How do you pay for flight training

7 min read

Whether for a career, recreation or both, you need a plan


Boeing777For those considering a career as a professional pilot, you’ll be excited to know that Boeing continues to predict strong demand for professional pilots.  Boeing’s highly regarded Pilot and Technician Outlook, updated for 2015, projects that over the next 20 years, the world will require 558,000 new commercial airline pilots.  This forecast represents a 4% increase in pilot demand over its 2014 forecast.  Yes, it’s hard to imagine a more opportune time to embark on an aviation career.

No matter your ultimate aviation goal, whether it recreation, business, career or simply a new adventure, everyone must solo.  The first solo is followed by a variety of certification pathways depending on your ultimate destination.  Each path requires varying levels of investment.

As the adage goes, it takes money to operate an aircraft, and while there are innovative new concepts to help control the rising costs of pilot training (everything from less expensive re-manufactured aircraft to alternative energy sources), we shouldn’t expect dramatic decreases in the costs associated with flying airplanes.  Instead, let’s be realistic about what it’s going to take and make a plan to get there.

Picture1Do your homework.  Research and learn what the real investment will be (in both time and money) to accomplish your pilot training.  The time investment is often overlooked due to the more obvious financial challenges of learning to fly.  But allotting the right amount of time and garnering the support of your personal network of friends, family and other loved ones, will have a profound impact on your monetary investment.

Your continuity of training is of paramount importance in reaching your goals.  At Sporty’s Academy, we recommend at least a two to three day per week commitment to ensure adequate retention and also to allow for proper time in between lessons for preparation.  In short, this is the most efficient utilization of your time and money.

Regarding the dollars and cents, often time perspective pilots mistakenly follow shamefully misleading information regarding costs based on minimum FAA training requirements.  While not impossible, reaching a certification milestone at minimum experience requirements in today’s age of more complicated aircraft with greater capability in more complex airspace, is not likely.  And “minimums” certainly shouldn’t be used for financial planning purposes.

A better method is to base your planning on average training time.  If you’re not able to gather this information from the flight school you are considering, that could be a bad omen.  Also any personal connections you may have with existing pilots who can say with certainty how much time and money it took to accomplish their training would be invaluable.   As a point of reference, averages can range from 50-70 hours for a Private pilot certification.  So let’s discuss steps you can take to get to the low end or below average training time.

LTF_iPadHands-300x300Prepare yourself.  The phrase I like to use with new and perspective flight training customers is to “own your training experience.”   There are numerous resources available to pilots to assist in the training process and lower the time and money to completion.  It’s a matter of understanding what’s available and utilizing the material effectively.  Most impactful will be the use of a complete home-study or distance-learning program as ground school and to complete the FAA written test as well as a flight preparation resource.

While there are differing schools of thought, I support the approach of completing a complete home study course prior to engaging in the in-airplane training phase.  This will not only provide a solid footing and more educated view of the process, but also allow you to complete the FAA written testing component so your 100% attention can be focused on the flight training component.  And I’ve seen this process work well for pilots of all different backgrounds.

Once you’ve completed your home study, the home study doesn’t end.  Consider as a standing homework assignment to always be looking forward in the syllabus and when you come upon a topic to be introduced on the next lesson, attempt to become an expert by referencing your home study course or the various FAA or other online documents related to that topic.  The presence and use of a syllabus (or training course outline) is critical and should not to be compromised.  If you’re unsure of whether you’re following a training outline, of if the instructor or flight school has difficulty in producing its syllabus, this would be yet another red flag.

While referenced above, it’s worth reiterating that maintaining a regular training schedule to ensure effective continuity is imperative to a successful and enjoyable learning experience.  The training industry typically experience high turnover among flight instructors, but a reputable flight school should be able to manage any changes of instructor.  And that is a question you may wish to pose when evaluating training facilities.

Eric-Sean-Airplane1-300x168Paying the bills.  Now that you’ve determined what it will take in terms of time and money, the next step is ensuring the funding is in place to see your training through.  While it’s necessary to have an accurate estimate of what the entire learning experience will cost, keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be paid up front.  Most schools will accept payment as you progress for services rendered.  Be skeptical of any organization requiring fees to be paid ahead of providing the service.

If you don’t have the current means or option to save in order to fund your training out of pocket, consider a financing source.  There could be personal connections through family or friends that would be willing to invest in your success.  There are some flight training institutions that have financing options available directly.  Also consider Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) – the largest pilot association in the world – which also offers financing for flight training through AOPA Finance.

Scholarships are available for pilot training.  If you’re enrolled in a career program through an institution of higher learning, scholarship opportunities are more numerous, but they still exist for everyone.  Once again, I’ll point to AOPA as a potential resource for both a directory of potential scholarship sources and also Future Airline Pilots of American (FAPA) and Women in Aviation International.

A few words of wisdom on scholarship applications:

  • Carefully review scholarship requirements to ensure eligibility before applying
  • Be meticulous in reviewing forms and items that must be submitted with applications and be accurate in your completion
  • Stand out in the crowd – include background, service and experiences that are uniquely you
  • Don’t procrastinate – if required to obtain a letter of reference, start early and don’t expect those who may offer recommendations to be able to deliver a polished letter on a day’s notice
  • Respect the deadlines – deadlines do not mean post marked. Allow enough time for your applications to arrive well ahead of deadlines

flight school1Establish goals and work around obstacles.  A worthy exercise in beginning your journey is take inventory of your goals and priorities.  If you’re like most, you can’t exactly slide pilot training into an already busy schedule so most likely, there will have to be some give and take in life’s commitments.  The inventory will help you identify those activities that can be placed on hold in order to meet your goals.

Establish both short and long-term goals to help maintain your focus.  Your list of goals should be a work in progress.  Make modifications when things progress better than planned and when things don’t go as well as planned.  Everyone will experience a learning plateau. Use task lists, calendars and other support mechanisms to effectively manage your time.  As much as aviation seems like an individualized activity, a network of support can be a major boost.

Austin Crowe - PrivateEnjoy the experience.  Remember, the training experience is only the gateway…a means to the real beginning.  The freedom, adventure and rewards of aviation are just beginning at pilot certification.  For the health of mind and body, take the time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re headed.  Coming to the airport should not always be about the next lesson.  Involve yourself in the aviation community and get to know the pilots around you who can also offer support.  After all, the airport is a fun place to be.