How Much Money Does It Cost To Become A Pilot


In this article I want to help you understand just how much you can plan on spending in order to obtain a career as a professional pilot.  While getting a private pilot certificate costs around $6,000-$10,000, the cost of getting all the certificates and training you will need for a career as a pilot is 10-20 times that!

Now, let’s get to the truth of the matter – NO ONE ELSE WILL TELL YOU THIS:  Unless you go the military route, no matter what type of pilot career you want to have, you will end up spending anywhere from $40,000 at a VERY MINIMUM to $200,000 or more!  This is going to be true unless you want to work at an entry-level pilot job, such as cropdusting or banner-towing, for your entire career.  This is because the figures above include a college degree, which you’re going to need for any type of airline job, corporate job, or technical flying job.  To this figure you have to add whatever it will cost you to finance this money, because few people will have that type of cash lying around (and if they did, why would they want a job in the first place).  If you go the military route, you’re training will be free IF you get a pilot slot, which is not always guaranteed.  Because I am not familiar with the military, I will be addressing civilian flying only.  In later articles and posts, I will try to address military pilot careers by interviewing some of my co-workers who are former naval and air force aviators.  Look for those in the future!

No one told me all of this when I started.  If someone had told me, I would have still pursued my dream of flying as a career,  but I would have been much smarter about it and would have ended up spending closer to the $40,000 mark than what I actually spent, which is closer to the $200,000 mark.  To help you avoid these costly mistakes, here are a couple of PilotTricks:

PilotTrick:  Have a plan and know what to expect.  Don’t go into this blindfolded, like I did.

Becoming a pilot is not like other careers, where you can start working right away once you get your degree or certificate.  Even after you become a licensed pilot, you will still not be eligible for getting into those coveted pilot jobs until you obtain a lot more flight time and perhaps some extra training.  Obtaining your pilot certificates and ratings is just the tip of the iceberg.  Here is the progression of steps people normally take before getting hired into their dream pilot job (airline, corporate, cargo, photo, etc.).

  • Education Phase: Flight Training along with Academic Training to obtain pilot certificates/ratings and a college degree
  • Flight Time Building Phase I: work as a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), tow pilot, traffic watch pilot, sales pilot, or other entry-level pilot job
  • Flight Time Building Phase II: work as a regional airline pilot, small cargo company pilot, corporate pilot for small company
  • Dream job application Phase: continue to build flight time and upgrade pilot skills while applying to your dream job

Each phase could take anywhere from 1 year to 10 years.  The first two phases are the most expensive since you will be either not making any money at all or making close to minimum wage.  Once you get to the third phase, your pay may increase a bit, but not much more than $25K/year.  Therefore, the first 2 phases of your career are the phases in which you will end up spending the most, if not all, of the money you use to get to your dream job.

PilotTrick: Do NOT think that as soon as you learn to fly an airplane, you can start making money as a pilot

The reason for the building flight time phases discussed above is because federal regulations that apply to aviation state that in order for you to get paid to fly, you have to at least have a Commercial Pilot Certificate.  There are certain exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, this is the very minimum you need, legally.  Unless you are getting paid as a flight instructor (this is one of those exceptions), you’re going to need A LOT MORE than just your commercial certificate.  You see, practically no employer will hire someone who only has a commercial certificate.  The insurance companies will not insure a business unless the company hires pilots with a minimum amount of flight time in addition to a commercial pilot certificate as well as different ratings added onto that certificate.

When I decided I wanted to fly as a career, I had no idea just what that entailed.  I showed up a Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) after having read that it was one of the best flight universities in the world.  All the research I had done never talked about what actually happens to a young aspiring pilot.

I found out that “learning to fly” entailed getting a series of pilot certificates and ratings, it wasn’t just about getting your “pilot’s license”.  I got my pilot certificates and ratings in this order over a period of two and half years: Private Pilot Certificate, Instrument Rating, Commercial Pilot Certificate, Multi-Engine Rating, Certified Flight Instructor Certificate, Certified Flight Instructor Instrument Rating, Second-In-Command Certificate for a Beech 1900 airplane.  This was just the flight training required for graduation.  In addition to this, there were several academic courses and ground school courses that I had to complete (these were completed concurrently with the flight training).

Then, after graduating, I ended up with less than 300 hours of flight time which would basically make me only eligible to work as a flight instructor, making between $15K/yr – $24K/yr.  Honestly, I don’t know how someone can even survive on a salary like that.  Keep in mind that this is true in today’s economy.  Prior to the 9-11 attacks, when the economy was in good shape, kids were getting hired by airlines straight out of school with 300-400 hours total time.  This is no longer the case and has not been so in over 10 years.

The goal of this website is to help your dream of becoming a pilot come true in the least amount of time and the least amount of money possible.  I hope the rest of the articles and books on this website help you do this.

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