There is much debate over how much time and how much money it will/should take to complete flight training. An AOPA CFI recently congratulated a student on completing his checkride by handing out a backhanded compliment: it was “annoying,” he said, the small amount of time the student took and how he “soaked up the knowledge practically overnight.”
Conservatively, expect to pay between $8,000 and $10,000 to obtain your private pilot certificate. But it is possible to spend $18,000 or more. Variables such as your time, your instructor’s time, weather, ability, and proficiency will all affect the cost. Students “usually” solo by their twentieth hour of instruction and may be eligible to take their checkride by their fortieth hour. However, it is normal for a student to take 60 to 70 hours.
So, where’s that money to come from? Here are seven ways:
Take out a loan. Financing your training may allow you to fly more frequently and progress more quickly than paying as you go, which could help you finish the certificate in fewer hours. And, yes, we’re going to recommend an AOPA Aviation Finance flight training loan. Our service can help you get your private pilot certificate for between $150 and $300 per month (loan repayment). It’s a non-secured loan so it will be at a higher interest rate. You could get a traditional loan from a bank if you have the collateral (house, car, or other property) and obtain a slightly lower interest rate, but aviation financing is usually the better option—you are earmarking the money only for flight training and investing in yourself.
Apply for scholarships. Listen up: There are tons of scholarships available. You don’t have to be an Einstein or live in poverty to qualify. Sometimes you need to write a nice essay or report to your local Lions Club, but often these scholarships are begging to be won. Recently California Aeronautical University awarded a nearly $150,000 scholarship to one student! AOPA gave away more than $1 million in scholarships in 2019; you can review the requirements and watch for the opening of the next application window here. Check AOPA’s website for a listing of other scholarships.
Work it off. It’s not 1940 and you might not hop rides after washing a guy’s airplane, but you can work at the airport or get a part-time job to finance your training.
Employ the barter system. Are you a great web designer? Know your way around home repairs? Maybe there’s something your CFI needs that he or she can’t do themselves and you can trade off. An hour of design for an hour of instruction. It’s worth asking.
Join the military. Serve your country, get a vocation. Military pilot training programs provide “free” flight training, and veterans may use Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits toward flight training at qualifying schools.
Load up the credit card. You can just keep putting your lessons on your credit card. If you’re disciplined or use a card such as American Express and pay it off as you go, you won’t incur those monstrous annual percentage rates (APR), which can top 26 percent if you’re not careful.
Borrow from your family. If Mom and Dad were willing and could afford to help you with college, maybe they will help with flight training. Take them with you on an intro flight to help assuage their fears—make sure it’s a benign weather day and your instructor is personable.
Julie Summers Walker
AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.