The most popular question I address with prospective pilots is how much and when? Of course the time and money variables go hand in hand. While difficult to arrive at an exact date and decimal point, pilots control much of their own destiny and we can provide ranges for time and money with reasonable accuracy based on past performance. There’s no getting around the fact that pilot training represents a significant investment and, just like any savvy consumer, you should always make sure that you are receiving good value for the product or service and investigate options for maximizing that value.
Choosing the right school is the first step to maximizing your value during training. Making sure that you are paying commensurate pricing with the rest of the industry and working with professional people (whether an individual instructor or flight school) is always a good place to start your research.
Lowest cost doesn’t mean the best value in training. The expression “you get what you pay for” is often something I have seen with clients from other schools over the years. By contrast, paying the highest price doesn’t ensure quality either. Talking to current students, the chief flight instructor or flight school manager, or other pilots in the area, is often a good way to try to balance some of those factors and get the real story about a flight school.
Once you have set your course on a school, your total cost is now most likely a function of hourly pricing. The cost of the airplane, instructor, and fuel (if using dry airplane pricing) are going to be the bulk of your training expense. Since learning to fly is a different experience for each person, you must realize that the “posted costs” of earning your certificate will most likely vary. What you do and how you prepare for training are the best methods of saving money. Here are some specific pointers and ideas.
- Prepare for each lesson – Coming to each flight or ground lesson prepared and ready to go will save you the most money over all the techniques listed here. Having completed reading or video assignments prior to beginning a new task or topic in your training will allow you to complete the task in less time. Reviewing a procedure manual or checklist is often one of the best ways to save time in the airplane. Spending time on the ground by yourself or with your instructor to review these flight critical items allows you to not waste time in the air discussing them with the engine running.
- Know what’s next – Working from a syllabus or other written training program allows you to stay ahead of the game with your instructor. You can’t come prepared to a lesson if you don’t know what to study in advance. The worst thing you can do for training is to show up to your lesson and ask your instructor “So what are we going to do today?” Keeping your training records up to date is another commonly missed detail for those who are working from a syllabus. Make sure that you also have a copy of your records if your school keeps a copy for their purposes.
- Use a home study course – Having a specific program that helps you study and prepare for both your written exam and the practical flight test is a great way to save a few hours of your training time. These type courses allow you to see rather than read what many of the maneuvers and knowledge areas are about. The Sporty’s Learn to Fly Course incorporates all the knowledge you need for the written, oral and practical exams into one course, making it a great way to save money.
- Train consistently – Ask any instructor, flight school, or research study on the topic and you will find a simple answer; Fly more frequently = spend less on your training. Too much time between lessons allows for memory decay. This decay has to be overcome by reviewing or re-teaching the same items you did on your last flight, which translates to money wasted that could have been spent on learning something new. Although you will be spending money faster this way, your total investment in training will be less. If financial reasons or scheduling prevent you from training at least 2-3 lessons per week, try to “chair fly” at home to review your last flight before you go back for your next lesson and supplement more time with video preparation that will make you feel like you are back in your lesson.
- Communicate issues early – If you feel that your training is not going the way you expected, or you are having a difficulty with a specific area, address these concerns early! Do not wait until you feel like it is hopeless or so frustrating you can’t continue. By talking with your instructor early about the issue or concern, hopefully you can overcome it earlier, saving you money in the long run. Instructors are great at working with their students to get over obstacles in their training, but they aren’t very good at that unless they know there is an issue. Most common issues will be picked up by a quality instructor early, but remember that communication is the only way to make sure you are both on the same page.
Although training costs will always vary student to student, using these techniques will try to maximize your value during training so you don’t waste your money. Enjoy learning!