A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

 August 2011   

So You Want to FLY... 


It would be hard for me to get excited about bowling, curling or playing poker.  They’re all activities that are “way out there” and in which I have absolutely no interest.  Yet if you flip through the TV channels on a Saturday afternoon, there’s a good chance you’ll find any one, or even all of these going on somewhere.  They’re apparently quite popular, but I’d have to pass on watching.   

However, if on that same Saturday afternoon there was something on the television about aviation, that’s where I’d be.  Being excited about flying isn’t the same as with bowling or poker.  Any pilot or someone who aspires to be a pilot, was probably born with that bug.  And it stays with us for life.  For many, the process starts at a young age, then finally comes to term years later when the financial resources allow.  I suspect that’s still the case, and many of the students learning to fly today will not see their license for another ten or twenty years.  It’s the huge cost that holds them back.   

It didn’t take too much searching to put together what seems to be an average or typical cash outlay for learning to fly.  In Canada, and this is very close to what you would pay in the U.S., the estimated minimum cost to earn a PRIVATE PILOT license is around $10,000.  And don’t forget the taxes added on by the government.  In most jurisdictions, the tax rates are between 10 and 15%, which jacks up the price of that license around another $1,200 or $1,300.  These costs will apply to pilots who can complete the training in the minimum required hours.  Most can’t. 

For those who intend to make a career of flying, they’ll go on to the commercial license.  In that case, the costs really start to climb.  Today in 2011, a commercial pilots license will involve a financial commitment of another $20,000 plus.  Add on the tax, and it will total about $23,000. 

How does a nineteen or twenty year old student come up with that kind of cash?   To get from zero flying through to a commercial license, the bottom line will be between $35,000 and $40,000.  That can be spread out over time, and realistically, the student is possibly looking at years to do this.   

Not to discourage you, but I will state that at the end of this training, you will have just around 250 hours in your logbook, no IFR or multi engine rating, which would be the minimum qualifications for landing a job in a right seat.  Add on approximately another $15,000.   

There is some good news, and that would be the time commitment.  With the financial backing in hand, a student could conceivably put together the commercial license with the multi-IFR ratings in a year.  That can’t be done to earn a university degree.   

Costs and time involved are literally all over the map for different pilots.  Some will get it on and get it done, while others take years.  Many fly on a PPL while continuing other careers, then one day decide they should upgrade to a commercial license in order to open up some work options.   

There are people of all ages who would like to fly but who know they will never fly for a living.  Some realize they’re just too old to get started in an aviation career.   For them, the costs just discussed may be prohibitive.  However, there is an option of going the Recreational Pilot Permit route.  The next best thing to earning a PPL, this RPP qualifies a pilot to fly certified aircraft carrying a passenger during daylight hours within Canada.

A pilot with the RPP is also eligible to obtain a float rating.  When you think about it, most pilots who have a PPL fly with only one other person on board anyway.  And for their perceived security risks, the regulations and procedures to fly across the U.S. border are just not worth the trouble for the recreational private pilot.  That makes the RPP a logical alternative.  The best part is the cost can be as low as $7,000.  It’s not a bad way to get flying.

 If that still doesn’t fit your needs or pocketbook, then consider the Ultralight Pilot Permit. For as little as near $5,000, you could be in the air flying a basic or advanced ultralight aircraft.  The plane is restricted to a maximum take-off weight of 1,200 pounds, and you will not be allowed without further endorsements and conditions to carry passengers.    

All the numbers in this article can vary considerably, depending on where you go to sign up for lessons and who you talk to.  They represent approximate costs.  There is no shortage of easily accessed information on the internet on the subject of pilot licensing.  What you’re reading here is what I hope will spark your interest in learning to fly.  There are several choices out there, one of which might just be your ticket the sky.      

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