Updated: Nov 16
Flight training is incredibly rewarding in jaw-dropping views from the cockpit, once in a lifetime experiences, and sometimes even a hefty salary.
You might have a clear vision of your future self flying a beautiful private aircraft. Perhaps your end goal is to fly your family to the Florida Keys or become First Officer for an airline. The question then becomes, "how do I get there?"
Financing flight training can seem like a huge obstacle, but there are many ways to lessen the cost. Here's 7 ways.
1. Decide on your goal and make it happen
Whether you want your private license in 6 months or several ratings under your belt within a year, decide on your goals and then hold yourself to it. It will save you money.
Taking breaks during your flight training will cost you in additional flight hours and ground training to relearn topics you've already covered. You might end up spending double the money in reviewing cloud types for the second time if you have forgotten the information during your hiatus. Learning to fly not only consists of studying, but also muscle memory in the plane. Any break will stifle your ability to retain what you've already practiced.
How do you make a goal? A SMART goal must be specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. If your goal is to become a private or professional pilot, make sure your goal is designed in an achievable way. You might want to rephrase your goal to "I will earn my private pilots' license (specific) within 6 months (timebound) by completing 8 flight hours per month, passing my written exam, and studying 2 hours per week (attainable, measureable, and relevant)."
2. Take practice written exams before the official one
Before you take your checkride (or solo in some cases), you'll need to pass an FAA written test which is mandatory for your private pilot’s license, instrument rating, commercial pilot certificate, and CFI ratings.
If your ready to take your checkride but you haven't completed and passed your written exam, you might hold up your progress. You'll spend more money reviewing what you've forgotten or just put your training on hold altogether. You could take your written exam before you even start flight training to create a basis for information you'll learn later and to allow you to focus only on one thing at a time.
Furthermore, registering for an exam costs approximately $150. You'll have to repay that amount if you fail, so it's a good idea to pass several practice exams first. You can find actual and realistic exam questions via Dauntless Test Prep. Once you take the practice exams and consistently earn an A, you can expect to pass your written exam. Dauntless gives you lifetime access so that later in your training you can refresh your memory on exam questions.
3. Get the LiveATC app or invest in a handheld radio
When you first start flight training, listening to the ATIS or anything ATC says can sound like gibberish. If you're not sure what words to look for, they can all blend together in a mess of static.
You can practice and perfect your listening skills and even practice repeating instructions back to ATC by listening to a handheld radio or the LiveATC app. This saves you money because you will be able to pick up on radio communications quickly in your lessons. You won't have to practice with an instructor and you won't rack up the Hobbs time you're paying for.
In the LiveATC app, you can search for a specific airport you want to tune into. Listen to how pilots and ATC communicates call signs, altitudes, headings and more. From your bedroom, you can practice saying it back as if they were telling you to do a right turn to 270, then climb and maintain 3,000ft.
Speaking of practicing from the comfort of your own home, chair flying is a great option. A significant aspect of flight training is muscle memory and understanding procedures, and chairflying gives you the opportunity to work on both - for free!
Chairflying is the act of visualizing a procedure (like slow flight, stalls, pre-landing checklist, etc.) and act out each step in your mind. You can talk out the procedure out loud and move your hands as if you were manipulating the controls. You can purchase a cockpit poster or even create a makeshift cockpit with a poster board and some printed images of instruments.
Moving your hands to adjust the mixture, throttle, flaps, etc., will improve your muscle memory for your flight in the actual plane. It will come much easier to you so that you have more mental capacity to stay ahead of the aircraft.
5. Apply for flight training scholarships
Flight training scholarships are available and can be found with a quick google search. There are also hundreds of thousands of dollars given away every year in flight training scholarships. AOPA, EAA, and WIA are among organizations that offer the most scholarships, but new scholarships pop up all the time – so search frequently, and apply often.
6. Join the aviation community
Flight instructors and other aviators love to talk about aviation! Who would have thought, right? Get to know them and join in on the conversation. The other day I found myself listening to a surprisingly passionate discussion regarding the proper way to use a logbook. That's free ground training along with a stimulating discussion.
Your mentor can give you advice on saving money with flight training. An experienced member of the aviation community can help you weigh your options for flight schools and offer recommendations specific to your circumstances.
Go out of your way to make friends with your instructor, other student pilots, and community leaders. Join a Facebook group such as Women in Aviation or Pilots and Aviation Enthusiasts (and a smaller group that consists of pilots local to you such as FL Aviation Center) and start chatting away. Others will link news articles or interactive posts about the industry, their experiences, and more. You'll always learn something.
You can find an experienced mentor to answer your questions, offer advice, and help you make decisions throughout your flight training. Both EAA and AOPA have mentor programs available.
7. Share flight time
After you have earned your private pilot's license, time building allows you to increase your skills in the aircraft. To become a commercial pilot, you need at least 250 hours (part 61) and you'll need 1,500 hours to apply for an airline. So, why not share the cost of these time building hours with another pilot who needs to time build too?
As a private or instrument rated pilot, you can only get reimbursed for the pro rata share of the operating costs of your flight. Instead of renting the plane yourself, you can split the costs with another pilot. Connect with another pilot to fly together. Not only will you have money, you'll put your skills to practical use. Problem-solving and critical thinking without an instructor present will offer useful real world experience.
Purchase your logbook here.
BFR - By far the most concise well organized VFR flight review book on the market.
Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide - Updated to reflect vital FAA regulatory, procedural, and training changes, this indispensable tool prepares private pilots for their checkride.
FAR AIM 2021 - Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual