Saving Money in Flight Training

Saving Money in Flight Training

It is no secret that flight training is expensive. Ask anyone, literally. 

Financial challenges are one of the top reasons that people either drop out of flight training, or don't start it altogether.

Whether you're training under Part 61 or Part 141, your bank account will be hurting. It's inevitable. The price tag is large, & there's only so many scholarships that you can apply for to help lessen the burden.

I don't have the secret to making flight training accessible for everyone. I wish I could offer something that would allow more people to be involved! However, for those already in it, there are a few tricks that will end up saving you a couple hundred, maybe a couple thousand dollars.

And no, it's not renting the plane that is $20 cheaper per hour.

Get the Ground Done

I don't know how many people I've told to GET YOUR GROUND SCHOOL DONE. Before you even start flying, get your online ground school course out of the way! This will help you tremendously during your lessons, because you won't need to pay your CFI for that hour of ground explaining what makes a plane fly.

There's a lot of background knowledge that you'll need to understand for each flight maneuver or flying technique. For example, when learning how to do stalls, you'll need to understand angle of attack, aircraft stability, left turning tendencies, and a couple more concepts. If you can complete your studying prior to the lesson, you'll already have the context to perform the maneuver effectively.

If you haven't already reviewed these terms, odds are, your CFI will have to take the time to explain them to you. That's more time on the ground, and less time flying. This will burn a very large hole in your pocket over time! That's an hour of ground time you could have dedicated to more flight time, which is the ultimate goal.

Even better if you can complete the written test and pass prior to your flight training. Once you're actually flying, there's additional studying you'll have to do as assigned by your CFI. If you still have to do the written, now you have to study for that and your next lesson. That takes more time and therefore more money.

Getting your ground out of the way can easily save you 30 minutes to an hour of ground per lesson. If your CFI isn't savvy on ground lessons and decides to fly anyway without explaining the theory behind the maneuver, then you'll just be frustrated as to why the hell you have to fly circles around a tree. When you're frustrated, you're not in a learning headspace. Then, you'll just have to repeat the maneuver during another lesson. Oy vey.

Chair Fly

Speaking of repeating maneuvers, did you know you can fly these maneuvers for free without ever stepping into a plane?

That's right, all you need is a chair and your imagination! (A photo of your plane's panel would also help...)

Chair Flying is when you set yourself up in a quiet space and walk yourself through the maneuver verbally and pretend to fly it. Every step, every RPM change, every button push. Any detail that is part of the maneuver, you simulate. You can do it when you're making food, you can do it when you're folding laundry, you can do it when you're in line at the grocery store, you can do it on the toilet! 

All it takes is 5-10 minutes each session. Sit yourself down, walk yourself through how you'd do a steep turn. 

For example:

"First, I'll clear the area with a 360 degree turn in a 15 degree bank. I'll keep my head on a swivel for any traffic and ensure I can perform the maneuver safely and without interruption." [actually move your head, imitate the movement of a bank.]

"Then, I'll select something outside to point at as my starting landmark. I'll also utilize my heading indicator for my starting heading and bug that heading." [pretend to bug it by reaching your hand out to the imaginary heading indicator]

"Now, I'll select my altitude and bug it." [reach out and twist or move the altimeter bug if you have one]

"Okay, my airspeed is at 90 knots, I've cleared the area, I feel stable. I'll turn to the left first. I'll lift my wing, clear my turn, and then get into my steep turn at 45 degrees." [pretend to lift your wing, turn your imaginary yoke to the left].

Okay, I think you get the picture.

The more you can chair fly maneuvers, the more they become muscle memory and you become familiar with the procedure. Now, when you actually go fly a plane, you don't have to spend 15 minutes reviewing each one because you forgot how to do it. You've been doing it! You've memorized the steps, the movements, the button pushes, all of it. 

Show Up Early

 If you're on time, you're late. Just kidding! (sorta)

Most CFIs charge from the time your lesson is scheduled to start until you walk out the door. This makes sense, right?

That includes the time that it takes for you to pre-flight. Whether they're still sitting in the office or helping you out, if they're there for your lesson, they're probably charging you for their time.

For most students, pre-flighting takes around 15-20 minutes, maybe 10 once they're more comfortable. Your CFI is making money for that time. So why not show up a little early to your lesson and get the pre-flight done before you have to pay anything? If the plane is available, getting a head start on your lesson will save you 20 minutes of CFI pay. It also gives you some time to get in the headspace to learn, maybe even chair fly a little bit in the plane.

Saving 10-20 minutes might not seem like a lot, but let's crunch some numbers.

In Northern California, CFIs can cost anywhere from $50-$200 an hour. 

Saving 20 minutes means saving $17-$66.

Now multiply that by how often you fly. Twice a week? You save $34-$132 a week. Three times a week? Now you save $51-$198. See where I'm going with this?

Get there early.

Fly More

Wait, what? You're telling me that to save money, I have to spend money?

Yes. Kind of.

I wrote a bit about this from a CFI's perspective in a previous blog post. I'll expand on how it can benefit students.

If you're flying once a week, that's six days in between every lesson. Six days allows you to forget concepts, techniques, and procedures. Then, when you actually go up and fly, you have to spend 30 minutes of your time on your dime to refresh your memory.

Unless you're chair flying for 30 minutes and studying for at least two hours every day, this will hurt your chances of getting your certificate in an effective manner.

Fly. More.

Fly three times a week, maybe with a day in between to allow you to rest and absorb the material. Everything will stay fresh in your mind, you'll be comfortable with the plane, you'll remember where the buttons are and when to push them.

Flying is a skill. It takes dedication and practice to get good at it. It isn't something you can walk away from for six days and pick it back up without regressing a little bit.

The more times you have to repeat a lesson because it's been a while, the more hours you're paying for.

Is it more money up front? Yes. But just like an annual gym membership vs. a monthly one, there'll be a significant difference in the amount once it's all summed up. You'll end up just buying the annual membership up front to save $100.


There's no way to make flight training "cheap". You're paying for a plane and a service from a trained individual. But the methods above can make it a little more bearable and easier to swallow.

Combining the first three methods will save at least an hour of time each lesson, AKA an hour you don't have to pay for

"But Meghan, what is saving 60 minutes a flight lesson going to do for me?"

Like I said, CFIs where I'm from are anywhere between $50-$200 an hour. 

If you're flying twice a week, you're saving $100-$400 a week. 

I hope this helps put some things into perspective, and encourages you as a student to adopt these methods to save yourself the money. Of course, there's scholarships and loans that, for some, are the only way they can make this happen. I don't want to discourage anyone from taking that route if that's what works best for you! This is more for the people paying out of pocket for their flying.

The idea is to make flying a bit more accessible, and the price a little easier to handle. 

It's a start!

If you have another idea that you've used that can help students save money, comment below!

Happy flying!~

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