Forget the Cost of Learning to Fly, Think Value

By Robert Mark on April 11th, 2016

SkyArrow AloftForget the Cost of Learning to Fly, Think Value

You’ve obviously thought of learning to fly or you wouldn’t be here right now. Spend a little time reading Richard Bach’s classic Jonathan Livingston Seagull and I guarantee you’ll be putty in the hands of any flight instructor who offers you a demo flight. You may not even need an airplane.

OK, back to reality … where everyone remembers how damned expensive it is to learn to fly. Blah, blah, blah.


Cost Vs. Value

Forget what everyone else has told you about why no one learns to fly anymore and prepare your mind for a few fresh ideas.

When you stroll around a new-car showroom or troll the Internet for a set of wheels, is cost the only thing on your mind? I doubt it. If it were, how could Toyota, GM, Honda and the rest have sold all those electric cars? They’re way more expensive than my gas-driven Mini Cooper, the one I’ve been driving for 10 years now … with no payments for the last six. If you’re outside the 1%, you probably think about buying a car in terms of the number of monthly payments before that baby’s yours.

Consider school today. The cost of our daughter’s college is enough to melt the brains of people who don’t have kids. Luckily she’ll only be 22 when she graduates which means she’ll have many years ahead to add her two cents to the entertainment world she loves based on her education.

When we talk flying though, everyone zeroes in on the cost per hour and little else.

But what if we treated learning to fly like a college education or a new car and amortized the cost … spread it out over a few years. What happens next is simply magical. The price of learning to fly begins to look affordable as the raw dollar issue slips to the back of your focus much like minimizing a tab on a browser. You know it’s still there, but it’s just not staring you in the face every moment of the day.


AOPA’s Reimagined Cessna 152

Jim Knollenberg told me the other day that earning a private pilot certificate today, start to finish, probably runs between $10,000 to $12,000. He’s president of Pilot Finance Inc., an Illinois-based company that finances both the private pilot certificate and the instrument rating for the short of cash.

Maybe The Only Thing Stopping you is … YOU

Knollenberg reminded me that anyone here in the U.S. with a job and decent credit can, after paying a small down payment, cover the cost of learning to fly in monthly installments of $250-$300 per month over the course of four or five years. That’s about what you’d pay for a new car.

So let’s change the conversation a bit, from talking about cost, to thinking about the value of that private pilot certificate. Unlike an auto, your pilot certificate doesn’t rust and it can’t be destroyed in a wreck. It never expires either. You only need three takeoffs and landings every 90 days to retain the privilege of flying a single engine airplane.

If you’re 25 or 30 when you learn to fly and continue flying throughout your life … let’s say until you’re 70, break down that $12,000 you spent over the course of 40 years. A little quick math shows me that’s about $300 per year.

What you really need to ask yourself right now, I think, is whether you can drive an old car a bit longer to finance that dream of learning to fly instead, knowing you’ll be flying for the rest of your life once you’ve finished paying off the loan. Or thing of the anguish you’ll avoid … like the pain of being 77 someday and realizing you really could have afforded to fly if you’d done a bit more research.

So maybe flying’s not quite as out of reach as you thought?

Fly Safely,

Rob Mark, Publisher


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5 Responses to “Forget the Cost of Learning to Fly, Think Value”

  1. Jim Krieger Says:

    Great article Rob.

    Besides the thrill of flight, a private pilot license also has the potential to open many doors that would otherwise remain closed or would not even become known.

    For me, one door that opened led to a 33+ year career that served me and my family very well and gave me opportunities that I would never have even dreamed of had I not been a pilot.

    Many other doors have opened and have led to the wonderful friendships that I have had the good fortune to have made in this fantastic industry. These are truly competent people that you just have to admire and yet who are really nice too!

    Oh yeah, and you also have the ability to see the world from a perspective that few people get to see on a regular basis; whenever and to wherever you want.

    While the cost of a pilot license may be as much as $12,000, I would have to say that the associated opportunities are priceless!

  2. Clarke Caywood Says:

    I took lessons with my son. What a great experience. My only regret is not quite making the number of hours needed due to a quick health set-back. I want to open that window again (well, not at too high an altitude) and Rob would be my choice again as an instructor.

  3. The Perception of Value – The House of Rapp Says:

    […] Rob Mark recently wrote a post at Jetwhine encouraging current and future students to focus on the value of a pilot certificate rather than the cost. The article is titled “Forget the Cost of Learning to Fly”. […]

  4. Charles Seitz Says:

    Good article, Rob, but I don’t think this tells the whole story. A PP-SEL is a pretty limited license. Can you get around your state, region, or the country on one? Sure, but you’ll sit on the ground every time the clouds roll in. So if you want to do more with your pilot license than fly on sunny days and get value and utility out of it, you need to go on for the Instrument rating, which is going to set you back another $15,000 or more. Then, at least, you can fly when there are clouds about, bringing some real value.

    I think your premise is sound, but the numbers to get real value and utility from a pilot license are at least double, and that’s before we figure in the cost of an airplane, or the cost of renting, or the cost of maintenance, and on and on. I love flying, but it’s just not quite as simple a value proposition as given here.

  5. Robert Mark Says:

    Perhaps Charles, but I was trying to speak more to the why behind flying than simply the how. Students told me 35 years ago that $15 an hour for a Cessna 150 and another 10 for my time per hour was simply killing them.

    No doubt the cost hasn’t outpaced the cost of living, but I still believe people will fly if they want to badly enough. And to me at least, value is in the eyes of the beholder.


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