How Much Does It Cost To Learn To Fly? (Updated for 2023)
Learning to fly a plane is an exciting endeavor. With it comes the joy of flight, a feeling of freedom, learning new skills, and the satisfaction of conquering a new challenge. However, the cost to learn to fly a plane is not insignificant.
The cost can vary widely, depending on the student, the type of instruction chosen, and many other factors. For our purposes, I’m going to use averages and a series of assumptions to provide you with a reasonable estimation.
While your mileage may vary, the cost to learn to fly a plane is approximately $13,000. This is assuming that you earn a Private Pilot Certificate in 60 hours in a modestly equipped aircraft.
Types of Pilot Certificates
When you learn to fly a plane, you can do so by pursuing a number of different types of pilot certificates. These include a Private Pilot Certificate, a Sport Pilot Certificate, and a Commercial Pilot Certificate. There are more but these are the most common.
Commercial Pilot Certificate
A Commercial Pilot Certificate would be appropriate if you choose to pursue a career as a pilot. As you would expect, it takes much more effort and money to earn this type of certificate.
Sport Pilot Certificate
A Sport Pilot Certificate was implemented by the FAA to serve as a more cost-effective option for those that want to learn to fly. Earning a Sport Pilot Certificate only requires roughly half the time and expense of a Private Pilot Certificate.
The trade-off for the lower cost to learn to fly is that the Sport Pilot Certificate limits what you can fly as well as where and when you can fly it. We’ll touch on that another day.
For these reasons, I’m going to focus on the Private Pilot Certificate. This is by far the most common starting point for new pilots and will provide the most useful information.
How Much Does It Cost To Become A Private Pilot?
Since the cost to learn to fly a plane can vary widely, I’m going to use a series of assumptions. The first is that you will be earning a Private Pilot Certificate. I’m also going to assume that you’re an average person that will take the average amount of time to do so (around 60 hours).
Second, I’ll assume that you’ll be renting a modestly equipped aircraft, not the latest and greatest glass panel-equipped cruising machine. Finally, I’m going to exclude unnecessary expenses like purchasing your own headset, a tablet computer, and EFB/flight planning software. More on that later.
|Hours||Hourly Rate||Total Cost|
|Aircraft Rental||60||$ 145.00||$ 8,700.00|
|Instructor (includes flight time and ground school)||40||$ 75.00||$ 3,000.00|
|Books, Course Materials, Charts, etc.||$ 500.00|
|Third-Class Medical Exam||$ 200.00|
|FAA Written Exam||$ 150.00|
|FAA Practical Test (checkride)||$ 600.00|
Again, these numbers are based on broad assumptions. There are so many variables that it’s really not possible to give an “exact” answer. In addition to the many different types of equipment you may use to learn to fly, there’s also the human factor.
Everybody is different. We all have different skill sets and learn at different paces. It’s just not possible to predict how long it will take any one person to earn their pilot certificate. As a result, it makes it extremely difficult to predict the cost to learn to fly a plane.
How much does it cost to rent a plane?
The aircraft is the largest portion of the cost to learn to fly. Since most people don’t buy an airplane to learn in, renting an aircraft is the primary cost.
Though, buying a plane is an option for some, in certain circumstances. Read 11 Tips For Learning To Fly When You’re Broke for more information.
Rental rates for aircraft can vary widely, depending on the type of airplane you choose to train in. When you learn to fly, you can expect to need a plane for about 60 hours of flight time.
Aircraft Rental Types
You can rent a little Cessna 150 for around $100 per hour, wet. (Wet rates are common in aircraft rental and simply mean that fuel and oil are included.) The 150 is a great little training airplane that’s very economical to operate.
On the other end of the spectrum, you could opt to train in a relatively new aircraft with modern, glass-panel avionics. This is certainly a much more exciting option. However, it comes with a price. Renting a newer Diamond DA40, for example, will set you back around $200 per hour.
Most student pilots choose to train in aircraft on the lower end of the spectrum in order to keep the cost down. The most common training aircraft are the venerable Cessna 172 and Piper Cherokee. Either of these airplanes can typically be rented for $125 to $150 per hour.
The FAA requires a minimum of 20 hours of dual instruction (flight time with an instructor). Since most student pilots require more than the minimum, you can expect 25 hours or more with an instructor.
Flight Instructor rates vary depending on the flight school, the experience of the instructor, and the location. Rates can run as low as $50 per hour or as high as $80 per hour.
When you learn to fly, you’ll spend around 2-3 hours of studying and “book learning” for every hour of flight time. There’s a lot to learn. For this reason, many student pilots choose to attend a formal ground school. Generally speaking, ground schools are not terribly expensive and provide a structured learning environment.
Some people learn more effectively with self-study. These folks may choose to study independently and work with their instructors as necessary. There are many online options available as well. One of the most popular (and the one that I used) is offered by Sportys.
Either of these methods is an option. You can discuss it with potential instructors to see which of these works the best for you.
Books, Course Materials, Charts
In the course of your journey of learning to fly, you’ll need to purchase various study and educational materials. Some of these materials include:
- Student Pilot Flight Manual/Textbook
- Federal Aviation Regulations/Airman Information Manual
- Private Pilot Test Prep Books
- Practical Test Standards
- Private Oral Exam Guide
- E6-B flight computer
- Rotating Plotter for flight planning
- Pilot Logbook
- Charts, charts, and more charts
- Pilot Bag (to carry all this stuff)
This is a generic list of things you may need. Pricing for all of this varies widely, depending on what you get. However, you can expect to pay anywhere from $150 all the way up to $500.
You can see prices for various student pilot materials on Amazon by clicking here.
To get a Private Pilot Certificate, you must pass a Third Class Medical Exam. You can check with local physicians to find one that is approved by the FAA to issue your medical examination. Your local flight school can also provide you with a list.
FAA Written Test
When you’re ready, you’ll need to pass both a written and a practical test. The written test must be taken at an approved testing center. The cost of the test is approximately $150.
FAA Practical Test
Finally, it’s time to take your checkride. This is the practical portion of the test, which includes both an interview and a flight test. The practical is conducted by a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE). Again, the cost varies but you can expect to pay approximately $600 for the practical.
There are a number of other expenses that you could easily incur in addition to the ones listed above. These additional expenses, however, are not necessary to learn to fly a plane, so I intentionally excluded them. With that said, they’re worth mentioning.
Many student pilots choose to buy their own headsets for training. This can certainly be a better option than using the “community” headsets that are available when you rent an airplane.
You can spend as little as $100 for a cheap, off-brand headset (not recommended, by the way). On the other hand, you can spend $1,000 or more on the latest top-quality headset with Active Noise Reduction (ANR).
Popular choices include David Clark H10-13.4s on the low end, Lightspeed Sierras in the mid-range, and Bose A-20s or Lightspeed Zulus at the top end.
Electronic Flight Bag
An Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) consists of a tablet computer (iPad or Android) and some form of flight planning/management software such as Foreflight or Garmin Pilot. To connect the software to a reliable data source, you can add an external GPS unit such as the Stratus and the Bad Elf.
Of course, there are many other items that you could invest in. Read What Do Pilots Carry In Their Flight Bags? for a more detailed list.
So, there you have it. Learning to fly can certainly be expensive. However, you can do it fairly inexpensively as well, if you choose to. The important thing is to figure out what works for you and then pursue it accordingly. Now, go fly!