Controlling your training costs

July 6, 2009 by Mike Collins

How do you control the cost of your flight training? Do you try to fly frequently, to maximize retention and minimize repetition? Do you use a simulator–and if so, do you fly one at your flight school or a PC-based flight sim at home?

Please respond below, and let us know what’s worked for you (and what hasn’t). We’ll share the best ideas in a future issue of AOPA Flight Training magazine.

24 Responses to “Controlling your training costs”

  1. Patrick Flannigan Says:

    I made extensive use of my home simulator to hone my skills for all of my rarings, minimizing wasted flight time. I also maxed out my PCATD time to build instrument time for my IFR rating. Great way to learn, if you can fly the sim, you ought to have no problem in the airplane.

  2. Kevin Ray Johnson Says:

    Reading voraciously and careful planning are my main saving strategies.

  3. Paul Says:

    I used a popular PC-based simulator to train for my Army Pilot’s course and it helped me immensely, especially during my instrument flying phase. Since I left, I use it every week still along with a decent joystick and quality rudder pedals, some quality payware addons of the aircraft I fly and a headset with microphone (I don’t use a yoke in real life, I prefer stick and rudder still). I also use VATSIM, at to fly online with “real” ATC and other Pilots using the airspace, which keeps my airmanship ticking and my situational awareness relatively good. I then try to evenly space real life flights inter-spaced with ground school refresher classes, or some AOPA training lessons and then try and fly my flights so that each one has a different lesson and a different practice emergency, so that I can remain as current as possible and as safe as possible. I feel that by doing things this way, I remain sharp and safe much longer than if I just flew a batch one weekend a month. A $100 hamburger followed by a simulated emergency is a good way of staying current and having fun.

  4. Patrick Flannigan Says:

    Voraciously, wow that is some intense reading Kevin.

  5. David Reinhart Says:

    I use MSFS with an add-on for my aircraft (Cardinal) to practice instrument work. I try and pre-fly approaches to airports I’m planning on traveling too. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that it helps immensely with my instrument proficiency. I do quarterly IPCs with Nashua Flight Sim and make sure to fly my PC before going up there. I always do well and get compliments on my flying.

  6. manuel gaetan Says:

    I used Microsoft flight simulator and the flying school simulator. I also used Cleared for Take off computer based ground school training. I practiced with the Cessna 172 in flight simulator and then I upgraded to the Airbus. Flying the jet in the flight simulator will improve your flying skills in a real 172 because everything happens faster in the jet. I believe all the above helped cut down on flight and flight instructor cost dynamically because I rarely had to ask to repeat that statement or procedure because I studied it and/or practiced it with the above systems. In the long run you will save money and use that money to fly more.

  7. Bruce Henderson Says:

    I used “chair flying” to learn basic procedures. I would sit in a chair and then pretend that I was in the plane and go through the motions for the procedure I was practicing. If you have a good ability to visualize, learn better by doing (rather than reading), and you have been up for at least 1 or 2 training sessions, this method can be quite effective. I used it in my pre-solo days to go from very hard, “did I break the plane?” landings on my first session in the pattern to landings that were pretty smooth on the second session. “Chair flying” can also be used to practice emergency procedures for your plane. An actual simulator is a bit better at helping you recognize problems (though you can visualize those, too); but, “chair flying” is good for practicing what to do after you recognize the problem.

  8. Brent Battles Says:

    I got my private licence the summer following graduation from high school in a total of 43 hours (back in 1961). The key for me (aside from being fortunate enough to have the $672 available in advance) was the fact that I flew morning and afternoon every other day. No ground school was involved, as I studied at home on my own. Equally important, I had an instructor who let me fly the airplane and was a good teacher.

  9. Lois Rubino Says:

    I wqas taking lessons twice a month. I have about 65 hours into training. I took lessons twice a month and studied ground school with Sporty’s DVD program. I tried simulator class but it did not work for me. My CFI moved out of the area and I interviewed with a new one. I liked him a lot but I am a product of the last CFI and he did not do a good job with me. I am now embarrassed to go to the new CFI. He expects someone with 65 hours to be good but the original CFI omitted a lot. Example – I had to do a cross wind landing. He never told me how and when it was not great, he screamed at me. Any advice?

  10. Rudy Moore Says:


    Yes: get a new flight instructor. It’s very easy for a student to feel locked into a particular flight instructor. Don’t let yourself fall for it. There are lots of flight instructors out there. And every time you get a new one, you learn new things and become a better pilot. When you have a flight instructor that feels the need to scream, you’re in a bad situation. Just tell the person that you’re likely to match up better with a different instructor and then go find a new one.

    Don’t worry about how long it takes you to get your ticket to fly. People like to brag about how few hours it took them as if it implies that they’re better pilots. Really it just means at the point they passed their checkride, they had less training. What you do after you get your pilot’s license is even more important than what you do before you have it.

    As for saving money, flying twice a month will end up costing you more in flight time and money than flying more frequently because you have to retrain areas that you forget in between lessons. You shouldn’t necessarily look at this as a bad thing though. For now, until you get your pilot’s license, your hobby is not being a pilot. Rather, your hobby is learning to fly. Spending more time just means you’re spending time doing your hobby. It’s just a perspective thing. If you’re having fun learning to fly (and you will be if you don’t have an instructor that is yelling at you), then you’re getting your money’s worth.

    Good luck and keep flying.

  11. John Harris Says:

    I have first-hand proof that X-Plane flight simulator for helicopters is extremely helpful in cutting down training time (at $250/hr dual, it’s worth it). I’m in Lihue, Kauai, Hawai`i right now taking lessons for a category/type add-on (to airplane/SEL) as my summer vacation, and my instructor told me just today that I’ll be soloing the R-22 Beta-II helicopter right at the minimum required dual hours (20). He said that’s very rare. I credit that to practicing a lot with X-Plane in-type, with CH products Pro Pedals with the springs removed and a Logitech joystick with its spring removed. I could hover, hover-taxi, and do pedal turns with just 3 hours real time under my belt.

    Consider X-Plane for training, because the physics (and frequency of updates, and frame rate) are way better than MSFS. It’s a physics simulator first, and has eye candy as a secondary concern. Fly Microsoft if you like the airport and urban eye candy.

  12. Todd Says:

    I agree with Brent Battles that the key is about frequency. I am sure flight simulators help but nothing can save more money than frequency. I flew 2-3 times per week allowing me to earn my ticket in just over four months. By flying frequently I did not need to waste much time in each lesson relearning previous lessons. I completed my checkride after just 47 hours well below the national average saving hundreds if not thousands of dollars simply by flying frequently.

  13. James R Hall Says:

    i am 77 yeas old i have 600 hr.privet son just started to fly student plot.
    i am very proud of him jim

  14. Kurt Says:

    I just fiinished my private. I agree with the frequency with one caveat: Keep it fun. If trying to squeeze in 2-3 lessons a week is frustrating and fatiguing, and you find yourself getting frustrated with trying to push progress faster than it is happening, dissipate the frustration first. Changing the focus of the lessons for a while or dropping to once a week may delay the acquisition of the ticket, but so what? Frustration is a major barrier to learning. I enjoyed it all until the end when I added pressure trying to get done by a certain date. That took a lot of the fun out of it and likely made it harder. I would rather that I had just poked along and let it come when it came. Just fighting rush hour traffic to the flight school weekday evenings in addition to my usual weekend lessons was a huge energy drain.

  15. Jeff Jorgenson Says:

    I have two recommendations for controlling your training costs. First, look into an accellorated flight program. The intensity of the programs are typically not for the week minded, but they hit you hard up from and keep up a pace that doesn’t give you time to forget anything and maximizes building upon what you learned previously. I am starting such a school myself – check out my website. Secndly, shop around, attend fly-ins and airshows and talk to others about who the god instrctors are. They can assess where you are and make the best recommendations about how to save money in your situation. Chair flying, as was covered by many, is also fantastic! – Happy Flying ~Jeff

  16. AiM202 Says:

    I have 10 hours of flying time and my instructor is still landing the plane. I was allowed to take off for the first time this last flight. Am I on track for someone who did not grow up flying or even around planes? I was going in 2x’s a week but I felt I wasn’t doing anything right so slowed down to once a week. Now I am starting to forget things from one week to the next. I was told “it will come” one day it will all click and you’ll be fine. I feel like I am so behind for having 10 hours of flying time. What skills should I have at the 10 hour mark. I’m really good at the pre-flight check :)

  17. Beau Says:

    Aim202 I believe you are right on track. I currently have about 13 hours for my private pilots license and I have only landed the plane once and that was on my last lesson. I taxi and takeoff the plane everytime and have for about the last 4 lessons. It’s all a matter of time and some people adapt to how the airplane works and feels a little faster than others. We are both along way away from hitting that 40 hour mark but just think, that’s a lot of flying time that we don’t have yet and that will be more and more practice for us to better ourselves. I think you are doing fine an on pace with most other student pilots.

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