written by: Andrew Jones•edited by: Jason C. Chavis•updated: 5/24/2010
Are you thinking about when and how you can fly as a private pilot? The journey to becoming a private pilot is an exciting one, but it is also a major investment of time and money, and learning before you can take to the skies.
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So You Want to Become a Pilot?
Learning to fly an airplane can literally be the experience of a lifetime. It is an amazing feeling to sit at the controls of a small plane and look out the window to see the familiar landmarks of your town or city passing slowly beneath you. Equally amazing is seeing the clouds in their full three-dimensional aspect. They seem so much bigger when you are flying among them. It makes one feel tiny, and serves as a poignant reminder of what an amazing place this world really is. For many, it can be a philosophical or even religious experience. Of course, learning to fly can have practical benefits as well, especially if you are a small business owner who travels a lot. The truth is, people learn to fly for a lot of different reasons, including simply to see if they can do it.
If you are seriously considering signing up for flying lessons, then congratulations on your ambition. However, there are a number of matters that you should think through carefully before getting in too deep. The decisions you make at the beginning of your training can have a powerful impact on the quality of your experience, and indeed on your ultimate success or failure.
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Are You Eligible to Learn to Fly?
Make sure that you meet the eligibility requirements for earning your license right away, so as to avoid a costly disappointment down the road. You must be 17 years of age to become to be a Private Pilot. You may begin learning earlier (you must be 16 in order to solo), but if you are trying to control the cost, it is best not to begin training more than six months before your 17th birthday.
Get your FAA Medial Evaluation done as soon as possible. Pilots must pass the FAA physical before his or her first solo. If for some reason you do not pass the evaluation, it is better to find out before you shell out a lot of money for lessons and supplies.
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The Costs of Being a Student Pilot
Financial planning is one of the most important issues to think about early on, and it is best to work out a realistic budget to begin with. This will help you decide if you can really afford to do go through with it, and it will also help you keep to keep your expenses in check as you go forward. There are a lot of expenses to consider. A few of them include instructor's fees, plane rental fees (which usually, but not always, include fuel), books and electronic reference materials, pilot supplies, testing fees, medical evaluation, insurance (being a pilot can increase the premiums of some life and health insurance policies). The total cost from beginning to end can vary significantly depending upon where you learn to fly, and how long you take to earn your license. Most sources estimate the average cost of earning a Private Pilot Certificate in the U.S. at around $8,000. This cost will likely continue to rise together with the cost of fuel.
Be aware that it is not at all uncommon for students to require more than the legal minimum of 40 flight hours, before their instructors consider them ready for the final FAA checkride. According to PilotOutlook.com, the current average is 55 hours. Thus, a budget of $10,000 is not unreasonable depending upon what part of the country you live in. There are several programs that specialize in flight school loans that can help finance these costs. Finally, remember that the cost of flying does not end when you get your license. Pilots are legally required to fly regularly, or undergo additional training. Becoming a pilot is a long term fiancial commitment. Be sure that you are up to it.
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Onward and Upward
Once you have made a firm decision to begin training, plan to move forward swiftly in order to save money. The more often you fly, the faster your progress, and the more information from each lesson you will retain. Most instructors recommend trying to schedule two lessons per week. The next article in this series will deak choosing the right instructor or flight school to get your private pilot license from.