AOPA Access

April 1, 1998

You rent an airplane too rarely, and your landings are awful. Unfortunately, landings aren't the only aeronautical skill getting rusty, and by flight review time you're positively corroded. You're too embarrassed to take friends up anymore, and you look for reasons not to fly. While cleaning out your wallet one day, you're shocked to find an expired medical.

You're not alone. General aviation is losing active pilots. In 1995, there were 639,184 active pilots, but only 616,340 in 1997, a loss of more than 11,400 pilots a year! From what members tell me on the phone, boredom accounts for at least part of the decline.

One sure-fire way to avoid boredom is to never stop learning. When did you enjoy flying the most? Wasn't it when you'd just cleared a hurdle - perhaps your first lesson, your solo, a difficult stage check, that lesson when the light suddenly clicked on? You felt a sense of pride and accomplishment, right?

You can get that feeling back. Get your instrument rating. Go for your commercial certificate. Get a tailwheel endorsement. Spin training, perhaps? The point is, you'll never get bored if you have fresh challenges, and the best part is that AOPA can help you in a number of different ways, including financing through the AOPA Flight Funds program.

Instrument rating

Instrument training forced me to pay closer attention to weather, and I developed a healthier respect for it than when I just avoided it entirely. It taught me to pay attention to my flying and to the airplane. I still prefer VFR, but I'm no longer terrorized by the thought of being stuck for weeks in East Nowhere.

You can start on an instrument rating at any time after receiving your private certificate. Training time varies, although the FAA-required minimum is 40 hours, including 15 with an instrument instructor (CFII).

Commercial certificate

You will finish commercial training as the master of your aircraft. Training maneuvers include chandelles and lazy-eights; a commercial certificate is mostly about increasing your skill and understanding of the aircraft and its handling.

To take the commercial checkride, you'll need at least 250 total hours. Training includes a couple of cross-country flights and at least 10 hours of dual in a complex aircraft, typically at $90 to $130 per hour, plus instructor. The knowledge test will require boning up on rules and weather. The checkride consists of four or five maneuvers, done very precisely.


This training involves perfecting your coordination and teaches you to think in three dimensions. There isn't a formal rating in this category, so there's no minimum time requirement. Aircraft typically used include the Bellanca/American Champion Super Decathlon and Citabria, Pitts S-2B, and the Zlin 242, with rental rates as low as $60 per hour. For a list of aerobatic schools, call AOPA's Pilot Information Center.


A quick look at the new FAR Part 61.109 makes it appear that a multiengine rating requires 40 hours of training, but that's not true. A multiengine rating has no minimum time specified, and typical completion times range from 10 to 15 hours. A multiengine trainer such as a Piper Apache or Seneca rents for about $150 to $180 per hour.


If you've ever wondered why rudder pedals were included on airplanes, tailwheel instruction is for you. Training includes normal and crosswind takeoffs and landings, wheel landings, and go-around procedures. There are no knowledge tests or minimum required hours, and no flight check. Tailwheel aircraft rent for $40 to $60 per hour wet, but finding a rental is becoming more difficult because of insurance problems. AOPA has an information package, free to members.

Other opportunities

There are several other ways to expand your horizons, including gliders, seaplanes, helicopters, balloons, airships, ultralights, hang gliders, and skydiving. The point is, don't just vegetate. The new FAR 61.63(c) makes it simple to go out and add a rating.

Paul Smith, 44, joined AOPA Aviation Services in June 1997. He has more than 1,000 hours and holds commercial pilot and CFII certificates and is working on his multiengine instructor rating. A former National Park Service ranger, he specializes in military aviation history.

AOPA Aviation Information Resources

AOPA Pilot Information Center for expert help and advice for pilots, from pilots, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672).

AOPA Online on the World Wide Web ( offers many of the information publications from AOPA and the Air Safety Foundation.

AOPA and Air Safety Foundation booklets are available, some free, some for a nominal shipping and handling charge, by calling 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672).

One of AOPA's premier member benefits is the team of dedicated pilots and instructors who interact one-on-one with members. Together, they own nine aircraft and have more than 47,500 hours accumulated over 248 years in aviation. Any member can reach the specialists by calling 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672), or through AOPA's World Wide Web site (