The biggest reason why most students quit flying is money. 

Actually, it’s the lack of money. And flight training is expensive as hell.

I worked two jobs so that I could afford to learn to fly.
One job was to pay my everyday living expenses; mortgage, bills, etc.  The second job was to pay for flight
training.

One thing I’ve observed over the years of working as a CFI
is that most people don’t do their homework when researching flight schools and
don’t set a realistic budget for paying for their training. Unless you have
thousands of dollars just laying around to play with, this is the worst thing
you could do.

Before you select a flight school and start your
training, it is imperative that you set a budget and understand the
costs involved.

 

The Business of
Flight Training

 

Ever had to
pay for a freaking pillow on an airline flight after you’ve already forked over
hundreds of dollars to the airline?  What
about all of the extra junk car dealerships try to throw in when you’re buying
a car?

It’s called hidden costs and it means you’re about to pay
more than you originally thought. Businesses will hide some of the costs of
goods or services so that you can “discover” them once you have
committed to using their service.  It
happens all the time.

And flight schools are no different.

A flight school is a business. At the end of the day, they
exist to make money. With the economy in the toilet over the last few years, flight
schools are doing everything they can to stay alive and competition between
schools for students is intense.

 

Getting You Hooked

When you contact a flight school, they will most likely lay
out the red carpet for you. You’ll get a tour of the facilities including the
classrooms and the airplanes used for flight training. You’ll get a chance to
meet the instructors and the end of the tour will probably include a “discovery
flight” where you’ll go flying with an instructor and get to fly the airplane.

After the flight, you’re excited and can’t wait to get
started. All you can think about is going back up again.  This is when they will take you into the
office, give you some colorful brochures, a contract(some schools use them), a schedule,
and finally, they will tell you what it’s going to cost along with any payment
options.

The reason
they show you the costs involved last is for a very good reason.

If they told you what it costs before you went flying or
toured the facility, you would most likely get up and walk out, in search of
another flight school that costs less. Instead, you go flying and when you come
back, your mind is still focused on flying and thinking of all the things
you’ll be able to do once you earn your license. They want to get you “hooked”
before talking about money.

Yes, it’s a little bit deceptive, but they do it to get
business.

The number one reason a flight school fails to “close
the deal” is often the cost. So if they can soften it up a little bit by
not showing you some of the costs of getting your pilot’s license with them,
they might be able to get you to go ahead and sign up and you will just deal
with the additional costs after the fact.

 

It’s All In The
Details

When they give you a cost estimate, look over it and make
sure that it’s broken down in some kind of detail. If all they are quoting you
is the cost of classroom instruction(ground training), it will underestimate
the costs tremendously.  So by
understanding the terminology and knowing what to look out for, you can save
yourself a headache and hopefully some money as well.

Additional Costs To
Be Prepared For

 

Books, Gear &
Classroom Supplies

Find out what books the school uses.  Some schools may even produce and/or print their
own manuals.  For example, if the school
uses the Jeppesen private pilot
curriculum, you can most likely find it a lot cheaper online than if you
were to buy it through the school.

The same thing goes for things like headsets, plotters, flight
bags, etc.  Most likely, you’ll find
these things cheaper online.

Flight Time Minimums

A big part of your training is in the air. In order to get a
good idea of what it’s going to cost you, you need to try and estimate how many
hours of flight training you will need to finish. This is the hardest part to figure out.

  • The FAA requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight
    time(Part 61) for the private pilot certificate(35 hours under a
    part 141 program).

When most flight schools give you a price estimate, they are
basing their price on the FAA minimums(40 hours). However, most people finish up around 70 to 80 hours.

  • The safe bet is to plan on finishing up
    somewhere around this number and adjust your budget for it. 

Instructor and Aircraft Fees

What they may not tell you is that you will have to pay for
the instructor’s time by the hour. Same thing goes for the aircraft, however
this fee is usually included in the price quote. This is worth getting an exact
quote on when you are estimating the total cost.

  •  Plan for a minimum
    of $50 an hour for the instructor and $100 an hour for the aircraft.
     

Fuel Costs

Fuel costs may not be included in the airplane rental fee. This
can be a BIG hidden area, especially with fuel costs high these days.

  • If fuel is included, it’s referred to as the “wet
    rate”
    .
  • If no fuel is included, it’s referred to as the
    “dry rate”.

Examiner Fees

Before you get your license, you must do one final flight,
commonly called a “checkride”, where you go up with an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner.  This
fee is usually not included in the quote because examiners set their own rates
and for the most part only except cash.

  • Plan
    on the examiner’s fee being anywhere from $200 to $500.
  • Make
    sure to add the aircraft rental fee as well, as this is often not included. Plan
    on a minimum of 1.5 hours.

 

Final
Point To Remember

Keep all of
the above points in mind when you’re researching different flight schools.  Make yourself a checklist, along with any
questions you may have, and take it with you to the flight school. The best way
to keep from getting hit with a lot of hidden costs is to understand the
terminology and to know what questions to ask before you decide on a particular
flight school.

Shawn Hardin is a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor with over 7,000 flight hours. His experience includes flying as a forestry air-attack pilot, airline pilot, flight instructor, and charter pilot. Visit his website at www.flightinstructorguide.com for more information, flight training tips and free downloads.

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