor either, there are inherent risks with flying and you'd better be upfront about it and use the opportunity to dispel common misconceptions about those little airplanes who keep falling off the sky.
The price tag may be expensive, but the benefits of learning to fly reach far beyond the cockpit. Vincent at Plastic Pilot said it all once: how flying improved my life. I can relate to each and every on the list. The only thing I regret about learning to fly is to not have made the decision years earlier. If you're reading this thinking you may want to give it a go, ring your local aero club and book a trial introductory flight. You'll never regret it.