Five Ways to Fly for Free


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

Saving Money in Flight TrainingBuried 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.

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

26 Replies to Five Ways to Fly for Free

  1. Matt says:

    This is a bogus article. I worked at an FBO for four years during my flight training. I worked my butt off while making a lot of friends in the aviation community. Truth be told, over four years, I ended up getting about ten “free rides.” That added up to a grand total of about twenty hours of flight time…far from the 250 needed for a commercial ticket.

    If you want to learn to fly–get a job. Don’t be an airport bum as this article suggests.

    The legality and randomness of timing a part 91 right-seat flight in a King Air with an MEI…good luck on building those hours for free.

  2. Pat says:

    Matt this may have not worked out for you but for others it can help with the burden of gaining the flight time needed to move forward toward the goal of being a professional pilot. Twenty hours of free flight time in the course of doing your job is still twenty hours of flight time for free.

  3. Frank says:

    The pilot career is so expensive but is one of the most exciting career.
    I live in El Salvador and my goal is start this year with pilot careear, but first I have to work to start earning money.
    All career cost is 25,000 but with effort and sacrifice everything can be.

  4. julian ortiz says:

    hey buddy, your business is not help people, your business is to sell the “KIT”.
    If be a pilot ill be as easily like buy a book, ill bought 100 of them.
    life is not pink color.

  5. aerodarts says:

    Learning to fly is whole lot more than learning to fly!

    I did the 5 ways to fly for free and added to this list of the 5 ways to fly for free…..and when that day finally came to actually be paid to fly, all of this after sweating blood during the CFI flight exam, suffering from pumping Avgas into wings of those mind blowing machine that take to the air from the hot as hell ramps down there in the Southern USA……and much more to overcome, I gave my 1st CFI lesson! I thought the flight lesson went rather well and coming back to airport for the landing I was tuned in baby, ready for anything!

    AND my first student was not a rookie like I was! After we got back to the pilot lounge, and I signed his logbook proudly he vanished into the Chief Pilot office and told the chief pilot that I was not to be his flight instructor! I got fired after my first paid to fly flight!

    Now, some people would took that as an bad omen in regards to job security! BUT, I went on to become the CFI of the year, a CFI who was impossible to schedule a lesson with! Why? Because I decided to become the best teacher ever in the the long list of the best of the best CFI’s ever to strapped themselves into the right seat of anything from a Cessna 152 to a rocket ship.

    Yes, I overcame my fears and other Mt Everest obstacles…..however I would of never got as far as I did get in this amazing world of aviation without my brother’s backing…..and of course, the big eye in the sky!

    Learning to fly was like being given the key to the universe as mystery after mystery was revealed to me. I began to understand how something invisible could be seen with the naked eye and much more knowledge was unlocked by the desire to over this thing called gravity.

    Learning to fly is whole lot more than learning to fly!

  6. Julian says:


    One excellent way to save money flying when learning is to set up a recognized flight sim control system to your computer and practice instrument flying/ ILS approaches, etc. This can save lot of time in live practice, and saves money

  7. Kevin says:

    I joined a flying club and saved money on my PPL. It still took me about 70 hours to complete but that’s because I’m a slow learner. But my cost (including the instructor) was about half of what it would have cost at the local Cessna Training Center. I recommend flying clubs to everyone I talk to.

  8. aerodarts says:

    I signed up to get emails when a new someone has a suggestion to 5 ways to fly for free….

    I like the flight simulator by Julian and Kevin joined a flying club and Kevin 70 hours to get your PP Certificate does not mean you are a slow learner. I flew with some pilots who got their certificates with the minimum times reguired by FAA and I was not impress by their airmanship skills.

    A good way to pick up aeronautical knowledge is to spend a lot of time at the airport/flight school and try to pick up back seat time as an observer. Also, you might be able to pick up right seat time for free. Try to get a job fueling aircraft and meeting pilots. These guys know how hard it is to build up flight time.

    If I have repeated any suggestions made here before, sorry about that! Do not discount reading everything you can about aviation. Being a pilot is not an easy thing and making a living at flying is not for the type who gives up easy. From what I hear from my airline pilot friends it is a tough job and most would not give it up for anything and with all the changes within the industry has not made that an easy thing to say. I am not longer active as a pilot or flight instructor but if anyone has a question, hit me up!


  9. Roger Over says:

    I worked weekends at the local FBO during my private pilot training pumping avgas, sweeping, washing planes, whatever was needed. Traded my labor for flight time. Worked great for me. Also made a lot of good contacts that led to a good number of flight hours. I estimate well over 100 hours. My AME and her husband (both doctors) had 5 airplanes based at our field. After a friendly visit to their hanger I realized they didn’t have time to keep all their planes clean, let alone fly them regularlly. I suggested that I would keep them clean in exchange for a little flight time. They jumped on it!. Having stumbled upon this good idea, I approached others at the airport with the same offer. About 1 out of 5 took me up on the offer. Like I say, it worked for me.

  10. Good Read, Thank you for sharing this.

  11. Great work! That is the type of info that are supposed to be shared around the web. Shame on Google for not positioning this put up higher! Come on over and visit my site . Thanks =)

  12. Great Post! From long time I was looking for such information, keep up the good work. As we all know finance is the great part of any profession. so, this site provides all kinds of information on how save the finance in pilot training.

  13. DrATP says:

    The fourth method (free FBO missions) requires a commercial pilot certificate and a second class medical. The FAA considers free flight time to be compensation.

  14. Hannah E. says:

    How hard or easy is it to learn how to clean planes? How long (on average) would it take someone to do who is learning?

    • Generally speaking, if you can clean a car, then you can clean a plane. You just have to learn to take a few precautions, like not spraying water directly into the pitot/static ports. The windows are also really delicate and scratch easily.

      Now if you go on to bigger planes, then you might get into washing and re-sealing the de-ice boots. That’s a job in and of itself and I’d suggest learning from somebody on the spot.

  15. Andy Biro says:

    Wha is the best flight sim program for my computer?

  16. also172jose says:

    Matt you sound a little bitter. To my experience of 25 years of flying I would say that this article is pretty fare. as a young pilot I had to make a lot of friends and sometimes share flight time for pleasure and some other time I even washed airplanes. And yes I didnt get thousand of hours but I got more than enough to get me where I am today as an airline pilot. I can see your point but I guess that not everyone is the same. As a mature pilot and airplane owner myself I usually help kids out with their time building but only when I see good attitude and desire to grow, not sucking up to me but just a good drive and good attitude to the learning period, god knows I was there too. Anyway being a flight instructor is a good deal since as an instructor you too will learn from other s Mistakes. Pat Good job on trying to help others and good job for being in the airline, the fact is there is a reason you are in the airlines and some other people are not.

  17. Orlando Acosta says:

    Very good and useful information I’m psyched about trying this

  18. Mark Anderson says:

    Greetings, Jay —
    I’m a private pilot, interested in part-time aerial photography.
    I’ve tried to find your website without success.
    Would like to buy your book.
    Please tell me where to buy the book.
    — Mark

  19. That is a defunct site and I have since removed that comment.

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