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Pilot certificate options and timeline

How much does it cost to learn to fly and get a pilot certificate?

There are a lot of variables that affect the cost of learning to fly, including the frequency of flight lessons, weather conditions, the kind of aircraft in which you are training and its availability for scheduling, and individual aptitude. A rough estimate would range between $5,000 and $9,000, depending on the certificate being sought. Some schools are offering the sport pilot certificate for as little as $3,000.

One oft-overlooked option is learning to fly in gliders. You can earn the private pilot certificate with a glider rating in a quarter or even a third of the flight time as required for airplanes. Also, you can solo at a younger age—14 instead of 16. Best of all, learning to fly gliders makes you a better, more well-rounded pilot, and most of the flight time can be counted toward the addition of an airplane rating later on. The cost is similar to that of the sport pilot certificate. The Soaring Society of America maintains an interactive list of soaring sites.

How long does it take to learn to fly and get a pilot certificate?

The same variables that affect the cost of learning to fly will affect the time it takes to earn your certificate. The FAA has established the minimum number of flight hours needed to obtain a certificate. Under Part 61 of the federal aviation regulations, the minimums are 20 hours for a sport pilot certificate, 30 hours for a recreational certificate, and 40 hours for a private pilot certificate.

Some schools operate under an alternate regulation, Part 141, which provides more FAA oversight, more rigid schedules, and more paperwork. The added requirements allow them to reduce the minimum hours of private pilot training to 35 hours. However, many schools believe that a true average flight training time for a private pilot is between 50 and 60 hours, whether the school operates under Part 61 or Part 141. Others believe that 68 to 70 hours is the more likely average. These flight hours can be spread over a time span of several months to a year or more.

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