Breaking Out the Costs of Flight School

The term “hidden costs” strikes fear into most of us because it means we are going to pay more for something than we thought. Sadly, many times a business will hide some costs of goods or services so you can “discover” them once you have committed to use the service. Having to pay for a pillow on a flight after you already forked over hundreds of dollars to the airline is a classic example of hidden costs.

When you are preparing to go into flight school to realize your dream of getting your pilot’s license, its is imperative that you know how much you need from a budget perspective before you sign a contract to go through the program. So to be sure you are not going to get hit with a lot of “hidden costs”, it pays to know the terminology and to know what questions to ask before you agree to use that school to get your license to fly.

When you first contact a flight school, they will lay out the red carpet for you. You will get a tour of the facilities including the classrooms and the airplanes to be used for your in flight training. You will meet wonderful instructors and the end of the tour will probably include a test flight where you get to sit in the pilot’s seat as though you were actually flying that plane. That experience alone can hook you to want to be part of their program. Then they will present you will some colorful brochures, a contract and a class schedule and finally, a schedule of costs along with payment options.

There is a good reason they are showing you the costs last. They want to get you excited and “hooked” before you review the fees. It’s important to remember that the majority of flight schools are “for profit” businesses and the competition for customers is intense. The number one reason a school fails to “close the deal” is often the cost. So if they can soften that blow by not showing you some of the costs of getting your pilot’s license with them, they might be able to get you into class and you will just deal with the additional costs after the fact.

This is a little bit deceptive but they do it to get business. It’s up to you then to know what questions to ask and to understand the terminology of the schedule of fees. Make sure that when you get the estimate of what you will have to pay that it is broken out in some detail. If all they are quoting you is the cost of classroom instruction, that underestimate the costs tremendously. Additional costs will include…

  •  Books and classroom supplies – You may need to buy these yourself so to get a complete budget, do that shopping before signing a contract.
  • Duel instruction fees – A big part of your training is in the air. What they might not tell you is that you will have to pay for the instructor’s time by the hour for every hour you are up there with him. And you must plan for the cost of the plane. Plan for a minimum of $50 an hour labor and $100 an hour for the equipment. But this is something that is worth getting an exact quote on when you are estimating what it will cost to get your pilot’s license with that school.
  • Fuel costs – it takes gas to operate that airplane while you are flying it. They might not be including the cost of gas in with the airplane rental fee. Make sure you know what to expect as that can be a big hidden cost, especially with gas costs high as they are right now.

In order to get a cost number you can depend on, you must estimate how many hours of flight training you are going to need. The FAA requires that you have a minimum of 40 hours flight time and you may need more to cover the many situations you must understand before you become a solo pilot. Also keep in mind you must do one final flight where you go up with an FAA examiner so find out the costs of his or her time and add at least an hour of flight time to your totals.

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