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DETERMINING THE COST OF FLIGHT INSTRUCTION

How much does it actually cost to complete a (sport pilot) flight training program? In my line of work this is a constant and never ending question. Here’s my best answer at this time. Please understand that different operators (Flight training schools, or individual flight instructors) have different levels of experience, qualities and types of aircraft, different levels of commitment to their job as flight instructors and can commit to differing amounts of time per week in which to train you. There different levels of professionalism out there and we need to understand that not every flight instructor operates with the same level of overhead. For those reasons the price that one instructor can advertise might vary wildly from what another flight training provider may require. A word of caution here: The lower price is not always the best value. What type of aircraft you train in will also adjust the price of the training, sometimes to a huge degree. As an example I’d suggest that you use your imagination to visualize that learning to fly in a beat up old taylorcraft is going to have a cost differential as compared to learning to fly in a brand new $300K Carbon Cub. Hopefully that is obvious to you.

For those reasons I feel it necessary to lay out the bullet points that Captain Drake’s operates under.

  1. Captain Drake’s is operating high quality low engine and airframe time aircraft
  2. We operate specialty light sport aircraft
  3. All of our aircraft are in compliance and regularly maintained, and inspected
  4. We have the overhead of large hangars and professional offices to better provide your training
  5. Our Flight instructors are certified, professional, highly skilled and specialize in this specific type of flight instruction.
  6. This is a professional business that you (as a prospective student) may call text or email and expect to get an appointment with. Once you have made contact we are here to actually provide these services.
  7. We offer a fantastic value with inhouse pilot examiner and clear concise flight training programs.
  8. We know your time is important to you. We conduct your flight training in a manner that has proven to make the best use of your time and money.

Ten years ago I didn’t have as much experience. I didn’t have the multitude of aircraft, training locations, flight instructors, pilot examiner, or facilities we have for you today. As you can imagine in order to provide all this value to our clients we have made huge capital investments. Clearly any aviation business like ours must have pretty heavy monthly overhead. I don’t even try to compete with the prices that I used to advertise ten years ago… Times have changed. I’m not trying to be the cheapest flight training provider. I’m working diligently to be one of the very best.

Pursuing a Sport Pilot Certificate?
Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 61 subpart J outlines what is required.
FAR 61.313 specifically lists required (flight) hours to qualify for this certificate. According to the regulation (61.313) the sport pilot program is a minimum of 20 flight hours in duration. Therefore, this estimate of completion cost is based closely to that number. We feel it is “possible” to complete the program in this time. However, it is extremely rare that any candidate possess the required level of aeronautical knowledge or flying skill to pass the practical test (let alone operate an aircraft with a passenger in the national airspace system) at those minimum times.
Furthermore, no accounting for ground instruction times (or costs) are given in the FAR and many flight schools seem to gloss over these points in hopes of closing the deal.

Enrolling more students with false hopes of lower costs and shorter completion times is not something we agree with. As you read through our course outline please understand that this is a “minimum possible cost” through our school and that you should expect in the real world your costs will be somewhat higher. Following the entire description you’ll see two summarized totals. The first one is the “fantasy” number. The Second summarization is more closely aligned with what an *average* student should expect.
Averages as compiled by our actual students passing actual practical tests over the past seven years at two Captain Drake’s Flight school locations.
Before reading further we need to gain a mutual understanding that there is a difference between logged “HOURS” and what comprises a “lesson”. Without understanding this you’ll have a problem when shopping for flight instruction. It is a common mistake to shop for flight training in terms of Dollars per hour. If you allow yourself to believe that the advertised $/hr multiplied by the number of minimum hours will equal the cost of your pilot certificate you will be sadly mistaken, frustrated, depressed and are (according to national averages comparing numbers of new student pilot certificates issued VS. new pilot certificates issued) highly likely to fail to complete your program. Yes the FAA lists minimum flight hours per program (found in FAR part 61). However, what is often overlooked (or deliberately misdirected) is: to earn one logged dual instruction flight hour…. Somebody, (your hard working flight instructor) had to: open the hangar, move aircraft around,get your plane out, fuel it, check the oil, preflight the machine, get a weather briefing, conduct a preflight lesson, conduct meaningful flight lesson, keep you safe and alive, park the airplane, post flight the airplane, post flight debrief you, fill out your logbook, and suggest home study material for your next lesson…… Guess what? His (Her) wrist watch kept running the entire time, the day evaporated, and only so many such revenue producing lessons can be flown in any one day. Therefore, it is much more accurate to think in terms of “dollars per lesson” Than dollars per hour. For these reasons Captain Drake’s FAA does not charge Dollars per hour for aircraft or Dollars per hour for flight instruction. We charge Dollars per PHASE with a stated flight hours per phase. If you as an individual student fail to master the required skills in the minimum times you’ll simply be charged per additional lesson until you have met the criteria of that Phase of training.

Captain Drake’s Sport Pilot flight training program.

Phase 1) Introductory flight lesson (milestone one; first lesson)
Minimum estimated cost $100- $200
Includes 0.5 hrs dual logged
Purpose: the purpose of an introductory flight lesson is to be a bridge for the person who seeks to learn more about actually becoming a pilot.
The introductory flight is meant to be a low stress highly enjoyable flight. Many important things happen on this first lesson.
Some of the value of this first lesson is to allow the candidate to feel the actual sensations of the aircraft in flight, how it moves and sounds in real life. It is well known and documented that Flight instruction and the pursuit of a pilot certificate requires serious commitment of both time and money. What is not so well advertised and understood is that during the student and instructor relationship those two individuals are quite literally trusting one another with their lives and often livelihoods. Both will experience long hours, mood swings, learning plateaus and setbacks, and ultimately forward progress toward a significant goal. Like a marriage, these two people must be able to get along and work with one another in and outside of the cockpit. Trust and communication are key elements in this relationship and the introductory flight is a great place to find out if this relationship is any kind of a fit for both parties.

Phase 2) Intake and Enrollment (milestone two; iacra profile and student cert)
Cost $300
Purpose: To enroll the new student pilot in the Captain Drake’s program, build their IACRA profile, print out their course syllabus, and begin the formal progression toward an FAA airman certificate.
A decent amount of time should be allocated (think several hours) for all these steps. This should not be rushed, let your Certified Flight Instructor hold your hand and get your paperwork in order from the beginning. These steps will save you countless hours and future frustrations over the course of your flight training. Everything your CFI does in this phase is a service to you and one of the ways that keeps you on track toward your goal. The work your CFI puts in now will translate to saved time and money later.

Phase 3) Ground School, preparation for FAA knowledge test. (milestone; knowledge test)
Cost $700/ approximately 60 hrs total ground instruction time (see Captain Drake’s specific ground school syllabus)
Purpose: Your flight training materials are provided to you, you begin your path to learning the skills and vocabulary you’ll need to better communicate with your CFI on the various technical subject areas. In the big picture, phase three is where you prepare for and pass the required FAA written knowledge test.
NOTE: When most folks think of “ground school” they believe the sole point of it and therefore what they are paying for is passing the knowledge test. This could not be farther from the truth! Yes, (at this stage of training) the knowledge test is a milestone we are looking to achieve. However, I inform my students that there are five important outcomes we want from ground school. Each lesson building on the previous one. Those outcomes are as follows:
1) Build a vocabulary and common base of knowledge to be able to better communicate with your CFI these technical subjects.
2) passing the FAA knowledge test (multiple guess test with 70% being a passing score).
3) preparing for the 61.87 (b) required pre solo knowledge test (100% required passing grade essay test).
4) preparing for the oral portion of the FAA Practical test (100% passing grade oral questioning on all subjects listed in the Practical test standards).
5) last and the most important! 100% passing grade on the never ending test of staying safe and alive as a (passenger carrying) legal pilot faced with real world life and death challenges.
Ground school is ongoing throughout your training and is where the vast majority of the learning actually takes place.

Your phase three training will be made up of : Classroom study and lectures, home study with a CD-ROM test prep software,work groups of you and other flight students going over the material together, and lots of reading of technical subject areas, pre and post flight briefings, hangar flying with your CFI and classmates! It truly pays to be a self starter here in this phase. Your very professional CFI will guide you, provide classroom lectures and projects for you, will encourage you to work in groups with other students, will provide you with materials, and will follow up with you. BUT…. you ultimately have to consume and digest this huge volume of information, nobody can do that for you. Then your CFI (after determining that you are prepared) will provide you with the proper endorsement in your logbook and help arrange for you to take the FAA written knowledge test at an approved testing center.

Phase 4) pre-solo flight training (milestone; completion of FAR 61.87 requirements)
Cost $2,000
Includes 10 hrs dual instruction logged
Purpose: to gain actual flight experience and solid flying skills in all Maneuvers required under 61.87. This phase of flight training lays the (stick and rudder flying skills) foundation upon which any and all future airman certificates and ratings will be based. The importance of this phase of flight training cannot be overstated. For some individuals this is the longest and most frustrating part of the process. However, many pilots find it to be one of the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding times in their student pilot career.
Because everyone learns at a slightly different pace keep in mind: ultimately you, (the individual pilot) must gain the required skills.
Then, prove that you can operate the aircraft using those skills.
You must do all this while demonstrating healthy aeronautical decision making …….it is hard to say exactly how long this process will take you.
For the purpose of meeting the minimum times, it is listed here as an 10 hr dual instruction phase. This module has a base fee of $2,000. However, in the possible event that you take longer than the allotted 10 hrs to acquire the required skills you will simply be charged at the rate of $200/additional lesson.
Just know that it is our sincere desire to build safe and highly skilled pilots in the very most efficient way possible with the nicest equipment we can possibly deliver.

Phase 4 training includes; FAR 61.87 Solo requirements for student pilots.
General
Aeronautical knowledge not only of phase 3 information but also of the specific make and model of aircraft you plan to solo and the specific airports you’ll likely first solo at.
Pre-solo flight training
Maneuvers and procedures for Pre-solo flight training in a single engine airplane which consist of : (1) pre-flight planning and inspecting
(2) taxing the airplane
(3) Takeoffs and landings including normal and crosswind
(4) Straight and level flight, turns
(5) climbs and climbing turns
(6) Airport traffic patterns including entries and departures
(7) Collision Avoidance, windshear avoidance, and wake turbulence avoidance all of which are special emphasis areas
(8) Descents with and without turns using high and low drag configurations
(9) Flight at various airspeeds from cruise to slow flight
(10) Stall entries and stall recoveries from various speeds and configurations
(11) Emergency procedures and how to deal with equipment malfunctions
(12) Ground reference Maneuvers
(13) Approaches to landing with simulated engine failures
(14) Slips to landings
(15) Go-arounds and touch and goes and aborted take offs.

Phase 5) Primary solo flight and the first 3 hrs of solo flying (milestone; SOLO flight!)
Cost $600
Includes: 3 hrs solo flight Logged
Purpose: Phase 5 will include the required pre-solo endorsements in your logbook (excluding any controlled airspace training and endorsements that may be additionally required in certain training locations). Phase five is a life changer! It is also a requirement for a practical test.

Phase 6) Dual cross country training/ Solo Cross country (milestone; solo cross country flight)
Cost $1000
Includes: 3hrs dual cross country instruction and 2hrs solo flight logged
Purpose: Prepare and execute solo cross country flight.
The Captain Drake program includes three hours of dual flight instruction and actual pre-flight preparation/ planning. You’ll plan actual flights and execute them. We have many scenic destinations, mountains, rivers, unique small airports in our vicinity. These flights offer real world challenges for you to gain flight experience in the most interesting way possible.
During this area of flight training you’ll meet the requirements of FAR 61.93 (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) after meeting each requirement your CFI will issue the appropriate logbook endorsement.

Skills building of phase six:
Use of aeronautical Charts for VFR navigation using Pilotage and dead reckoning
Use of aircraft performance charts pertaining to cross country flights (real world time fuel distance
calculations)
Procurement and analysis of aeronautical weather reports and forecasts, including recognition of critical weather situations and estimating visibility in flight
Emergency procedures ( in flight lost recovery and mechanical and weather related scenarios)
Traffic pattern procedures that include area departure, arrival, entry into traffic patterns and approach to unfamiliar airports.
Procedures and operating practices for collision avoidance, wake turbulence, precautions, and windshear avoidance
Recognition, avoidance, operational restrictions of hazardous terrain features in the geographical area where the cross-country flights will be flown
Procedures for operating the instruments and equipment installed in the specific aircraft to be flown
Use of radios for navigation and communication
Takeoff, approach and landing procedures, including short field, soft field, and crosswind skills and techniques.
Climbs at best angle and best rate
For candidates planning to fly airplanes with a Vh of 87kts or greater on their first solo cross-country flight:
(12) at least one hour of dual flight instruction must cover
Control and Maneuvering solely by reference to instruments. This includes straight and
level flight, turns, descents, climbs, use of radio aids, and use of ATC services

Phase 7) preparation for stage check
(milestone: stage check complete, candidate ready for flight with recommending CFI)
Cost $400
Includes: 2hrs dual instruction logged
Purpose: prepare to be examined by another CFI
Phase seven is where it all comes together. You and your CFI have taken you from the dream of “someday I’ll learn to fly” to the current reality of “I have a basic yet solid ability to fly an aircraft and am about to be tested for my pilot certificate”.
This stage of flight training is typically pretty low stress as you already have the skills and the majority of the hard work has settled down a bit. You are able to fly more lengthy lessons and no longer become as exhausted as before. This is a time of polishing your skills, crossing T’s and dotting I’s in terms of auditing your logbook and making certain all the boxes have been checked and requirements for taking a practical test have been met (outside of the last steps to be covered in phase 8). We are looking for the candidates at Phase seven to be able to answer aeronautical questions and truly understand what they are saying. In fact we are looking for and testing our candidates to the “correlative” level of learning. We also expect you (as one of our pilot candidates) to have attained a level of flying skill beyond those minimums required by the Practical Test Standard by which you’ll be judged during the Practical test. Once your instructor feels this is the case you will be moved to Phase 8.

Phase 8) preparation for practical test (milestone: endorsement to take your practical test)
Cost $500
Includes: 2hrs dual instruction logged by “recommending” CFI
Purpose:
Legally, an application for airman certificate (8710-11) may not be submitted with the recommending CFI and the Pilot Examiner conducting the test being the same person. Nevermind Legally, it just isn’t a good idea. How we deal with that is to have this Phase 8 program in place. Regardless of who served as your primary instructor (you may have had more than one) Captain Drake’s students will take a “Preparation for practical test course” with a different CFI. This is so that another flight instructor who is not emotionally involved with your development into a pilot can look at you and your aviation knowledge/skills. This instructor will make an assessment of your skills. They are looking to see that you are making good aeronautical decisions, and are operating beyond the Practical Test Standard.

Phase 9) Final tune up before test
Cost $200
Includes: 1 hr dual instruction logged
Purpose:
In Phase 9 we simply address any discrepancies uncovered by your check-airman CFI during phase 8. Possibly dial in things like your short-field landings for example.

Phase 10) Practical Test (milestone: issuance of pilot certificate)
Cost: $500
Purpose:
This is what we worked so hard for over the course of your training. There are three possible outcomes to a practical test:
Pass; issuance of temporary airman certificate (what we want).

Discontinuance; test called off by either the candidate or the examiner for issues like inclimate weather, illness, mechanical/ legal issues of the test aircraft (test to be rescheduled)
Notice of disapproval; otherwise known as the dreaded “pink slip” I.E. a failure. (test will be given again after the candidate receives additional training on the tasks shone to be deficient during the practical test. A new application is made)