How Much Does it Cost to Become a Pilot?
|Pilot Certificate||Certificate Cost (From zero experience)|
|Student Pilot License||Free|
|Sport Pilot License||$4,000 – $6,000|
|Private Pilot License||$8,300 – $12,300|
|Commercial Pilot License||$28,000 to $90,000|
|Flight Instructor License||$32,000 -$95,000|
|Airline Transport Pilot License||$35,000+|
The cost to get your pilot license ultimately depends on what type of pilot license you want to obtain. The level of license you need is determined by what type of flying you’re looking to do. For example, a Sport Pilot license may be the best fit if you are looking to fly for fun, whereas a Commercial Pilot license would be the first big step in an aviation career.
Different licenses require different levels of ground and flight instruction and have different testing requirements. It can be complicated to understand, so we’ll make it simple with our friend “Jim” who wants to become a pilot. Let’s follow “Jim” along as he works his way towards becoming an airline pilot.
At the end of this article you’ll understand not only how much it costs for each type of pilot’s license, but also why it cost that much, and how to save serious $$$ on your flight training.
By the way, there is actually no such thing as a pilot license, the correct term in aviation is a Pilot Certificate, but hey, almost everyone calls it a license so we’ll just go with that for our purposes explaining this today.
If you’re interested in the cheapest aviation certifications you can obtain, you can click here to view our article on the cheapest aviation certifications you can obtain.
Step #1 to Becoming a Pilot
A private pilot license costs $8,000-$12,000….great…why is that?
What kind of pilot license should you get? Actually, it doesn’t matter, if you want to just fly for fun, or be a commercial pilot, everyone starts at the bottom with a Private Pilot License (we’ll save talking about the sport pilot licenses until the end of the article).
It’s January 1st and Jim made a New Year’s resolution to become a pilot. He begins his flight training right away. His journey will consist of several different certificates or “pilot license levels”. The progression of becoming an airline pilot looks like this:
- Private Pilot License (VFR)
- Instrument Rating (IFR)
- Commercial Pilot License
- Flight Instructor License (CFI)
- Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)
Now we know Jim has to get his Private Pilot License first before his instrument rating or commercial pilot license. So, what does that cost Jim?
Private Pilot License Cost
Cost to Become a Private Pilot
|Private Pilot Requirements||Costs|
|Pilot Ground School||$350|
|FAA Private Pilot Written Test||$175|
|FAA Medical Certificate||$125|
|40 Flight Training Hours||$7,000-$11,000|
Jim will need to do a couple of things to get his Private Pilot License. He’ll need:
- Pilot Ground School (an online course works great for this) ~ $350
- Pass the FAA Private Pilot Written Test ~ $175
- Get an FAA Medical Certificate ~ $125
- Flight Training in the Plane ~ $7,000-$11,000 (why is it a range and not a set price?)
- FAA Checkride (your flight test, kind of like a driving test for your Driver’s license) ~ $650
So Jim begins his online ground school on January 1st, and that helps him prepare for both his flight training and the FAA Private Pilot Written Exam (60 questions, multiple-choice test). He signed up for ground school at FLY8MA.com and completed it in 2 weeks, spending about 50 hours of total study time on the courses. Since Jim completed his ground school at FLY8MA.com, he had a great foundation of knowledge and easily passed his FAA written exam. Jim has spent about $500 so far.
He then went to his local flight school (he chose his flight school using our guide here) and took his first flight lesson. The flight lessons vary in cost depending on how long each lesson lasts, but he planned accurately that each lesson would be $300-$450. After his first lesson, Jim asked his Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) for a recommendation on which doctor to use to get his Medical Certificate.
Jim goes to the recommended AME (Aviation Medical Examiner) and gets his FAA Medical for $125.
Jim studies hard, flies at least 5 days per week, and earns his Private Pilot License on February 15th after completing his Private Pilot Checkride with the FAA for $650.
All together, Jim spent about 6 weeks learning to fly and earned his pilot’s license for $8,527. Jim has also logged a total of 44.2 flight hours which is just over the FAA minimum requirement of 40 flight hours to become a private pilot, but well under the national average in 2020 of 73.1 hours.
What did the 40 flight training hours consist of?
While we do explain this in a lot more detail in another article here. We’ll explain here briefly what you are getting in your 40 hours of flight training.
Assume you are paying $100/hr to rent a plane and paying a flight instructor $60/hr for the time they spend training you both in the air and on the ground in your briefing sessions.
|Pilot Time||Certificate Cost (From zero experience)|
|40 hours total to include:||This is the minimum|
|20 hours flight training||Jim spent 32.3 hours with his CFI|
|3 hours night training||Jim had 3.1 hours of night training|
|3 hours cross country training||Jim had 3.2 hours of “cross-country” training|
|10 hours solo||Jim had 11.9 hours of solo flight|
|10 hours used towards either training or solo||Jim spent that extra time with his CFI|
This is how Jim racked up a bill of $7,425 from the flight school, plus his other fees came to his total of $8,527 for his Private Pilot License.
Instrument Rating Cost
You’ve probably heard things about pilots who fly VFR (visual flight rules) or IFR (instrument flight rules). We’ve all heard about how JFK Jr. crashed his plane in bad weather because he didn’t know how to fly on instruments. Jim heard about that too and doesn’t want that to happen to him, so he decides on March 1st to get his instrument rating.
|Instrument Rating Requirements (IFR)||Costs|
|IFR Ground School||$350|
|FAA IFR Written Test||$175|
|40 flight hours of flying on instruments and 50 flight hours of “cross country” flying||$5,000-$9,000 (why is this a range)|
|15 Flight Training Hours Minimum||$3,000-$5,000|
Just like any other type of pilot license, Jim has to take a “ground school” course to study for both flight training and for the FAA Pilot Test (each level of pilot license has a required FAA written exam, and you are required by the FAA to receive ground training and an endorsement specifying you are ready for the test prior to being allowed to take the written exam).
It’s important to note Jim does not have to get his instrument rating right now, but it is a good idea to get it before you proceed onward to your commercial pilot license, as no company will hire you without that rating (note: in aviation, we have “certificates” which are commonly referred to as licenses, and we have “ratings”. You must first earn a certificate, and then you can add additional “ratings” to it, such as an instrument rating).
Jim again studies hard and takes about 3 weeks to complete the IFR online ground school course at FLY8MA.com, and receives the endorsement to take the written test from the course, and then completes the test at his local testing center. While studying, he continues flying on his own, taking short trips of 50 miles or more that count towards his “cross country” flight time, of which he needs at least 50 hours worth before he can take his IFR checkride.
Jim also heads back to the flight school around early April and begins working on his required 15 flight hours of training with his instrument flight instructor (CFII). By late April, Jim has logged 115.8 hours total and spent about $17,522 since January 1st.
Jim now just needs to spend another $650 to take the FAA Instrument Pilot Checkride, which he is guaranteed to pass since he took the online course at FLY8MA.com. It’s important to note every flight student that has used the FLY8MA has passed their checkride on their first try, which saves a lot of money. If you fail a checkride, you have to pay for it all over again, plus pay for extra training before you can retry, which adds to the cost quickly. Luckily, Jim passed his checkride no problem and has now spent just over $18,000 to become an instrument rated private pilot with about 117.2 hours of flight time.
Commercial Pilot License
So how much does a commercial pilot license cost? Well, hopefully, you can see now that for Jim, or for anyone to become a commercial pilot, they must first complete their private pilot training and likely earn an instrument rating. Part of why it makes good financial sense to get your instrument rating right after you get your private pilot license is because you will need to reach a total of 250 flight hours logged before you can become a commercial pilot. As you can see in our cost breakdown, the flight time (renting an airplane) is generally the most expensive part of becoming a pilot. If you need to log the flight time anyway, you might as well let that time count towards earning your instrument rating rather than just flying around for fun.
|Commercial Pilot License Cost||Costs|
|Commercial Ground School||$350|
|FAA Commercial Written Test||$175|
|250 Flight Hours total||$25,000-$50,000 (why is this a range)|
|10 Hours of training||$2,000-$4,000|
The initial 117.2 flight hours Jim had logged up to the point of him getting his instrument rating all counts towards the 250 hour requirement of becoming a commercial pilot. That means Jim needs to get 10 hours or so of training from his flight instructor (CFI) and then fly around for another 122.8 hours by himself (he could fly all of that time with a CFI on board, but he would have to pay for that flight instructor to sit next to him, so flying by himself or with friends to help split the costs probably makes the most sense).
This flying to build up flight time is some of the most fun Jim will have as a pilot. It’s now May 1st and summer is right around the corner. The weather is getting nicer, and Jim’s main job at this point is just renting an airplane and flying wherever he wants in the country building up his flight time towards 250 total hours. Jim is also spending more money per week than a gambling addict in a casino at this point, but hey, it’s all counting towards him getting that great job as a commercial pilot.
It takes Jim about 2 months of flying around for fun, having the vacation of a lifetime as he travels in his rented plane to new places and studies the Commercial Pilot Ground School course in his free time. By July 1st, Jim has 240 flight hours and is ready to take the FAA written exam for his commercial pilot license! He flies 10 more hours with his CFI, hits the magic 250 mark, and schedules his FAA Commercial Pilot Checkride.
On July 15th, Jim becomes a commercial pilot with an instrument rating. He’s flown just over 250 hours in the last 7 and a half months, and spent $33,212 (thanks to the courses at FLY8MA.com not only preparing him well for his training, but also providing lots of tips to save money along the way).
Jim can go get a job now flying as a commercial pilot and start earning money to pay back those loans he took out to pay for his training. Common jobs for the newly minted commercial pilot include skydiver pilot, advertising banner towing, aerial photography, pipeline patrol, and aerial survey work. Although, to be honest depending on where you are in the country, some of those jobs may be hard to come by or may be seasonal. A common way for new commercial pilots to make money and continue building their flight time is to get their “flight instructor license” or in more correct terms, become a CFI (certified flight instructor). We’ll cover that next.
Cost to Become a Flight Instructor CFI
Our friend Jim decided he wants to make money to pay back some of his loans, and also build a lot of flight time very quickly so he can get that big paying airline pilot job he is really after (just so you know, airline pilots make about $50,000-$60,000 their first year or so on the job. The $300,000+ wages come later on after you’ve been with the company a few years. We just want you to have realistic expectations).
|Flight Instructor Costs||Costs|
|CFI Ground School||$350|
|FAA Written Test x 2||$350|
|10-25 hours flight training||$2,500-$5,000 (why is this a range)|
|10-20 hours ground training||$1,000-$2,000|
Now the best thing Jim can do is begin his CFI training immediately after getting his commercial pilot license so all the information is still fresh in his mind (sorry Jim, you’re going to spend more of your summer studying). It’s going to take Jim nearly a month of studying to get through the ground school, two required FAA written exams this time, and the ground and flight training he will need to be ready for a long, thorough, and expensive FAA checkride. A flight instructor license might seem like an easy way to make money and build lots of time quickly in an airplane you are already very familiar with, but the FAA expects those who teach to really know their aviation knowledge inside and out.
Jim earns his Flight Instructor Certificate on August 15th, 8.5 months to the day since he first decided to become a pilot. The CFI training cost him an additional $5,400, bringing his total cost to become a pilot to $38,612. Still pretty good considering some flight schools in the US advertise over $90,000 to get you the same licenses in the same amount of time. If you want to know why that is, click here.
Airline Transport Pilot License Cost (ATPL)
Now when Jim started his journey to become a pilot, he really wanted to be an airline pilot. So how much does it cost for an airline pilot license?
Well, your airline pilot license (the proper term is Airline Transport Pilot Certificate) does not have a real “cost” associated with it. Some people will tell you it costs $90,000 to get an airline pilot license. Those estimates are quite frankly, arbitrary at best.
The fact is you must have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours to get an unrestricted Airline Pilot License. The cost for you to rent a plane to build that flight time from 250 hours where Jim was, to 1,500 hours would be ($100/hr x 1,250 hours) $125,000 in addition to what Jim already spent becoming a commercial pilot. That is unrealistic for anyone, and that is why you commonly see new commercial pilots take low paying jobs as flight instructors, banner towers, etc. For these new commercial pilots, racking up the flight time while their boss pays for the airplane is more valuable than a decent wage.
So what’s the real cost of an airline pilot license?
The real cost is whatever it cost you to become a commercial pilot (in Jim’s case this was $33,212) plus any additional costs you might spend to get an additional rating or certificate to get hired on at your first job (such as earning your flight instructor certificate). Once you are hired on at your first commercial pilot job, your company will likely pay for any additional training needed as you build flight time. Some folks may scare you with the cost of training for your actual ATP license (like the cost of a checkride or simulator training on airline jets), but really the airline will hire you with just 1,500 hours, your commercial pilot certificate, and they will pay for the rest. So in Jim’s case, he got hired at a flight school, worked there for 18 months, hit 1,500 hours total flight time and was hired as an airline pilot. Jim essentially paid $38,612 for his airline pilot license.
Sport Pilot License Cost
|20 Flight Hours Minimum||$2,300|
|30 Hours Instructor Fees||$1,800|
|FAA Written Test Cost||$165|
|FAA Checkride Cost||$650|
Now after everything we explained in this article to this point, do you really believe that a Sport Pilot license costs $4,915? In all reality, while it might be theoretically possible to earn a Sport Pilot License (or more accurately a Sport Pilot Certificate) for under $5,000, it is more likely that it will cost closer to the $8,000 mark. This is because learning to fly as a sport pilot and learning to fly as a private pilot are both learning to fly. The only difference between the sport and private pilot certificate is as a sport pilot you will be unable to fly in busy airspace without further training after your FAA checkride, you won’t be able to fly with more than one passenger, and you will not be able to fly at night. Given that the national average to become a Sport Pilot is 36 hours, you can expect to increase both your Aircraft Rental expense and your flight instructor fees by several thousand dollars.
How do I save money?
Flight training is, unfortunately, very expensive. Fortunately, FLY8MA Flight Training has some great tips on how you can save money throughout your flight training. Click here to learn how you can cut your flight training costs and ensure you are stretching your dollar to the greatest extent possible.