Your Flight Training …

By now, you’ve surely discovered that shopping for flight training is a daunting task.  You’ve likely heard confusing phrases, abbreviations and numbers … 61, 141, FBOs, Flying Clubs, FAA Certified, High-Wing, Low-Wing, Glass … not to mention costs from $4,000 – $20,000 and time frames from 10 days to a few years.  The sheer confusion is enough to make you re-think fulfilling your life dreams.  Granted, Pilot Training Solutions will help you get the written exam behind you, but what about the other facets of your education?

Don’t give up!  And you don’t have to do it yourself because we want to help.  Let us take a few minutes of your time to go through the basics of flight training and prepare you for what you’re going to hear as you shop around.  Hopefully, after some basic information, you’ll be better equipped to gather enough information to make your flight training decision.

We’re going to start at the beginning.  If you’re like most people, then the two most basic things that you want to get answered are “How Long” and “How Much”.  Everything else either contributes to these factors or is unimportant at this point.  You can’t answer one without the other.  That being said, the answers to those two questions can be involved and likely not answered with a single word or phrase – they shouldn’t be!  Flight Training should be as unique as you are, so it stands to reason that there is no such thing as a “program in a can”.  The answers to these questions involve education and perceptions that will help you as you continue the search for your flight school.

How Long?
How long does the process of becoming a pilot take?  How many lessons and flight hours will be required and necessary for me to earn my wings?  Ask yourself this: how long does a tank of gas last?  Of course, it varies … how big is the tank, how quickly does your car burn fuel, what kind of gas, city or highway, is the air conditioning on … etc.  Ambiguity aside, there are some basic numbers that we can start with.

Every pilot is required to log a minimum of 40 hours of total flight time before becoming certified.  This is the most honest and only 100% correct number; a minimum of 40 hours of total time.  This further breaks down into different lessons and tasks, but for our purposes, let’s stick with 40 hours of time in the airplane.  What is going to influence this number?  A lot! 

•FYI – That number hasn’t changed in over 60 years, but aviation has changed dramatically!

•Flight Time – How often are you going to train?  How much flight time will you be flying per lesson?  Think of reading a book one paragraph per week, once a month.  It could take you years to read a Dr. Suess book!  Each time you start reading again, you likely have to re-read the last few pages to remember where you left off.

•Ground School – Before chemistry lab, there’s a discussion, assigned reading and a review of how not to blow up the lab!  Aviation is the same.  Plan on having homework assignments, study time and a review with your instructor before getting into the plane – estimate at least around 30 – 45 minutes per flight lesson, if you and your instructor are well-prepared.  Ground School conducted in the plane means more flight hours and more lessons required for completion.  Keep in mind that this is different than preparing for the written exam.  Remember that passing the FAA Knowledge Test has little to do with becoming a pilot, but it’s a step that needs to be considered.  Programs like Pilot Training Solutions’ written prep courses are designed for the purpose of getting the written out of the way expeditiously and relatively pain free.

•Structure and Organization – Can you imagine someone trying to build a house without a blue print?  It can be done, but it will take more time and more money.  Flight Training is no different.  Your flight training program should feel organized and premeditated.  Your school or instructors should have a syllabus or outline they are using to teach you how to fly … after all, even Airline Pilots use checklists to remind them of what they need to do.  An organized plan or course syllabus allows both you and your instructors to know what’s next and to plan accordingly.  Your instructors should recommend a textbook or manual with which to study from as well.

•How do you learn – Can you stay focused and attentive for 6 hours a day?  Can you afford to train 6 hours a day?  If the answer is no, then don’t schedule yourself to train 6 hours a day.  On the other end of the spectrum, there is so much involved in a normal flight lesson – like ground school, preparing the aircraft, leaving the airport area then the same after your lesson – that planning a one-hour lesson will probably only give you 15 – 20 minutes of education per lesson.  If you’re going to schedule a lesson and learn to fly, devote realistic and un-interrupted time to do it.  If you learn slower than others … if it takes you longer than some to learn concepts and tasks, then aviation is no different!  Don’t expect to complete your training in the minimum hours.  At the same time, don’t get discouraged … you are capable of learning to fly.

Now that we’ve looked at some of the time factors, let’s answer your question of “How Long”.  If you plan a 3 hour lesson with your flight school twice a week, you may receive roughly 2 hours of flying time and 30 minutes of ground school per lesson.  If we use the minimum of 40 hours of flying time, that means 10 dedicated weeks of training before you finish your course.  It can obviously go faster with a more aggressive training schedule.  You would be an exemplary student if you were to complete your program with 40 hours of flying time and 10 hours of ground instruction; the national average to receive your private license is around 70 hours, so plan for more than just the minimum.  Don’t forget to study, complete assignments and be prepared to ask questions so you understand how the flight for that day’s lesson will go.  And plan ahead when you begin your training!  There’s a lot of education that you can acquire and things you can do prior to taking your first flight.  Passing the FAA Knowledge Test is one of them.

Keep in mind that the less frequently you train, the more time you will spend re-acquainting yourself with the airplane and the basics of flying – the longer you will take.        

How Much?
Some schools and instructors will talk about hourly rates, some will talk about program costs, some will talk about the cost per stage or phase of training.  Sifting through the semantics, aviation is almost always billed per unit of instruction.  The more education you need, the more it will cost you.  There are usually separate costs for each aspect of flight training – ground instruction, time in the airplane, simulator hours, etc.  That being said, keep in mind that you are not really interested in how much it costs to fly an airplane for an hour; you want to know how much it costs to become a pilot!  Consider the following:

•You Get Exactly What You Pay For – The cheapest flight training out there is just that, as is the most expensive flight training.  Do you really want to fly the cheapest 2000 pound piece of machinery (that defies gravity) seated next to the most inexpensive teacher in the area?  

•What do you want to pay for – Some schools and instructors include more in the per unit rate than just the training.  Does the cost of training include insurance or maintenance?  If not, what is the additional cost for those things?  (You want your aircraft insured and maintained, right?)  Do you want a huge building with heated hangars and an enormous staff of people at your disposal?  A study hall room with dedicated computers and TVs to utilize?  Then your program cost is going to reflect it.  Do you want to train much more casually or in an informal atmosphere?  Then your program cost is going to reflect it.

•What else do I need to pay for – Don’t forget about books, testing and exam fees, flight supplies, fuel surcharges and any other fees or costs – ask your school or instructors about them.  Make sure to examine several options.  For example, passing the FAA knowledge test can be accomplished through the use of evening or weekend ground schools that can cost from $300 – $600, plus the cost of materials and tests.  “Study at your own pace” courses can save you money, but often take more time.  Pilot Training Solutions written prep courses are designed to be presented in a ground school instructional format in a fraction of the time and cost.  This course can shave a lot off of the cost of materials and education required – an average of $2000.    

Now that you have some dollar figures and you’ve decided what elements are important to you, do the math!  Excel spreadsheets work great here.  Take what you came up with for the duration of your training program and multiply it out by the appropriate rates – don’t forget the incidentals!  This is the estimated cost of your training as you have figured it out.  Add a fudge factor in there – remember that you’re going to be new at this.

Food for thought … the cost of learning to fly is more than just the training.  What will you do once you’re certified?  Are you going to frame your license and put it on the wall or are you going to fly?  Whether you’re renting, joining a flying club or buying an airplane, those costs need to be factored in to your total flight training investment.

In a vacuum … independent of each other … all of the numbers mean nothing.  What if I told you my hourly rate was $3500 … would you pick me?  Probably not.  However, what if I told you that you only pay for the first hour?  J   When all is said and done,
“how much” + “how long” = what it will take to become a pilot.


Other Information
•What is Part 141– Part 141 is FAA Approved Training … what does that mean?  Is everything that’s not approved illegal?  Of course not.  FAA Approved Part 141 is a flight school accreditation and it was originally created to accommodate veterans utilizing their VA benefits for flight training.  It means that the school has presented an organized curriculum and teaching practices to the FAA for their approval.  If approved, the FAA identifies that the school has agreed to more organized teaching techniques, has higher published standards and expectations for their instructors and, hence, is awarded by being able to shave 5 hours of solo aircraft training off of their minimums.  It also means that the FAA will be inspecting that schools facility very regularly to insure compliance.  Knowing that the FAA can show up unannounced to look at their documentation and training programs usually means that the school pays meticulous attention to their training paperwork.

•Considering all of that, a flight school that is not FAA Approved – a Part 61 School – isn’t necessarily not doing all of these things; they just aren’t doing the paperwork that proves it.  There are many very organized and structured programs out there not FAA Approved.  And to be honest, there are some FAA Approved programs that are not very practical or organized in their approach.  The moral of the story: unless you need to use VA Benefits to pay for your training, the difference between 141 and 61 is 80.  (141-61=80)  It’s a joke, people. J  It doesn’t matter whether your training course is approved or not – is it organized?  When talking to and touring flight schools, get a feel for the organization, the structure and the flexibility of the course – your feelings usually won’t lie.

•Glass Cockpit or Steam Gauge– “Glass Cockpit” is a term that refers to Technologically Advanced Aircraft: planes that have more computer screens than dials.  “Steam Gauge” is a slang term for aircraft that still have analog dials and gauges used to fly and control the aircraft.  As a rule, glass cockpit aircraft are newer and usually more expensive than their dated counterparts.  At some point in your flying future, you will fly both; if a career in aviation is what you’re after, you will very likely be flying a glass cockpit aircraft.  The question is what do you want to learn in? Fans of the older steam gauge aircraft will say that learning with all of the bells and whistles of a glass cockpit makes you a complacent pilot, depending more on the toys than the flying basics, but that can be said of any piece of technology in aviation.  I could argue that having a radio in your airplane and having an Air Traffic Controller monitoring your position on radar to help you avoid traffic does the same thing.  Charles Lindbergh would argue that not having a window in the roof of your plane enabling you to navigate by the stars is a bad idea.  Depending on any one thing to fly the airplane for you is a bad practice – you should always be the person in control of the aircraft, regardless of what toys are assisting you.   

•Those who fly the glass cockpit aircraft make the argument that, with the proper training, a glass cockpit actually makes you more aware of your aviation surroundings, due to features like XM radio weather, in-flight traffic information systems that show you where the other airplanes, and synthetic vision that can show you your terrain while you’re flying at night and in lower visibility conditions.  The glass cockpit has been the standard in corporate and commercial aviation for years and it’s good enough for them; why not for General Aviation?  As GA “hand flies” our aircraft more of the time, there shouldn’t be a significant difference in how our flying habits are more susceptible to complacency and reliance on the equipment – I would venture to guess that the opposite is true.  Pilots have always had to adjust their skills to advances in technology and there is nothing unique about the glass cockpit advancements.  I will say that all the features and benefits of glass cockpits squish a whole lot of information on a relatively small TV screen, and it can present an “information overload” scenario.  I would also say that initially, it is much easier to go from a steam gauge cockpit to a glass cockpit than it is to go from a glass cockpit to a steam gauge cockpit.

•Final Answer?  Entirely up to you.  Do you want leather or cloth interior?  GPS or not?  Paper or Plastic?  There is not one that will give you an unfair advantage over the other and it’s got to be what you want.  If you have an iPhone, an iPad, a digital watch, voice activated lights in your house and your car’s BlueTooth configured to work with your cell phone and car’s GPS, I would say you’re a glass cockpit kind of person.  If you have a rotary phone and don’t own a computer, I would say steam gauges are the way to go.  If you’re somewhere in between, I can’t help you. J  There are far more important factors to consider when picking your flight school.

•High-Wing vs. Low-Wing – That depends; what is available at the flight training school that made you feel most comfortable during your visit with them?  There is no clear cut advantage to one over the other.  I learned in low-wings and instructed for a few thousand hours in high-wings.  I can say that high-wings allow you to see more of the ground below you (because there isn’t a wing in the way) but other than that, there’s no difference.  Keep in mind that you have no comparison between one and the other; to you, flying is a brand new thing that you will have to adjust to.  After you have your license in hand and some first-hand experience under your belt, try flying the other aircraft and you decide which one you like better.  There is no difference in the education.

Use this as you continue shopping and researching your flight training options.  Always know that there are plenty of flight schools out there who want to help and if nothing else, you can always call Pilot Training Solutions at 866.333.6025 or email us at and ask us to help you make sense of everything that you’ve been told – it’s our job and our pleasure to help you start training, stay with the training, and fulfill your dreams of becoming a pilot.