Perhaps the greatest challenge to future professional pilots is overcoming the financial hurdle inherent in flight training. According to recent estimates, a private pilot’s license in 2010 will cost between eight to ten thousand dollars, with the commercial pilot certificate topping out at forty to sixty thousand! The dirty little secret to these bloated numbers is the fact that much of that money is spent renting an airplane and “building hours” — something you could be doing for free!
The Quest for Aeronautical Experience
Buried deep within the sacred stones of the ten thousand commandments of aviation, the FAR/AIM, lies the Aeronautical Experience requirements for each airman certificate. You can find these tucked away under 14 CFR Part 61 or Part 141, depending on what sort of training regimen your instructor follows. These flight time requirements are rarely an issue for sport and private pilots, but quickly become a fiscal nuisance to would-be instrument and commercial pilots who are required to meet their 50 hours of cross country experience, or to hit the 250 hours of total time for a Part 61 commercial rating.
Ways To Save
Offer yourself as a right-seater. You might be surprised at how many professional pilots are willing to help you build your time. By simply cooing over how cool it would be to fly a King Air or Pilatus, you might find yourself being invited to ride along and fly right seat. Ask if the captain is an instructor and don’t let him leave without signing your logbook! And remember to return the favor when you find yourself in the left seat.
Befriend local pilots. There is no shortage of opportunities in having a plethora of flying buddies. You could find yourself riding along in their plane and getting a little hands-on time which, if you’re appropriately rated, is loggable. Others own airplanes that simply aren’t flown enough. They may offer access to their airplanes to you, provided you always top the tanks or keep it clean.
Wash airplanes. Washing an airplane can be a chore, one that many people will gladly do without. By talking to local airplane owners, you may be able to arrange a deal where you can fly someone’s airplane in exchange for a thorough bug-scrub.
Hang out at the airport. Weird missions come up at FBO’s across the nation. If you have a good relationship with the FBO management you just might be asked to take the local trainer to some po-dunk airport to pick up a sack of machinery, free of charge. It’s happened to me many times.
Above all else, be friendly. There’s a real sense of karma in the aviation community, and opportunities always seem to come to those who deserve it most. Participate in local events and be courteous to everybody. If you make your ambitions known, somebody is bound to help you out along the way.
This is by no means a complete list of every way to save money on flight training. If you have any other suggestions, please leave a comment below for the benefit of future pilots.