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Asking how much it costs to become a pilot is like asking how much it costs to travel to Europe: There are many variables. Do you want to be a private pilot? An airline pilot? Do you have a lot of time to devote to flight school? Do you want to do ground school on your own or with a class? What flight schools are in your area? The answers to all of these questions will impact the price you'll pay to become a pilot.
Cost of Flying the Plane
The biggest expense to learning to fly is paying for hours on the plane. One blog, flightschoolblog.com, explains that smaller planes might cost less, say $69 an hour, while larger planes cost more, say $109 an hour. For an aspiring pilot to spend 40 hours flying would cost $2,760 for the smaller plane or $4,360 for the larger one. However, while some pilots become proficient in as few as 40 hours, student pilots normally average closer to 70 hours of flight time before they are good enough to pass a pilot's licensing test. So the cost of flying the plane might be more like $4,830 for the smaller plane and $7,630 for the larger one.
Cost of the Instructor
Instructors' fees aren't included in the plane cost. A survey of various flight schools found instructors' fees ranging from $25 an hour to $75 an hour. If a student were to need an instructor for the minimum 20 hours of flying, the student would pay, on average, $1,000 for instructors' time. That doesn't take into account another 20 to 50 hours instructors generally have to devote before students are ready to pass a pilot's licensing test.
Ground school can be another variable. Some schools might allow a student to study the book and take the test without classroom instruction, while others require time in a classroom. That means paying instructors another $25 to $75 an hour for at least five hours.
Test Fees and Peripherals
In late 2010, pilot training books cost around $200 and pilot licensing test fees amounted to about $400.
While some flight schools will advertise that you can get a pilot's license for around $5,000, the reality is that the cost generally works out to be more. A commercial pilot's license -- bigger plane, more than twice the flight time -- generally costs $40,000 to $50,000.
Bargain Shopping Discouraged
Most reputable pilot-oriented websites advise against "bargain basement" flight schools. Some of these guarantee a certification or license, but the guarantee often expires after a certain number of hours of teaching. For others, hidden price elevators may exist, including poor training that leads to increased hours with the instructor. Choose your school for its reputation, not just its price.
Jane Doyle has been writing for newspapers and magazines for more than 30 years. She served as associate editor for a business/lifestyle publication and has written articles for magazines ranging from "Bank Director" to "Natural Home." Doyle holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas.