Statistically speaking

Baseball fans are the most statistically driven people I know. A serious fan can tell you almost anything about the game, the team, or the players on the field using known metrics that compare one to the other with accuracy and in context. For example:

  • Stan Musial had 1,815 hits on the road and 1,815 hits at home. Apparently symmetry mattered to Stan the Man.
  • In 1985 John Tudor threw 10 shutouts in one season.
  • Bob Feller the Cleveland Indians legendary pitcher made his first big league appearance at the ripe old age of 17. He won.
  • The longest winning streak in Major League history belongs to the New York Giants with 26 consecutive victories – in 1916!
  • Joe’s little brother Dom DiMaggio was no slouch. He once had a 34 game long hitting streak.

Imagine if aviation compared stats like that. Well, some of us do. Shawn Pratt of the Safety in Motion Flight Center in Puyallup, Washington, does anyway. And what he knows about statistics is worth knowing.

As a student pilot it became obvious to me that students who flew more often were more proficient and learned more quickly than students who flew less frequently. But it never occurred to me to measure exactly how much more quickly those students finished. Shawn did the math, and what he found is amazing.

Basically, he discovered that flight students are remarkably consistent. If they fly more often they learn quicker. If they fly less often, they learn slower. That much we knew. But Shawn crunched numbers, he used statistics to measure how long it took for flight students to achieve their goals based on how often they flew. What he found was that students are far less unique in their progress than we might think. It really does come down to the frequency of their lessons. Within a very modest margin for error it’s possible to accurately predict how long it will take a student to complete their training and earn their pilot certificate based solely on how often they fly.

Imagine that. Actual stats, measurable stats that can be put to good use by flight schools, CFIs, and students alike.

Here’s the crux of what Shawn learned. There is essentially a multiplier that can be applied to the mandatory minimum number of hours required to earn a certificate or rating, and that multiplier becomes larger as the frequency of flight lessons diminishes.

Put more simply, if you fly five times a week your multiplier is something like 1.2, which means you can expect to finish your Private Pilot training in roughy 48 hours. That’s 1.2 multiplied by the required minimum of 40 hours. 1.2 X 40 = 48.

With reliable, tested information like that at your fingertips you can accurately judge how much time it will take to meet your goal of earning a private pilot certificate. At five lessons a week the entire training process boils down to just a few weeks. You don’t have to plan for months of interuptions to your schedule. You just have to hack 30 days or fewer out of your schedule and commit to them.

You can also calculate the cost of that training more accurately. With a given rate per hour and a known number of hours, it becomes fairly easy to estimate the real cost of your flight training.

Now this is where it gets interesting. If you fly less often you can see what that does to your overall training time and cost. If you participate in lessons on four days each week, the multiplier grows somewhat. But if you only fly twice a week your training time and costs more than double. Double! That’s more than twice the time, more than twice the money, way more than twice the frustration, and a much higher likelihood that you’ll quit before you reach your goal.

Yep, stats work. They give validity to our gut feelings and either prove or disprove our theories about what it takes to become a good, safe, proficient pilot while staying within the budget we’ve given ourselves to reach that goal.


  1. I could not agree more. I lived down the road from the airport I leaned to fly at, LWM. I had enough money to pay most of the cost up front (1983) and flew at least 3 days a week sometimes 5. I soloed in 7.5 hours and got my certificate at 52. This is what I recommend to anyone that asks my how to approach getting their ticket. After a 20 year hiatus I got back in the cockpit last may and it felt like I never left. It all fell back into place and was signed off in quick order. I was like it was burned into my brain.

  2. Great article! I think one thing may be missed which is experience. When I started my private 12 years ago my instructor said to plan a year to get my certificate and he further explained the importance of getting flying experience in ALL 4 seasons. I am sure glad I got experience with hot summer days and potential icing conditions. Can hurried experience get a quick pilots license? Sure, but true experience comes in the journey of experiences over the long haul too. My $.02

  3. In airspace such as Los Angeles or other big cities the pilot should have three times the amount of hours required for the certificate before they can safely operate solo in that complex airspace with slow planes, jets, helicopters, banner tows, and blimps. Doesn’t matter if they can learn to fly faster, how to deal with all the various situations that must be addressed including low visiblity only comes with a lot of experience. Last weekend when cleared to land on a taxiway (helicopters don’t usually land on runways) two giant hook and ladder fire trucks pulled onto the taxiway. Only lots of experience enabled me to made a safe steep approach.

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