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If you’re thinking about becoming a pilot, it’s important to know everything involved in the process. Here’s how much it costs to become a pilot.
Becoming a pilot is undoubtedly one of the best decisions you can make in your life. Okay, I might be a bit biased here, but it’s true! Nothing is more freeing than being able to take to the skies any time you want without having to worry about tagging along with someone else just because you aren’t a pilot yet yourself. Unfortunately, becoming a pilot is not free. How much does it really cost?
The cost to become a pilot depends on what type of pilot you want to be. To become a private pilot, expect to pay $7,500 to $10,000. Becoming a commercial pilot will set you back around $30,000 to $40,000 all said and done. If you become a fighter pilot, you’ll actually get paid along the way!
So you want to become a pilot. Kudos to you! I can’t recommend this enough. That said, I know first-hand that becoming a pilot is not cheap, and the financial aspects of doing so are some of the biggest obstacles that turn many people away. So in this article, we’ll take a look at what it really costs to become a pilot so you’re not blindsided by any unexpected costs.
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How Much Does It Cost To Become A Pilot?
The cost to become a pilot depends heavily on one big thing — what type of pilot you’re trying to become. While there are all sorts of pilot licenses and certificates out there that you can work towards and technically earn your wings, we have another article that goes in-depth into how much it costs to get a pilot license.
So here, we’re going to focus on the three main types of pilots rather than each and every possible license out there —private pilot, commercial pilot, and fighter pilot. Before we go into the nitty-gritty details about each of these career paths, here’s a quick breakdown of how much it costs to become a pilot.
The first thing that might jump out at you is that one of them is actually free. That’s right, becoming a fighter pilot doesn’t actually have to cost you anything. In fact, you’ll have a military career along the way, so they’ll be paying you! That said, this is certainly the outlier of the group, and likely not exactly what you were looking for.
The more interesting information and comparison is certainly between how much it costs to become a private pilot and how much it costs to become a commercial pilot.
Cost To Become A Private Pilot
If your goal is to become a pilot, even if the end goal is to take it a step further and become a commercial pilot, you’ll start by earning your Private Pilot License (PPL). As you can probably guess, earning your PPL makes you a private pilot. With this license, you can buy and fly your own airplane without an instructor present. It’s the crowning achievement of many pilots, including yours truly!
Since we have other articles on the site that dive much deeper into the details of what’s actually involved in getting your PPL, I won’t get into the details here. For what it’s worth, the major requirements necessary to become a private pilot include:
- 17 years of age
- Understanding of and ability to speak English
- Ground school and flight training
- At least 40 hours of flight-time
- Pass practical, medical, and written exams
- Obtain a medical certification
As you can tell, not all of these requirements are going to actually cost you anything. The main aspects of earning your PPL that set you back financially are ground school, flight training, and flight-time with a certified instructor. You’ll also have to pay exam fees for written exams, and possibly medical-related documents in some circumstances.
All told, you can expect to pay around $7,500 to $10,000 to become a pilot. That might sound like a lot, but you’re talking about a lifetime of freedom after that, especially since there is no age limit on being a private pilot!
Cost To Become A Commercial Airline Pilot
Next up on the list is how much it costs to become a commercial pilot. If you want to make a career out of being a pilot and you want to travel around the country (or the world) for some of the major airlines, then this is the route you’ll have to take and the costs you’ll have to pay. But trust me, from the day you earn your wings until the day you retire, you’ll benefit from one of the most rewarding careers out there.
In short, it is going to cost you around $30,000 to $40,000 to become a commercial pilot. So it’s not really something that most people can do at a young age or right after they get done getting a degree. Sure, you could find an airline that offers flight training which might cover this cost, but we’re going to assume that most people won’t get that lucky.
One of the big things to keep in mind while you’re on track to becoming a commercial pilot is that you’ll have to start as a private pilot. That’s right, you have to do everything mentioned above and pay all of those costs upfront, but that amount is already included in this $30,000 to $40,000 so fear not.
I'll note that many commercial pilots actually skip the private pilot route and come from a career as a military pilot, but that’s not really the focus of this article. But if you are planning on starting out as a military pilot and then moving to the commercial side from there, you’re a step ahead of the game!
So let’s assume you already have your PPL. What’s next and what costs are involved before you can earn your Commercial Pilot Certificate (CPC) and become a commercial pilot?
To start working towards your CPC, you’ll need to get a couple of ratings. At a minimum, you need to earn your Instrument Rating and Multi-Engine Rating before you’ll be able to get licensed to pilot commercial airplanes and airliners.
These ratings are essential because you have to know how to fly via Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) in order to pilot a commercial airplane. Without getting too far into the details here, this basically means flying the airplane using just your instrumentation and onboard controls. This rating typically costs around $7,000 to $9,000 to earn.
A Multi-Engine Rating is necessary for obvious reasons — most modern-day commercial airplanes have between two and four engines. Since you’ll most likely only be flying single-engine airplanes with your PPL, you’ll need to pay for the training to earn this rating before moving forward. This typically costs around $2,000 to $6,000.
Lastly, you’ll have to continue with more training. This includes more classroom instruction and more flight-time. Some airlines will also require that you have certain simulation training done for the aircraft you’ll be flying. All told, expect to pay around $30,000 to $40,000 in total to become a commercial pilot.
Cost To Become A Fighter Pilot
Since I explained this a bit earlier, I’ll spare some of the details here. But the fact of the matter is that you don’t have to pay anything to become a fighter pilot. Since you’ll be working full-time in the military (unless you join the Reserves), you’ll actually be getting paid the entire time that you’re training.
Keep in mind that one of the big things I said here is that you don’t have to pay anything. But that doesn’t mean that training fighter pilots is free. Not by any means. It’s estimated that it costs between $5.6 - $10.9 million to train a fighter pilot for the US Military. Even transport and cargo pilots cost over a million dollars to train. So it’s not free, but you don’t have to foot the bill!
For more information on everything you have to do to become a fighter pilot, check out our complete guide!
What Is The Cheapest Pilot License To Earn?
Sure, we could take the easy way out here and just say that the cheapest way to become a pilot is to be a military pilot. But as we mentioned above, that’s likely not what you’re looking for, since most people don’t think that you have to actually pay anything to join the military, right? Of course not!
Instead, let’s look at all the standard pilot licenses and certificates out there:
- Student Pilot Certificate
- Sport Pilot License
- Private Pilot License
- Commercial Pilot Certificate
- Instrument Rating
- Multi-Engine Rating
- Certified Flight Instructor Certificate
With these common licenses, ratings, and certificates in mind, you might be able to guess the cheapest one just based on the names. The answer is a Student Pilot Certificate. In fact, there is no base charge for obtaining your Student Pilot Certificate, but the qualified person that processes your application might charge a fee that totals a couple hundred bucks.
As far as actual pilot licensing goes, the cheapest license is a Sport Pilot License. As you can imagine by the name and price, there are some limitations to this type of license. To really get out there on your own and enjoy the thrill and excitement that comes with being a pilot, you should consider paying a bit more and earning your Private Pilot License discussed above.
For more information about each of the types of licenses and certifications mentioned and how much they cost, check out our full article here.
Is It Worth The Cost To Become A Pilot?
Okay, okay, I might be a bit biased when it comes to this question, but I’m going to answer it honestly. It is worth every penny to become a pilot! For me personally, becoming a pilot and being able to fly on my own whenever I want is the most freeing and most amazing thing that I’ve ever done for myself, outside of familial obligations and responsibilities of course!
On a more objective note, it really depends on what you want to get out of becoming a pilot. If you want to make a career out of it, then it’s absolutely worth the cost since you can’t make a career out of it without paying to become a pilot first. If you just want to fly around for fun here and there, then it really depends on you, your finances, and how much you think you’ll love flying.
For me, there’s no question in my mind that it’s worth the cost to become a pilot. I think the vast majority of pilots in the world would agree with me on that. So if you’re on the fence about it, it’s time to dive in feet first and become a pilot yourself!