So you want to learn how to fly? Cool! The first typical step to becoming a civilian pilot in the U.S. is becoming a Private Pilot. Naturally, one of the first questions you’ll have is how much is it going to cost me to obtain my private pilot license. Let’s find out by listing all of the anticipated expenses, figure out how much they will cost in today’s market (2020), then add it all up.
The Short Answer
If you don’t feel like reading all the details of what all expenses you’ll encounter, and just want the final figure of my estimate, I’ll give it to you here. If you decide to go the least expensive route (small, older aircraft), it comes out around $11,230. If you want to go the more “comfortable” route (newer aircraft, larger cockpit), it comes out to about $12,855.
If you’re interested in the details of how I came up with those figures, keep reading.
DISCLAIMER: This article provides a rough outline of what you can expect to pay as a student pilot pursuing the Private Pilot certificate. It is not exact by any means. Also, I am not including the cost of an iPad, or a subscription to a service such as ForeFlight in this estimation. You can go crazy with the cost of a tablet and apps, so if you plan on using one, just add it to the cost of the estimates posted here.
Table of Contents
Sorry, but before we get into the nitty gritty details, I must clarify that the technical name for your Private Pilot License, or PPL, is actually called the Private Pilot Certificate.
Sorry, but that bugs me. I’m a stickler for proper vocabulary but for the sake of this discussion I’ll use the “license” term (incorrectly and against my will 😏) just because it’s what newcomers to aviation like to use.
The Path To Becoming A Private Pilot
If you are new to flying airplanes I’d like to welcome you to the world of aviation! To get your Private Pilot License, or “PPL” 😁 it can be a long journey, but certainly an enjoyable and rewarding one.
School Type: Part 141 vs Part 61
There are a few different routes you can take to become a Private Pilot. If you plan on becoming a professional pilot, you may decide to enroll in a university, college, or academy. These schools have programs that adhere to strict guidelines from the FAA in many areas beyond the flight training curriculum. Many of these schools are known as Part 141 flight schools.
I will NOT be discussing the Part 141 path to becoming a Private Pilot in this article. I will only discuss the Part 61 route because it’s the path that is probably more relevant for those reading this article. For more information, I have a separate article on the differences between Part 141 and Part 61 flight schools.
Renting vs. Purchasing/Owning The Aircraft
There is no way for me to tell what your plans are after obtaining your private pilot license. However, I’ll assume that you don’t want to stop flying after obtaining your license. That would be no fun!
I am assuming you want to keep flying after you get your license. With that said, it may be wise to purchase your aircraft right from the start. If you know what type of flying you want to do and you have the financial means of purchasing your aircraft before you start training, that may be a wise route to go.
You would probably save on aircraft rental fees, but you would be responsible for fuel and maintenance.
On the other hand you have the option to rent an aircraft from a flight school or airport. Although I was attending a university and going through a formalized flight training program at the time, I rented the aircraft that I got all my certificates in And obviously this is an option for you as well.
Another alternative could be somewhere in the middle. Maybe rent your aircraft all throughout your training and then purchase one after you’re done. It all depends on your personal situation and what your needs and desires are for your aviation journey.
I can probably safely assume that owning an aircraft is going to save you a little bit of money on getting your private pilot license, but you also take on all the responsibility that comes with it as well. In the end it’s up to you.
For the remainder of this article I’m going to discuss the route of renting an aircraft since that is the one I am most familiar with, and I’m guessing is the most common. Most independent smaller flight schools have aircraft available to rent.
Aircraft Type: Cessna 150/152 vs More Expensive Options
When researching your options, you’ll most likely encounter a variety of aircraft that are available for flight training. One of the most popular options for initial flight training is the Cessna 152 or 150. I did my Private training in a Cessna 152.
It’s a two-seat airplane that is rather cozy and snug inside. They are usually old aircraft and aren’t the most beautiful on the inside. However, it’s a great option for getting your Private Pilot Certificate in the least expensive way possible. The aircraft is going to eat up the bulk of your budget, and conducting your training in a 152 is a great option. It’s a little airplane close to my heart 🥰
There are however, more expensive and “luxurious” options than the Cessna 152. Common trainers these days include the Cessna 172 (another fine aircraft and most popular), and some even do training in a Piper PA-28 series (Arrow, Archer, Warrior, etc).
In this article I will outline two routes. The first route will be the least expensive route and I will use an average Cessna 152 rental rate. The second route will be the “comfortable “route, and I will use a slightly higher rental rate for that.
OK enough talk. Let’s start adding up the costs.
What Are The Expenses?
Here is a list of the main expenses you will encounter during your flight training.
- Educational material
- Aircraft rental fees
- Instructor fees (air and ground lessons)
- Testing and checkrides
Let’s take a look at those one by one and figure up the costs.
Before you start training, you’ll need to get your accessories. This includes things like a flight bag, a headset, your logbook, kneeboard, a fuel strainer, your Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) for the aircraft you are flying, and appropriate checklists. Those are the MUST HAVE items. Here are some of my accessories I have from my initial training.
There will definitely be other accessories you’ll want to pick up but those are the ones that come to mind first. The headset I recommend is around $350, and the remaining items can be purchased or two to three hundred dollars. I like to overestimate a tad because it seems everything always costs more than expected when budgeting for anything. If you’re interested I wrote a separate article on all the accessories a student pilot will need to start flying.
Accessories Estimate – $800
Educational & Test Prep Material
Aside from your accessories, you’re going to need some educational material. It is entirely possible to use the material offered for free by the FAA, and learn a lot of what you need to know. However, this material is pretty dry. You may also want a little more personality in your educational material.
Free Educational Material From the FAA
Here are some MUST READ books and material the FAA offers for free.
- FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations…not all, but much of Parts 61 and 90).
- Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM)
- Airplane Flying Handbook
- Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
- Aviation Weather (AC 00-6B)
- Aviation Weather Services (AC 00-45H)
- Pilot/Controller Glossary
Those are, at minimum, the books I would recommend reading through. There’s a TON of free information available at your fingertips in the links I have provided above. You don’t even need to buy physical copies. You can download PDF versions of them and read them on your favorite device.
I wouldn’t say you need to read every book, word-for-word, but I certainly would be very familiar with each one of them. Knowing how to access the information you need is almost just as important as knowing it by heart. Get to know the FAA publications very well.
Paid 3rd Party Educational Resources
Aside from the free options I mentioned above, there are some paid courses available that have more personality injected into them. The FAA material is plenty adequate, but sometimes the material can get a bit dry. Because of this, you may prefer to learn from a video or interactive style course. Some of the more popular courses are the ones from King Schools (John and Martha King) and Sporty’s .
Jeppesen also makes a great set of books for the Private Pilot, especially their hardback textbook, along with an entire set of training materials. That is what we used in college. They publish great material. Be sure to check them out.
There may be some overlap between the accessories and education. Sometimes you can buy bundles of educational material from places like Sporty’s that include a lot of the accessories.
Gleim is another company that puts out great educational and test preparation material. As I will discuss below you will be required to take a knowledge test at a testing facility before you can take your checkride.
Taking in the total scope of educational material, I’m adding in $500.
Educational Material Estimate – $500
Aircraft Rental Fees
The total amount of flight hours required to receive a sign-off to take your Private Pilot Checkride is 40 hours, along with other built-in requirements. However, the average is somewhere around 60-75 hours. I had 54.9 hours when I took my checkride, but I was good 😜. You may not be as good as me, but you may be better and be able to be ready in 40 hours.
There are many factors that can come into play, but I’m going to use a figure of 65 hours in the aircraft total for the amount required to get your PPL. It’s also possible to save money by buying hours in bulk and in advance. Flying clubs are also an option for saving some money. See what is available at your flight school(s) of choice to discover your options.
I’ll break the aircraft rental estimates into two categories..least expensive and comfortable. If you’re looking to save money, and have a Cessna 152 in your area you can use, you’ll save money. If you are more interested in training in a more spacious cockpit, and maybe a fancier set of avionics, you’ll spend more. Let’s discuss these two routes.
The Least Expensive Aircraft Route
As I’ve mentioned earlier, you may be fortunate enough to be able to conduct your flight training in a Cessna 152 or 150. The good thing is these are the least expensive type of aircraft to do your training in. The bad thing is they are dated looking on the inside, usually have outdated avionics, and sometimes aren’t comfortable (depending on your and your instructor’s size).
After researching various random airports around the U.S. The average rental rate for a Cessna 152 seems to be in the neighborhood of $110/hr. If we multiply that by 65 flight hours we get $7,150.
Least Expensive Aircraft Rental Estimate – $7,150
The Comfortable Aircraft Route
I’ll call this route the “comfortable” route because you may not want to fly a small Cessna 152. Maybe you can’t fit into one, or maybe you simply don’t have access to one in your area. Whatever the reason, I have averaged up the costs for a more comfortable, newer aircraft.
In looking at several flight school’s rates, a Cessna 172 or Piper PA-28 model usually comes in around the $135/hr mark. Multiply that by 65 and we get $8,775.
Comfortable Aircraft Rental Estimate – $8,775
To be eligible to take the Private Pilot checkride, a pilot needs to have at least 20 hours of flight instruction received (aka “dual received”), but in reality it will come out to more than 20 hours. I had 34.4 hours of dual received when I took my checkride, out of 54.9 total flight hours.
Roughly 65% of my flight hours prior to my checkride were dual received hours. I’ll use that percentage of flight hours as a percentage of total hours, not including ground school lessons. If I take my original estimate of 65 flight hours to get your PPL, and take 65% of that, I end up with roughly 42 hours.
That’s 42 hours, roughly, that your instructor will need to be paid his/her hourly rate. This only includes flight hours. I’m going to add another 10 hours for ground lessons. As much as you will be able to learn on your own, there will be rainy days, and topics that you will need to go over with your instructor. 10 hours should cover it.
Instructor fees can vary, but after looking around at various airports and flight schools it seems that $40/hr is a good average. Therefore, the total calculation is 52 hours multiplied by $40.
Instructor Fee Estimate – $2,080
To become a Private Pilot you have to pass the Knowledge Test (the “written”) and the Practical Test (“oral exam” and checkride). After looking around it looks as though you can take the knowledge test for a couple hundred dollars or less. I’ll budget $200 for that.
For the oral exam and checkride, the fee can vary based on the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) you go with. They can charge whatever fee they want. When I took my checkride back in the mid 2000s, the DPEs usually charged around $300-350. Today, I’ve heard that it costs around $500. I’m using the $500 figure for our calculation.
Testing Expenses Estimate – $700
The Total Cost Of Obtaining The Private Pilot License
Let’s tally it up and calculate the totals!
|Least Expensive Aircraft
|Aircraft Rental Fees
To obtain your Private Pilot License (Certificate), you will need somewhere in the range of $11,230 for the least expensive/Cessna 152 route, and in the range of $12,855 for a larger, more comfortable aircraft.
Here are the assumptions built into this equation.
- 65 hours total flight time to be ready for your checkride
- 52 hours of instruction, including flight and ground
You can obviously save money by requiring less total hours to be ready for your checkride. That is a topic for another day, but the average is 60-75 hours to be ready.
As I’ve said, these are ESTIMATES. It’s not meant to be exact or anywhere near exact, but this is a good starting point for planning your flight training journey.
Tell me about your journey. How much is it costing you? If you’re done, how much did you spend? Do you have any tips on how to save money that I didn’t mention? Let’s hear it! Thanks for reading and I hoped this helped!