Pilot License Cost

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Some of us can’t help looking up at the sky when a plane flies overhead, briefly pausing to imagine our aviation dreams and potential. Learning to fly is a rewarding, lifelong journey. The first step on that journey is a private pilot license.

Pursuing a pilot license requires a considerable investment, time, and expense. Whether you’re considering a general aviation hobby or exploring new career opportunities, the cost remains critical. For those with the drive and the time, an aviation dream hinges on the cost of getting started.

How much does a pilot license cost?

Most students in the U.S. can expect to spend around $7,000-$12,000 to receive their Private Pilot License. The actual cost may be higher or lower. This depends on many variables:

  • Plane Rental - the make, type, and age of aircraft can increase or decrease the license cost
  • Instruction Costs - More experienced instructors may charge a higher hourly training rate
  • Exams & Equipment - Often overlooked expenses including exam costs and supplies
  • Location - the pilot license costs more in major metros than in smaller communities
  • Weather - weather impacts the ability to fly frequently
  • Flight School Type - Part 61 vs Part 141 flight schools have different requirements, impacting cost
  • Training Frequency - Frequent training flights can help keep the pilot license cost to a minimum

While these variables play a role in the total pilot license cost, the biggest factors are:

  1. Plane Rental Cost ($5,000 - $8,000+)
  2. Instruction Cost ($1,500 - $2,000+)
  3. Equipment Cost ($900 - $1,800)

Understand how these variables affect the pilot license’s cost can save students thousands of dollars.


Plane Rental Cost

Plane Rental Cost

Plane rental rates account for the bulk of the total pilot license cost. Depending on the type of planes available at your school, their age, and their equipment, expect to spend between $5,000-$10,000 on plane rental alone.

What is the cheapest plane to learn to fly in?

Older Cessna 150s and 152s are the most common, cost-effective plane for flight training. Cessna designed these aircraft for flight training, burning minimal fuel per hour aloft. Students can expect to pay between $90-$110 per rental hour (fuel included).

Like the Cessna 150s and 152, the Cessna 172 is a larger commonly training aircraft. Taller students often find this plane more comfortable, especially when flying with an instructor. The Cessna 172 has been produced for decades, and rental costs very based on age, avionics equipment, and condition. Students can expect to pay $125-$175 per rental hour (fuel included).

Many flight schools also use the Piper Cherokee. These low-wing planes generally cost slightly more than Cessna’s 150s and 152s, and sometimes slightly less than Cessna 172s. As with the Cessna 172, the cost of using a Piper Cherokee for flight training depending on age, equipped avionics, and general aircraft condition.

The chart below provides ballpark estimates of plane rental costs. Factor these into the total pilot license cost.

Aircraft Make Hourly Rental Rate Hours for Private Pilot License Total Rental Cost
Cessna 150/152 $100 50* $5,000
Cessna 172 $150 50* $7,500
Piper Cherokee $125 50* $6,250

* Although the FAA requires a minimum of 40 hours flight time for the private pilot certificate, most students need more flight time to get their skills up to snuff for the practical exam. Depending on a student’s aptitude, study habits, and training frequency, the number of hours required may prove lower or higher.


Instruction Cost

Instruction rates vary from school to school, but expect to pay your instructor $40-$50 per hour of ground and flight instruction. More experienced and freelance instructors may charge a higher hourly rate for their services.

The FAA requires at least 20 hours of flight instruction for the private pilot license. The FAA does not specify a minimum number of hours for ground instruction, but expect a few with your instructor. Questions inevitably arise while in the air, and even the most well studied student needs time for flight review.

Below is a chart of ballpark estimates for ground and flight instruction costs. Factor the “total instruction cost” when calculating your total pilot license cost.

Instructor Rate Instruction Hours Total Instruction Cost
$40 35 $1,400
$45 35 $1,575
$50 35 $1,750

Exams & Equipment

Students need a few things for flight training. Students should budger $200 for miscellaneous supplies (knee pad, flight planner, logbook, etc.) and $200-900 for a headset.

Buying the best headset you can afford is sound advice. Headsets protect hearing and small planes are loud!

Also budget for FAA required exams, such as the medical, written, and practical. Expect to spend $500-$700 on these requirements.

All in, expect equipment and exams to tack on an additional $900-$1,800 to your pilot license cost.


Location

Location plays a major role in the cost of flight training. Flight instruction and plane rentals cost more in many major metropolitan areas.

How does location affect the pilot license cost?

Cities like San Francisco, New York City, and Seattle have a high costs of living than Midwestern and southern cities, increasing the cost of flight instruction. These major metros’ real estate prices impact your pilot license cost, too. Airplane hangers and airport commercial space is more expensive, further ramping up training costs.


Weather

Weather

Weather is another factor to consider when considering a pilot license’s cost. Schools with higher volumes of students can reduce operating expenses, allowing for lower individual training costs. These schools tend to cluster in areas with decent weather year round, in states such as Arizona, Texas, and Florida. And as the schools cluster in these states, market competition effects can further reduce the initial pilot license cost.

Of course, relocating for flight training is very costly. Depending on your aviation goals, staying local may be cheaper in the long run - even if instruction and rental rates are higher than other areas.

Weather can also cause lesson cancellations. Increasing the time between a student’s lessons. Flying frequently improves manuever and knowledge retention. That is to say - Your pilot license cost will be higher if you’re training in Boston over the winter.


Flight School Type

The type of flight school impacts the pilot license cost. As one might expect, training with a San Francisco Bay area freelance instructor in a new Cirrus SR20 is more expensive than a “pilot mill” in southern Florida. What you might not expect? Training at a Part 61 vs Part 141 school impacts the private pilot license cost.

Learn more about the difference between Part 61 and Part 141 flight schools

What makes Part 141 Schools Unique?

The FAA signs off on Part 141 schools’ curriculum. The FAA continuously evaluates and audits Part 141 schools. This increased regulation can benefit students, as the FAA reduces the minimum number of flight hours for the private pilot license. Keep in mind most student need more than the minimum number of hours to complete their pilot training. For astute students, training at a Part 141 school could require fewer plane rental and instruction hours, further reducing the license cost.


Training Frequency

Fly frequently to keep new skills fresh and pilot license costs low. Students training part-time should aim for holding a lesson at least one day per week. Experts suggest scheduling a lesson 2-3 times per week. Avoid training gaps whenever possible.

Training 2-3 times per week will initially appear more expensive than training less frequently. But, training frequency impacts knowledge retention. An irregular training schedule requires the instructor and student to revisit old material on the ground and manuevers in the air.

Weather also impacts a student pilot’s ability to log flight time. Those with 2-3 days on the calendar each week can roll with weather cancellations. Students flying once a week are more likely to drag out their training. They face multi-week gaps without any flight time when weather causes training cancellations. This can cause skills to deteriorate, increasing the overall pilot license cost.

Full-time flight training allows students to speed through the private pilot training, as the knowledge and skills remain fresh between lessons. Of course, those balancing families and careers make the possibility of full-time flight training prohibitive.


Total Pilot License Cost

Total Pilot License Cost

By now, you realize the cost of a pilot license varies. The chart below provides ballpark estimates for a total pilot license cost of $9,320.

Item Cost Formula
50 Hours Plane Rental $6,000 $120 x 50
40 Hours Instruction $1,800 $45 x 40
Headset $600
FAA Medical Exam $120
FAA Written Exam $100
FAA Practical Exam $400
Misc $300

The above are the primary factors involved in the the total cost of a Private Pilot certificate. Use the above information when researching flight schools. Ask flight schools how many hours students take to complete their private pilot license, too. Doing so will help you more accurately anticipate your overall license costs. And, although the aircraft rental and instruction rates play the biggest role in your total license cost, there are many variables at play. You may not be able to control for all variables, but at the least you now know what to expect.