There are several steps to earning a private pilot’s certificate in the United States. Pilots must pass an Aviation Medical exam, participate in a ground school, pass the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Private Pilot knowledge exam, complete at least 40 hours flight time and take a checkride with an FAA Authorized Check Pilot.
The third class medical certificate used for the aviation medical exam can cost around $100, depending on the doctor’s charges. Based on information available from several private pilot school websites, private pilot ground school can be anywhere from free to $1,000. The free version is a self-paced, non-interactive, online review and practice quiz based program. There is an interactive online ground school for around $300, and most traditional classroom ground schools are over $500. Once you’ve completed the ground school, you can take the written exam for which the FAA charges $100.
The real expenses are in the flight costs. Licensing requires a minimum 20 hours flight time with a flight instructor, a minimum 10 hours solo flight hours, an additional 10 hours either solo or with a flight instructor, and a check ride. In addition to these hours, many people find they need additional hours with an instructor to complete all of the maneuvers required by the FAA. For all of these flight hours the student must pay any applicable aircraft rental, and fuel costs. In addition, the flight instructor will charge for pre- and post-flight briefing time as well as actual flight time. Aircraft rental varies depending on what type of aircraft and its home airport fees, and aviation fuel runs about twice the cost of regular gasoline. The flight test examiner will charge about $400 in addition to the aircraft rental and fuel for that flight.
In general, the cost for earning a private pilot’s certificate can run between $5,000 and $10,000. If a local organization needs your skills as a pilot, and they have flight instructors, you might be able to do the flight hours for just the cost of the fuel. Some Civil Air Patrol instructor pilots offer this type arrangement for members who have completed the ground school and FAA written exam. Civil Air Patrol cadet members can also take advantage of a low cost powered flight encampment that includes a traditional classroom ground school and 10 to 12 flight hours with an instructor.