Sunday, July 17, 2005
Flight Training Costs
Many readers of my blog are amazed by, as one put it, the "mind-numbing amount of money" I'm spending on my flight training. I'm afraid to add it all up, but at roughly $300 for each flying lesson and $150 for each ground lesson, my 36 flying lessons and 11 ground lessons have cost me over $12,000 so far. And I've still got a way to go.
(Egads! Over twelve thousand dollars so far!?! I've never estimated it before.)
My father was recently talking to one of his neighbors who is a private pilot. That guy found out about the high costs of training at PDK, and had decided to go through a "cheapee" training program somewhere else. My parents are glad I'm going through a non-cheapee program, and so am I.
Even so, flight training is taking more time and more money than I expected when I started. Every few weeks, I re-evaluate the situation. Should I keep spending my excess income on this, or should I do something else with it? Should I switch to a less-expensive flight school? Is my flight school screwing me?
I keep coming to the conclusion that it's best to stick with what I'm doing. Yes, it's expensive, and I knew that when I started. I knew I was choosing the most expensive option. This school does have some rules and procedures which increase the costs to students, but I'm convinced that safety and quality of instruction are the real reasons for those rules. I wasn't comfortable with the other flight schools I checked out back before I started, so I have no reason to believe that switching schools now would be a good thing. Even if I did, adding an hour to the commute to and from the airport would do more to discourage me than money ever could.
The bottom line is that the money is not really a problem for me, so I'm not going to worry about it. If I thought I could get equivalent-quality training nearby for less money, I'd do it, but if I were to switch to another school now simply to save money, I would never be comfortable with the decision.
Don't take this as criticism of pilots who train elsewhere. For people starting younger, or who have a natural affinity for flying, or who plan to immediately go on to additional training (instrument, commercial, multi-engine, etc.) a faster cheaper private-pilot training course makes a lot of sense. If I have to spend twice as much as everyone else to get what I want out of my training, that's my problem, and nobody else's.
Those of you considering flight training should not use my experience as a guide. Costs vary widely. When I first started investigating, the estimates varied from $6,000 to $15,000. Most estimates were in the $8K-$12K range. Beware of the schools that advertise a small fixed price ("Get a Private Pilot License for only $6995!"). I checked a couple of those schools, and quickly figured out that the real costs would be much higher than the advertised costs. The school I chose was the only one that was honest about the fact that it would cost a lot, and that they were more concerned with making me a good pilot than in just getting me ready for the checkride.
With the benefit of hindsight, I know a few little things I could have done differently to save myself some money:
- I shouldn't have started the lessons until I had my medical certificate in hand. I blew about three grand taking lessons that didn't count while waiting on the FAA Aeromedical Division to do whatever it is they do (which I believe is "nothing").
- I should have scheduled three lessons per week instead of two, so that I would have gotten less rusty between lessons.
- I should have started two or three months earlier, or waited until autumn to start, so that I wouldn't have to contend with Georgia's volatile summer weather.
I'm fortunate in that I make a good living, so minimizing costs was not a high priority. I went with the school that I trusted most after talking with the staff and going on a discovery flight. I'll never know if it really was the best choice, but it's certainly a choice I can live with.
When I was looking at flight schools I decided right away that cost was not going to be a factor in my choice, I don't want to just be a pilot, I want to be an excellent pilot. Only by paying more could I join a professional school and get an excellent standard of safety, aircraft and training.
I guess in some respects having a healthy disposable income makes it easier to make that above statement, but in my view even if money was a factor I would wait until I could save and afford a high standard of training.
When I got my commercial drivers licence, I chose to get training at a school that was well respected, operated by a company that is actually a major insurer in the province I live in.
It was not the most expensive - there were others that were several thousand dollars more for what seemed like much less, although they had flashy advertisements and lots of glitz that made them look impressive, when in reality their grads were not getting jobs.
However, I made the right choice, as I had a job within weeks of graduating, even though I went to a lesser cost school. 10 years later, I work for a premiere company, and am envied by many others in my field for having such a job when they simply can't get there themselves.
Kris: Your school sounds top-notch, no question about it, but I don't think that others schools offer "less" quality or make "poorer" pilots because of them being cheaper.
Just my $0.02. Nothing negative meant, just 'sayin. :-)
I chose the school I'm attending because it seemed to be the best among the alternatives. The fact that it was also the most expensive was a little unfortunate, but not enough to deter me.
This is the one rule the school has that bugs me, as it seems to be designed to maintain the school's income during times of bad weather. My instructor doesn't like it either, but he doesn't make the rules. He does try to find things beyond the books so that it is not a complete waste of our time.
In the same situation, I would do the same thing - pay more to go to a professional school, rather then taking the cheaper school and receiving mediocre training.
I'm lucky to have the best of both worlds - my school is very professional, organized, follows an excellent syllabus, and has great instructors. But at the same time (in the great perspective of things) is reasonably affordable.
I must agree that being forced to attend ground lessons when a flight is cancelled due to weather sounds like a very questionable approach. You seem to agree. It's unfortunate, indeed.
With only a few exceptions, if a flight had to be cancelled the corresponding ground lesson (if applicable) was also put off. There was no cost or obligation to attend when the weather didn't play fair.
A few times I chose to do a ground lesson anyways even when wx was unflyable or just questionable, but I found that it was unproductive since what I was learning was often not fresh in my mind a week later when the actual "practical" portion (the flight) happened.
thank you for your attention