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Cost To Become A Pilot: Guide to Licenses and Loan Options

Editor: J. Streaks | Updated: Wednesday, February 14th, 2024

Dreaming of becoming a pilot is awesome, but let's talk about something crucial—how much it costs. Taking off into the skies is thrilling, but there's a key part: the money side. Pilot training has a bunch of costs—like renting planes, fuel, instructors, and study stuff. It's like a financial journey.

In this guide, I'm breaking down the cost to become a pilot and showing you budget-friendly ways to get your pilot license. You'll get smart tips on managing your money for your flying dreams.

How Much Does It Cost To Become A Pilot?

Becoming a pilot is thrilling, but it does cost money and time. The price tag depends on your flying goals.

If you're flying just for fun and want a Private Pilot license, expect to spend around $15,000 to $21,000 in two months. [1] But, if you dream of making a career out of it with a Commercial Pilot License (CPL), get ready to invest more, ranging from $75,000 to $100,000. [2]

Being a "pilot" isn't one-size-fits-all. The type of aircraft you're interested in changes the costs. Whether you like small planes or dream of big jets, training expenses can vary.

Most of the spending goes into ground and flight training. Mastering the skills and knowledge to be a pro pilot takes up a big part of the total cost. Remember, test fees and extra expenses make up a smaller part.

If you want to fly for major airlines, you'll need an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license, which means flying at least 1500 hours. Getting this experience adds to the financial side.

Pilot CertificateCost
Student Pilot$75 – $200 (for medical certificate)
Sport Pilot$7,200
Recreational Pilot$10,300
Private Pilot$15,000 – $20,000
Commercial Pilot$55,000 – $100,000
Flight Instructor$5,000
Airline Transport Pilot$5,000
Drone Pilot$0 – $450

Medical, Written, Practical Exams, and Additional Costs

Becoming a pilot is super exciting, but it comes with some necessary steps and costs. First off, you'll need a medical certificate, and that means a checkup with an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). The cost can vary – anywhere from $75 to $200, depending on factors like the doctor, location, and if they need to do an EKG, according to Pilot Institute.

Then there's a knowledge test for your pilot license, with fees ranging from $140 to $165, depending on where you take it. After passing the written test, you'll face the practical test or checkride, which can cost between $350 and $550. If you're planning to be a flight instructor, be ready for higher expenses, potentially over a thousand dollars in some areas.

And don't forget the extra stuff! You'll need training supplies like a headset, books, and maybe even a cool bomber jacket and Aviator sunglasses. Plan on spending around $500 to $1,000 for these things.

Cost of Student Pilot License

Becoming a pilot is a dream cherished by many, and the journey usually begins as a student pilot. This initial step is crucial, as it sets the foundation for higher certifications in aviation.

Starting as a student pilot is an affordable option for those looking to explore aviation without committing to a full pilot's license. Recreational pilots, in particular, can use a sport pilot certificate to obtain their licenses.

Obtaining a student pilot certificate through the Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) incurs no direct fees from the FAA. [3] However, if you seek assistance from an examiner, representative, or instructor, there might be some reasonable processing charges.

The FAA doesn't specify a fixed amount for these fees, but they shouldn't be exorbitant. Your primary concern, though, should be the cost of pilot training itself, as the FAA doesn't mandate any specific training requirements for the issuance of a student certificate.

Remember, you'll still need to obtain a medical certificate, which adds to the overall expense. Considering this factor, the cost to become a student pilot typically ranges from $75 to $200.

Cost of Private Pilot License

Getting your private pilot license (PPL) is awesome—it lets you fly smaller planes for fun. But there's a catch: no planes with more than four seats allowed. To get your PPL, you'll need FAA-approved training, typically 35 to 40 flight hours, but most of us end up needing 60 to 75 hours.

Now, cost-wise, it's around $15,000 to $20,000, depending on your flight school, plane, instructor, and where you are. You'll also need some ground instruction, which could be a few hundred to a couple of thousand bucks.

The good news? Some flight training offer an online PPL course at a much lower cost.

Cost of Commercial Pilot License

Getting a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) is like unlocking your dream job in aviation. With a CPL, you can get paid for cool things like agricultural applications and traffic reporting. There are two ways to train – Part 61 and Part 141. Part 61 needs 250 flight hours, while Part 141 requires 190 hours in a certified pilot school. But don't be tricked into thinking Part 141 is cheaper; FAA rules can balance out the costs.

No matter which path you choose, you'll need a private pilot license first, which takes around 60 flight hours. A CPL program usually starts at $55,000, covering important multiengine and instrument rating training. It's an investment, but it opens doors to a cool career in aviation.

Cost of Sport Pilot License

Getting a Sport Pilot Certificate, introduced by the FAA in 2004, is a cool way for aviation fans to fly Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA). [4] Let's break it down:

  • Learn the Basics: You've got options for ground school - either with an instructor or online at home. Instructors charge about $40 per hour, and online courses range from $100 to $400, some even free.
  • Take to the Skies: The FAA says you need at least 20 flight hours, including 15 hours with an instructor and 5 flying solo. Renting a light sport aircraft costs around $180 per hour, and instructors charge about $60 per hour. The basic training cost is $4,800, but plan on around $2,400 more for extra flying hours.
  • Other Costs: Tests will set you back about $500, and an online ground school might need an extra $100. In total, getting your sport pilot license adds up to around $7,200.

Cost of Recreational Pilot License

Surprisingly, there are fewer than 150 active recreational pilots in the US, as per the latest FAA stats. [5] If you're into flying just for fun, this license is for you, especially since it's simpler than the sport pilot certificate.

Now, about the cost of recreational pilot license – it's similar to the sport pilot certificate but with a bit more flight time and slightly higher aircraft rental. To get this license, you need at least 30 flight hours, including 15 hours of instruction. But realistically, plan for around 40 hours – that's the sweet spot.

Considering a $180/hour airplane rental and a $60/hour instructor fee, your flight training cost comes to $9,600. Don't forget extras like a home-study course, medical exam, and test fees, adding around $700 to the total. So, for about $10,300, you're ready to take to the skies for pure enjoyment.

Cost of Airline Transport Pilot License

Becoming an airline pilot is exciting, but it's more than just getting a basic license. To step up, you need an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) and 1,500 flight hours.

Here's a tip: An aviation degree from an FAA-approved school can get you a shortcut – a Restricted-ATPL (R-ATPL), allowing you to co-pilot sooner. [6]

But there's a catch: You've got to pass a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved Airline Transport Pilot Certification Training Program (ATP-CTP). The cost? Around $5,000, covering your training, exams, and tests.

It's an investment, but if you love aviation, it's your ticket to a rewarding career with great earning potential. Stick with it, and you'll be climbing the ranks in the aviation world in no time.

Cost of Flight Instructor Certificate

Getting a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) is a big step if you're eyeing an airline career. [7] Luckily, it won't cost you as much as getting a commercial pilot license. The price depends on whether you go for a Part 61 or Part 141 school.

Part 61 schools give you flexibility; there's no set minimum flight time for the CFI course, so it adapts to how well you're doing. On the other hand, Part 141 has a structured approach, requiring at least 25 hours of flight time. On average, CFI training is around $5,000, but it can go up to $8,000 if you choose Part 141. The overall cost depends on the school type, location, and reputation.

You can also add certifications like Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII) and Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI) for $3,000 to $5,000 each. This gives you more chances to improve your skills and make a real impact in aviation.

Cost of Drone Pilot License

Getting your drone pilot license is a must if you're into flying drones for business. Don't worry if you're just flying for fun – you don't need it. The FAA started giving out drone licenses in 2016, [8] and now there are a ton of licensed drone pilots.

If you already have a Part 61 license, you can get a Part 107 drone license for free. Just take a simple online training course. But if you're new to flying, you need to pass a test that costs $150.

To do well, prep is key. While the FAA has free study stuff, online courses give you better tools. On average, getting your drone pilot license costs about $450. It's a smart investment for drone fans who want to turn their hobby into a job in the growing drone industry.

Is There An Age Limit To Be A Pilot?

To start training, you need to be at least 17, but the age varies depending on the license you're aiming for. If it's a private pilot license (PPL), you can kick off at 17; for a commercial pilot license (CPL), wait until you're 18. And if you're eyeing an airline transport pilot license (ATPL) for larger planes, aim for 23.

The good news is there's no upper age limit for pursuing your dream of flying. No matter your age, just make sure to get a valid medical certificate for your chosen pilot program.

5 Ways to Reduce Flight Training Cost?

Becoming a pilot costs a pretty penny, but no worries—I've got five easy ways to make it more affordable. Here's a quick guide to saving money while pursuing your dream of flying.

  • Choose Cheaper Planes: Renting planes is a big expense. Instead of splurging on brand-new models, go for the older ones. They work just fine for getting your commercial pilot license and can save you a bunch of money. Opting for cost-effective older models during training makes a real difference.
  • Research Schools: Not all flight schools charge the same. Check out different ones, ask about discounts, and look into fast-track courses. Many schools have budget-friendly deals, especially if you're going for multiple pilot certificates. A bit of research helps you find a good training program without burning a hole in your pocket.
  • Study Smart: Nailing the theory part is crucial for being a great pilot. Combine book learning with "chair flying," where you picture yourself doing flight stuff in your head. It significantly cuts down the time and money spent on in-flight practice. Mastering the theory early means spending less time in the air.
  • Join a Flight Club: Being part of a flight club can save you money. Members often get discounts on training, and you'll be part of a supportive aviation community. Plus, you might make connections that lead to job opportunities down the line.
  • Apply for Scholarships: Scholarships are a game-changer for your budget. Organizations like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) offer them. It might take some effort to get one, but they can cover a big part, if not all, of your training costs.

Pilot Training Loan Options

Getting a loan for pilot training might seem like a big deal. Here's the scoop on some practical choices to fund your dream of becoming a pilot.

1. Property Mortgages

Property loans are a smart choice. They let you pay back over a long time (25 to 35 years) with lower interest rates. And guess what? You don't even need to own a house; your family can help by using their property. But be careful – if you miss payments, you could lose your property.

2. Secured Personal Loans

For a safe takeoff into pilot training, go for secured personal loans. Give some of your stuff (like your car or jewelry) as a guarantee, and you can borrow money for 5 to 20 years. It won't cover everything, but it helps with specific costs. The good news is, you can get these loans even with a not-so-great credit score. But remember – if you don't pay, you might lose what you gave as a guarantee.

3. Unsecured Personal Loans

Now, let's talk flexibility. Unsecured personal loans don't need anything from you, making them quick and easy to get. Perfect for different pilot training costs, especially if you're going the modular route. But here's the catch – it's a bit harder to get these loans. Lenders want to see a good credit score and proof that you can pay back. Expect to pay back faster and with a bit more interest, so be ready for that.

Primary Factors Affecting Pilot Training Costs

Let's break down the key factors that influence the costs of pilot training.

Renting Planes and Fuel Costs: Most of the cost is renting planes and paying for fuel. The more planes you use and the longer you fly, the more it costs – plain and simple.

Instructor Fees and Learning Stuff: Getting help from skilled instructors is key, but it comes with a price tag. Also, you'll need textbooks and guides – they're part of the deal.

Ground School and Theory Training Costs: Before you soar, you need to learn the basics. Setting aside money for ground school and theory is crucial – they're like the ABCs of flying.

Flight Hours: Different licenses need different flying hours. Private or commercial, each one has its own rules, affecting the overall cost. Knowing this helps you plan your flight path.

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Cost To Become A Pilot: Guide to Licenses and Loan Options

Cost To Become A Pilot: Guide to Licenses and Loan Options

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