Students Control Flight Training’s Costs

By Scott Spangler on July 15th, 2009

JetWhine_LTF Team Several days ago a JetWhine reader, James, emailed this question: How much does recreational flight school cost in Michigan?  What things should I be considering before going ahead?

No matter where you live, calculating the cost of learning to fly with any accuracy is impossible because the equation is filled with variables that multiply the fixed costs of aircraft rental and instructor fees. The good news is that students can control these costs by mastering the variables.

This control applies regardless of the pilot certificate you seek–sport, recreational, or private pilot–or aircraft you wish to fly, fixed-wing, rotorcraft, trike, or powered parachute. And it’s true whether you’re seeking initial training or a more advanced rating or certificate.

JetWhine_LTF-Sign Frequency, how often you fly, is the critical  factor. Learning to fly is a process of melding unfamiliar knowledge and skills in a noisy, three-dimensional classroom. It’s a building-block process where you add one skill to the next, and how quickly you master them depends on how much time passes between one lesson and the next.

JetWhine_LTF-learning_plateau If you fly everyday, the previous lesson is fresh in your mind and muscle memory. In connecting adding new skills, you practice those already learned in a steady climb to a learning plateau, a respite in the learning curve that all students reach before resuming their educational climb.

If there’s a break between lessons, you spend part of the lesson relearning the skills previously introduced. How long that takes depends on the break; the longer you’re away from the classroom, the more time you’ll spend reviewing and refreshing what you’ve already learned.

There is no accepted measurement or percentage of review based on lesson frequency. (It would be an interesting study, however, for one of aviation’s alphabet groups or university programs.) In the end, it really doesn’t matter, whether you fly once a week or once a month, the result is the same: It takes you more time (and money) to master the necessary skills.

JetWhine_LTF ProcessPerhaps more important is that students must be brutally honest with themselves, and their families. Compared to most recreational activities, learning to fly is a complex, long-term process that requires a substantial investment of time and money. This is especially important to those who wish to fly for fun because, for most people, these discretionary accounts are limited.

Anecdotal evidence shows that more than half the people who start flying lessons never finish because they didn’t fully understand or appreciate the commitment it takes to earn your wings. Becoming an aviator is a rewarding and eminently worthwhile lifetime investment, but for it to pay off you must reach the initial goal of earning a pilot’s certificate. Fall short, and the pleasure derived from your investment stops stops with your training.  — Scott Spangler


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4 Responses to “Students Control Flight Training’s Costs”

  1. Bill Says:

    Well said.
    But like any learning experience, you need to do your homework too (whether it was assigned or not). Like learning to play an instrument, you can’t just show up at your lesson every (week, two days, whatever) and expect it all to be handed to you. You have to practice, continue learning about it, etc.

    With the fantastic simulator programs available for a home computer, a lot can be done to master navigation, procedures, instrument scan, etc. All of that will pay off, and will make the difference in the dollars, the airplane hours spent to earn the ticket, and the sense of accomplishment for a job well done.

    I recall my fellow instructors and I joking that some students, having not put for the the inter-lesson effort, had the attitude of “teach me, I dare ya.”

    The same applies whether you’re learning to fly a Cessna or a Boeing.

    Additionally, we should all recognize that as we age, we no longer have the juicy brain of an 18 year old. Learning new things can take longer. If you keep your brain exercised by constantly learning new things the effect is lessened.

    While working for a major airline checking out long -time airline pilots in the new glass cockpit aircraft (a LOT to learn in a little time). The ones that had trouble were over 50, been flying the same thing for 20 years, and hadn’t been in the learning mode for any of that time. While they performed well in their previous aircraft. Their brains were not flexible enough to be ready to absorb the quantity of new information even with great effort on their part. Some took two or three times the normal course footprint to complete, some were never able to. They weren’t stupid. Their brains were stiff.

    So, my point is, it’s not just how many lessons per week you take, but what you do before you even start them (keeping the brain in the learning mode) and what you do between them (study, practice, etc) that plays an equally large part.


  2. Stephen Ruby Says:

    In contrast to these costs are the commitment of flight instructors who are there to only build time to enhance their opportunities to
    pursue airline careers.

    The commitment of Flight Instructors has dramatically reduced the prospective student from furthering their certificate because of cases where a they seem to be left out. The student who starts flight training and becomes comfortable with his instructor, then shows up the next day only to find another who took his place has to wonder if their investment was properly secured. Part 141 Flight Schools who have a commitment to teach flying skills need to be aware of who they hire to teach students the art of flying.

    Insurance for these flight schools is also at a premium.

    I would also liketo point out that not everyone who has a desire to fly can physically or mentally do so. I found out back in the sixties that furloughed airline pilots who reverted back to flight instruction were only available on a temporary basis. Commitment must be met with both the student and the instructor..

  3. Patrick Flannigan Says:

    Bill is right about flight simulators. For a relatively small investment, they can really pay off in the air.

    I would practice my private pilot maneuvers on Microsoft Flight Simulator until they were perfect before showing my face at the airport. As a result, I got it right the first time and managed to pass every checkride at the minimum flight time requirements. That adds up to a lot of saved cash. I feel that using sims for instrument training and proficiency is even more valuable and time saving.

  4. Controlling your flight training costs — Golf Hotel Whiskey Says:

    […] Scott Spangler writes on Jetwhine that there is some good news in a sense that students can always control their training costs by […]

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