The regs are clear. Private pilots are not permitted to fly passengers for money. There are no limitations on who they can carry as long as they aren’t paid.
The ways to make money as a private pilot include as a ground instructor, aircraft salesperson, aircraft broker, aviation YouTuber and aerobatic flier at airshow. All these ways comply with FAA regulations whilst helping private pilots to earn a little extra money doing what they love.
I’ve been a pilot and flight instructor for many years, building time and experience as a ground instructor and flight instructor, before flying in the left seat of some of the world’s most expensive corporate jets for some of the world’s wealthiest fliers!
It is commonly thought that only Certified Flight Instructors can teach. While this may be true for in-cockpit lessons, it does not hold true for ground lessons. You don’t even need your private pilot for this, but might work to your benefit if you already have it. If you are a private pilot, you will be familiar with all the material and you would have experienced them first hand.
There are three ground instructor levels to choose from.
- Basic Ground Instructor
- Instrument Ground Instructor
- Advanced Ground Instructor
Being a Basic Ground Instructor will allow you to teach the necessary ground instruction for those seeking sport pilot certification, recreational pilot certification, and private pilot certification. It does not allow you to teach them the actual flying, in-cockpit lessons that a flight instructor is authorized to do.
As a Basic Ground Instructor, you will not be able to teach instrument-rating candidates. To do that, you would need an Instrument Ground Instructor rating.
Finally, you can become an Advanced Ground Instructor who will be able to teach candidates of all the other ratings that the FAA requires all the way up to the ATP. All this, without you ever having sat in a cockpit before.
But since you already have your PPL, you are one step ahead. Your flight experience will now allow you to leverage your training and teach the ground portion to student pilots.
Ground Instructor Cost
Unlike the Private Pilot License where you would have to take a computerized test, an oral test, and a flight test, the ground instructor certification only requires you to take the Ground Instructor test. You can do that at any one of the computerized testing centers. With the results slip that they give you, visit the FA field office and let them know you want the Ground Instructor certification.
Each written test costs $160, and there are two tests you would have to take. Along with the ground instructor test, there is the FOI – or Fundamentals of Instruction test. The Basic Ground Instructor test will test you on the knowledge you need to have to be able to teach a private pilot student. You should have this knowledge with you already since you have a private pilot license. The FOI, however, is a little different and can be a little bit of a challenge. I know I found it strange when I was preparing for my CFI. This one is about the principles of teaching and has to do with communication and psychology.
If you want to study this on your own, there are numerous software courses you can lean on. Or you can negotiate with a local ground instructor or flight instructor to take you through it. The best bet, however, is to get a couple of books for the FOI and the BGI and do it yourself. All you need is to get 70% on the test to pass.
There are no other fees and expenses you have to pay the FAA for this, and the certificate never expires.
Ground Instructor Prerequisites
You can take the written exam as soon as you turn sixteen, but you will not be able to get a Ground Instructor certificate till you are eighteen. There are also no medical requirements for you to teach the ground portion of flight training.
Ground Instructor Income
Being a ground instructor is an entry-level job in the aviation industry, so don’t expect much. At the same time, if you build your network and market yourself, the income will be able to support a simple lifestyle till you upgrade your ratings.
The typical instructor makes $20 per hour of ground instruction. That’s what you can count on, but not all hours are created equal. You can’t run a full eight hours at the $20 per hour rate. Every 90-minute session of ground training realistically requires about a half hour between sessions to fill up log books, prepare for the next student, and grab something from the vending machine.
If you instruct at a club, be prepared to have busy weekends and light weekdays. So plan to take Mondays and Tuesdays off since they will be low-volume days and you’d need to recuperate. You might also want to consider after-hours instruction as those who are not full-time flight students have day jobs, and if you can accommodate their schedule, it will increase your instruction hours.
Aim for four sessions per day. Some during daylight, and some after office hours. Four sessions work out to be six hours of billable ground instruction time. In a week, if you did this for five days, you would have 30 hours of billable instruction. Granted $600 per week is thin, but it's a good place to start.
There is another way you could magnify your income for almost the same amount of work. Depending on where you are, visit the smaller flight schools in your area and ask them if you could set up a ground school. They will most likely be happy to oblige since an organized flight school could grow their flight business.
Set up small groups of four students three nights a week. Charge them $25 instead of $30 for a 90-minute session since it's not one-on-one. They will be more than happy to pay for it as it's cheaper and it's organized. Then do the same for another group to fill up the other three nights in the week giving you two groups and a total of $120 a night, six nights a week, while only spending 90 minutes of instruction time. That’s $720 for just the night classes.
Be creative. Having a Private Pilot’s license is the gateway to a new life, but just because you can’t carry passengers for hire, does not mean you can’t expand your income potential.
Aircraft Sales Person
If you have the ability to fly and you are fairly clued into the aviation market, then you could leverage those two skills to become successful in aircraft sales. Aircraft sales can be broken down into two categories. There are commercial sales and private sales.
If you have a degree and would like to build some solid flight time, aircraft sales could be a path you could follow. It would require that you have at least a private pilot and have the ability to sell big-ticket items.
It has been part of the practice since William Piper sent salesmen in Piper Cubs to sell it to people in all corners of the country.
Selling light aircraft requires you to fly the plane from customers to fly-ins, from air-shows to private airfields. You will definitely build a lot of time and, in the process, develop a network of contacts that would be invaluable.
What’s more, is that you get a healthy commission from the sale of each aircraft. The average annual salary for an aircraft salesman is $50,000 a year which excludes commissions.
Again, it’s not much, but it's a good place to start if you like flying. It’s a way to fly some of the best aircraft in the business, as you take the aircraft from place to place, seeking out private buyers.
Market for Aircraft
The market for aircraft in the United States is fairly robust, albeit one that is competitive. The entry of light jets into the space has taken some of the clientele away from the high-priced, high-end piston engine models, but most of the rest of the market is still intact.
How you make money with the license is only limited by the imagination you have.
The client pool is not just limited to wealthy individuals, it also includes flight schools, flying clubs, and celebrities.
Supply of Aircraft
On one side of the equation, you have to build up a solid network of potential buyers. On the other side of the equation, you have to figure out what aircraft you want to sell. You may be partial to low-wing aircraft as that’s what you trained in, or maybe you like high wings.
But put what you like aside and look at this dispassionately. Look for an aircraft where you can make a niche for yourself. If you don’t know how to fly it, learn. Having a private pilot license allows you to fly any single-engine land aircraft that has an MTOW of 12,500 pounds without a type rating. A multi-engine rating expands your horizons a little more, but getting one is not mandatory.
The potential income you would make as an aircraft salesman depends on a number of factors. How much you put into it will certainly have a bearing, but more importantly. The choices you make as to what aircraft you wish to specialize in will have an impact on what you take home.
The following are the top nine aircraft in the single-engine land class and category sold in 2021 and the average commission an aircraft salesperson would make on each sale, based on a commission rate of 1.5%.
Cirrus is the top-selling aircraft in the country, followed by Cessna and Diamond. Your strategy could be to follow the trends and land a job working with one of them.
The benefit of selling a model that is already popular is that there is a ready market for them. Something about that model attracts people and you can just ride the wave. The downside of working with a fast-selling model is that you can be sure that there are other salespeople already crowding that market because they think the same thing.
The second tier, by annual sales, includes Piper and Tecnam. It would be less likely that there will be a crowd of people trying to sell a Piper considering where they sit on the list. While it looks like they have a slower product movement rate, Piper is a trusted name in the business. Working for Piper would look good on your resume.
As for Tecnam, they are a new company with a new value proposition. Joining them could allow you to explore a new market while making money and building flight time.
All the aircraft sales listed above are new aircraft. It is important to note that not all aircraft were sold by on-the-road salespersons.
There is also a secondary market you could work in. The used aircraft market is a large one and you will be able to sell various aircraft under one banner. The difference is that you will only be selling used assets and that takes a special skill and manner of handling.
The benefit however is that you always have a brand someone wants since used aircraft dealers
The commissions are a little lower, simply because the price points are a little lower. And for that trade-off, you get the ability to increase your coverage with more makes, models, and variations.
Landing the Job
If this is the route you want to take, begin by reading up on the industry. Landing an interview is easy enough in this business. If you have a degree and a PPL with some flight time, they will be more than willing to talk to you. But however easy the first stage is, it will get more competitive after that.
Get your resume together and draft out a cover letter template. The template should be flexible. Remember, you should never recycle your cover letters. Write a fresh one for each manufacturer or used dealer.
You must be prepared to travel. Summer and Fall will be your busiest time and you will experience a lot of different terrain and weather as you crisscross the country but that will give you a huge advantage as you build your flying proficiency while getting paid. It’s even better than being a flight instructor in some ways, as long as you are willing to put in the work.
With an understanding of the market and the ability to be convincing, just be yourself at the interview and speak from the heart.
Becoming an aircraft broker is another powerful way of leveraging your private pilot’s license to make money. There are two key differences between brokering and sales as described in the previous section. While sales is about selling a small aircraft, brokering is about connecting a buyer to any aircraft, even ones that your employer doesn’t own or manufacture.
Aircraft brokers are not really salespeople. You could try for a job that brokers aircraft and flight time, but this is not the same as being an aircraft salesperson. Aircraft brokers do not get as much flight time. They may get none.
The idea of being an aircraft broker is listed here to separate the two careers you could choose to make money. Just keep in mind that aircraft brokers are not aircraft salespeople in the same way. Anyone can be a broker without having a PPL.
Brokers don’t need to fly the aircraft they are pitching to see a potential customer. But a private pilot’s license could be just the advantage you need in getting a job as a junior broker with an aircraft brokerage, who regularly look to hire people with a demonstrated (pre-existing) interest in aviation before landing the job.
Brokerage firms also like shortlisting candidates with a private pilot's license because it tells them that the candidate understands the general aviation market. There are a number of regulations that the aviation industry is subjected to and the FAR/AIM is a maze of regulations to navigate.
Most student pilots learn how to navigate this maze and by the time they graduate as Private Pilots, they have a solid understanding of the environment. That makes them better at streamlining potential customers and matching aircraft features to consumer needs better than a person who is fresh off the street.
While being an aircraft broker will not give you flying time, you are also not limited to selling single-engine aircraft. You could even sell light or luxury jets. Brokers have a much wider playing field. And once you are able to break into the larger jet market, you will also find your commissions are significantly higher.
Private Jet Market
The private jet market was valued at $23 billion annually in 2021 and it is projected to reach $37 billion by 2025. For every jet that is sold, there is a broker who organized the sale.
The brokerage fees are usually somewhere in the region of 2-10% depending on the size and price of the jet. If working as an employee for a brokerage, the individual broker will then earn a commission on that sale as a percentage of the fee the brokerage charges.
Looking at the breakdown of the top ten selling jets in the country for 2021 should give you an idea of what the potential is to make money as a private pilot who sells jets for a living.
Jet brokers make money in two different ways. Aside from selling an entire jet, they can also sell fractions of a jet. That, as you can imagine, is significantly easier. This is called fractional sales.
It involves getting ten people together to form a limited partnership and purchase an aircraft. This structure allows them to share the burden of fixed costs and just incur the cost of their hourly use.
One of the main hurdles to closing an outright sale is the prospective clients’ reduced annual flight time which may not justify the purchase of an entire aircraft. A person who flies just one hundred hours a year will find that owning a Citation CJ4 will cost them half a million dollars a year in fixed costs.
Regardless of how much they fly, that fixed costs will go toward hangaring, insurance, annual maintenance, and inspections. It will cost them another $3500 to fly it every hour.
Fractional ownership allows all ten owners to fray the fixed costs so that each one now is just burdened with $50,000 a year of fixed costs instead of the $500,000. This effectively opens up the jet broker’s market by being able to target those in the lower wealth bracket.
Fractional sales also include selling blocks of hours. There are clients out there who have no inclination to be a full or part owner of an aircraft but still want the convenience of flying in a private jet. You expand your market by selling flights on private aircraft.
The possibilities in aircraft broking are pretty diverse.
Being an aircraft broker can also mean approaching those who you think should have an aircraft, pitching them the idea, and then going to the manufacturer with a ready client in hand.
Whichever way you decide to approach the concept of aircraft sales and brokering, the one thing you will need is a Private Pilot’s license, and if you already have that, all you have to invest to take it to the next level is a little research and time.
Commercial Aircraft Market
Before you decide to think about aircraft brokering, you should know that the post-pandemic period is a unique opportunity. In 2021, the market for commercial aircraft was estimated to be US $96.83 billion.
What is appealing about this is that it is expected to grow at 5% annually over the next five years. That presents a huge opportunity to those who have an interest in aircraft.
For those who have flying qualifications, like a private pilot's license, it presents an even better opportunity, since priority for these jobs is given to those who have a license.
The point to note is that this market does not include the private jet market which was discussed earlier.
Summary of the Brokerage Industry
In short, aside from the aircraft sales option for those with a private pilot’s license, it is possible to enter the aircraft brokerage market. There are three segments in the aircraft brokerage industry.
The private market, the private jet market, and the commercial market. The private market consists of individuals who are looking for small piston or turboprop aircraft.
The private jet market includes small to large jets like the Pilatus PC-24 and the Gulfstream 700, while the commercial jet market includes passenger jets like the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A380.
A rather unconventional way to make money using your private pilot’s license would be to create a YouTube channel that features your flying. You could market this in a couple of ways to make money.
Remember that there are already a number of channels out there that monetize traffic to videos of commercial charter pilots who record their flights in turboprops and jets.
You would be surprised at the volume of traffic they get from every video that just shows a pilot going through the motions of conducting the various phases of flight.
There are a number of ways you could make this to your advantage.
First of all, go to YouTube and make a Creator's account. If you already have a Google account, this is not that difficult to accomplish. If you don’t it just takes a few extra steps.
Once you have registered for a Creator's account you are ready to upload your videos. Just before you do, you should check out the competition and look around at the kinds of videos that are out there that relate to general aviation.
This gives you an idea of what you can do, and also gives you an understanding of what is out there.
Now you have to make videos. This will require a little more effort on your part. If you have a Go Pro camera and amount, you are good to go. If you don’t then you will have to either get one, or you could just use your phone. Whichever you choose you will have to find a way to mount it.
What audiences like to see are shots of the pilot, the instrument panel, and the scenery outside. Ideally, you should have three cameras and then use one of the many free software to splice them together in post-production.
Viewers generally like to watch the preflight, the startup, the taxi, and take off in addition to all the other phases.
You don’t have to narrate the entire process as you do your in-flight routine, instead, you can narrate it during your editing process and add a sound track to the background. If you were to rent an aircraft close to where you live and take a twenty-minute flight up to another airport, let's say, for a fly-in breakfast, or a barbecue, it becomes all the more exciting.
This is just a pointer of what you can capture on video while you fly the aircraft. There are other aspects of flying you can capture. You could even take your friends on a cross-country trip, share the cost of the trip, and video that journey. This will serve to cut the cost of your flight while providing videos for the channel.
No one is going to pay you to watch you fly. That’s the first thing I should tell you. And, even if they do there is no mechanism for that on YouTube anyway. Plus, you may run afoul of FAA regulations regarding receiving payment for your flight. But that’s not what this is about.
Your revenue for this will come from Google’s advertising. Each of your videos, when monetized, will allow Google to place advertisements tailored to the person who is watching it. The more people who watch your video the higher the probability of them seeing ads that are tailored to them. Google makes money and you get a cut of that based on how many times your video is viewed.
On average, a thousand advertisements viewed via your channel will earn you $18. The number of advertisements that are viewed on your channel depends on how many videos you upload and how many advertisements appear on each video.
If you have ten videos and each one is watched a thousand times, then you have a total of ten thousand views. If each video has three advertisements, then you have thirty thousand advertisements viewed earning you $540 that month.
Key Success Factors
Flight videos are popular on YouTube. Doing a random search for ‘Private Pilot Videos’ and sifting through ones that teach flying, I found one that exhibits exactly what was mentioned earlier. A pilot that shows the different phases of flight from start to finish. That video alone garnered 2 million views in the last ten months.
The video had three advertisements, resulting in six million advertisement views. At the rate of $18 per 1000 views, that works out to be about $10,000 in revenue per month.
There are three key success factors you have to think about. One is the number of subscribers. The number of subscribers you have correlates to how many views each video in your channel gets.
The other is the length of the video. The longer your video, the more ads Google will place in them, increasing your revenue earning potential. However, don’t make a video that is longer than necessary.
Finally, there is the quality of the video. Make sure your sound and video quality are acceptable and that your narrative is entertaining. If you have nothing to say, just play music in the background. If you have a little to say, say that then play music for the rest of the time.
Your goal is to create videos of flight experiences that people will watch for whatever reason and that they will watch your video for as long as possible.
A variation of the above You Tubing idea is to implement ground instruction into your videos. All you have to do is add a BGI, IGI, or AGI rating to your qualifications and then you are free to start making instructional videos.
One way you could do this is to use whiteboard software that supports animating your instruction and interlacing that with flight maneuver sequences. Add value to this by taking the plane up a few times and recording the flight maneuvers that are contained in the ground instruction. You could also record procedures, preflight checklists, emergency checklists, and everything a student pilot would want to know.
If you’re not shy, set up a video camera during your ground school lessons with students in the room and then upload those so that a wider audience would be able to gain from your teaching, and you would be able to increase your revenue potential.
Instead of generating just $600 in one week, a video of that session, shared over YouTube, could earn you thousands over the course of the year.
Merchandising and Affiliate Sales
In your videos, everything you do can be monetized. And Amazon is great for this. For instance, you could tell viewers about how great your headsets are and that you have a link in the description to get the same pair you are using.
You should also tell them that you make a commission from the links that they use to buy your products. People like that you are being transparent about it.
There are numerous products that you can plug during your flight. From the GoPro cameras to the tablet and the GPS you're using, down to apparel and sunglasses.
Besides Amazon, there are other affiliate links that you can get and then use your videos to sell them. It is a good way to add to the revenue stream in addition to the monetization of the channel and hosting Google advertisements.
If your private pilot channel starts to do really well, you can then start approaching sponsors. Sponsors work a little differently from affiliate marketing. With sponsorships, you would approach the company directly and they would set up a program where they give you a discount code.
If a customer used that discount code to sign up for something, you would get a commission from there while the customer would get a discount for using the code.
Sponsorship links are easy to obtain as long as they can see that you have a strong channel that has regular videos uploaded, average-length content, and a fair amount of subscribers. It will also help if you have a good viewership number.
In addition to all that, you should also present a clean image and have a business plan that shows the marketing and PR departments of the company you are approaching and that you have the branding that they would associate with.
There are two kinds of sponsorships. First, there is the one we just talked about where your customers are given a discount and you are given a commission. The second one is when they pay you a few, regardless of how many customers you send their way.
The second option is more about brand building and maintenance and they reserve this for those who have a targeted audience that they want to reach.
Examples of this would be if you were to target student pilots, which a channel with basic ground instruction would be apt to do. Then a company like David Clark which makes headsets would consider sponsoring your content.
The advertising value of their product on the screen for the duration of the video, albeit in the passive background, is advertising gold to them, and they will sponsor your video.
Sponsorship opportunities are endless. In the same video, you could have headsets, sunglasses, nav equipment, and T-Shirts, even the aircraft you are flying might wish to sponsor you if you have a good enough audience.
You could earn up to $50,000 a year doing aerobatics as a private pilot. And it doesn’t need anything more than your Private Pilot’s License and a valid medical. It also depends on what aircraft you plan on flying in your stunts.
If you have been flying regular tricycle gear airplanes like the Cessna or Piper aircraft, then there is a good chance you do not have a tailwheel endorsement. If you are going to do aerobatics in a tricycle-geared aircraft like the Long EZ then that’s fine, you don’t need any other endorsements.
But if you are going to do them in a tail-wheel aircraft like a Citabria, then you are going to need a logbook endorsement from a qualified tail-wheel instructor.
While there are no longer any other legal requirements for you to now go out and perform aerial acrobatics, or aerobatics for short, you should have an instructor teach you the basics and stay with you while you perform these maneuvers till a satisfactory level of competency.
Basics of Aerobatics
Aerobatics is like a dance. It has all the same moves, just done in a varying sequence.
To get started you need an aircraft that is certified to do aerobatics, like Cessna Aerobat, a Citabria, or a Decathlon. There are many others beyond these, but these are probably the ones that are easier to locate at an airfield close to you.
If you’re not sure where to find it just give the International Aerobatics Club a call. There should be a chapter close to you.
Most places that have these aircraft would also have instructors who would be willing to take you up and teach you the basics then cut you loose to go practice on your own. Practice is key, and where you practice is just as important.
It’s always best to go up with an instructor, even if he is just going to stay there and say nothing. You can always use an extra pair of eyes to keep a lookout while you focus on your maneuvers.
As part of your lessons, be prepared to incur some additional costs. You would need to know how to use a parachute, and you would need to pay for the instructor, above and beyond the aircraft. There will also be some ground lessons that you would have to undergo as well.
There are five maneuvers you should be able to do without difficulty after a couple of flights. Rolls, spins, lines, hammerheads, and loops. You can perform them in any number of sequences or superimpose them.
So, for instance, you could do three spins followed by a roll, or a few loops before transitioning to a roll or superimposing rolls onto loops.
Once you feel fairly confident of your skills, the question now is how you make money with them.
As a private pilot with aerobatic skills, you will not be able to teach aerobatics to those who wish to learn. That requires a CFI rating. Instead, your revenue stream will be limited to performing at airshows.
The average aerobatic pilot makes about $50,000 a year and that is the mid-range of the scale. Aerobatic pilots perform almost the entire year through and fly across the country to perform. You will build flight time quickly.
Just like ground instruction, you could supplement the income from your aerobatic maneuvers with income from YouTube videos. Just follow the same steps discussed in the You Tubing section above to create videos of in-cockpit sequences.
In addition to that, you should also have someone else record your maneuvers from the ground, and also from another aircraft if possible. Currently a random search for aerobatic flight yields channels with videos that receive between 30,000 to 2 million views.
You can calculate the amount of extra income that would generate based on the math laid out in the YouTubing section.
Just like YouTubing, aerobatics also has sponsorship opportunities. But this time it's not for the videos you may generate, although that can happen too. Sponsorship for aerobatics is more about having relationships with certain brands and having their brand logos painted on the wings, or using their colors for the entire aircraft.
Sponsorship requests are not always entertained unless you’ve made a name for yourself, and that’s what you should plan to do. Get popular in your local and regional area, and fly all the airshows and fly-ins you can.
The name of the game here is popularity. You should expand your reach via social media and increase your following. The key to having a strong aerobatic career is not just the skill of flying, but the power of your name.
Whenever you perform in local airports, try to get the local news to cover the flight. Even if they don’t come out, send them a video of the flight. It may get you a few seconds of airtime, but that’s all you need for your name to start gaining traction.
Once your name starts to take up mind share among aerobatic enthusiasts, more organizers will request you and that will lead to sponsorship down the road.
Having your brand equity increase will also positively impact your remuneration package. Your employer will see that paying you more is worth it.
Much like YouTubing, as an aerobatics flier at airshows, you have a built-in market just ready to sell to.
And use one to lead into the other. If you can wow the airshow’s spectators, you’ll draw them to your stall, where you can combine both a store and museum into one.
On one side, you can talk about your own history as a pilot and the history of the specific aircraft you’re flying, whilst on the other, selling merchandise specific to you and your display.
Whilst you probably can’t fly and sell at the same time, you can always bring along a trusted friend, fellow avgeek or family member to help you. Though you may have to pay them for their time (or just with free access to airshows!) if they can sell more than you pay them, that’s extra money in your pocket for flight time!
And this isn’t just some theory of “you could do this,” if you look at most display teams, they have their own stores, both online and a stall at airshows, selling everything from signed autographs to commemorative mugs to aviator sunglasses to T-shirts to flight suits.
This isn't just limited to large display teams either. Before they sold their sole display Harrier, the SHAR airshow display team (headed by former USMC Harrier pilot Art Nalls) would sell their own merchandise at airshow stalls and online.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood