How Much Does It Cost to Become a Pilot?

By Pilot Institute
Posted on February 26, 2023 - 9 minute read

If you want to fly an airplane for fun, you can get your Private Pilot license for around $15,000 – $20,000. Those wanting to fly for a career will need to spend around $75,000 – $100,000 to get a Commercial Pilot License (CPL). If you have a Commercial Pilot License, you can earn money flying while you are working on getting the 1500 hours of flight time required to achieve your Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license, which major airlines require you to have to work for them.

Pilot CertificateCost
Student Pilot$75 – $200 (for medical certificate)
Sport Pilot$7,200
Recreational Pilot$10,300
Private Pilot$15,000 – $20,000
Commercial Pilot$55,000 – $100,000
Flight Instructor$5,000
Airline Transport Pilot$5,000
Drone Pilot$0 – $450

Exciting as it may be, learning how to fly aircraft expends money.  A lot of it, sometimes. So, how much does it cost to become a pilot?

It’s tough to give a straight answer to this question.


Because a pilot is somewhat of a generic term. You are a pilot if you fly small, single-engine airplanes, and you are a pilot if you fly commercial jets.

Flight training varies significantly between the two, which translates into a difference in costs.

Ground and flight training make up the biggest chunk of the total.

Other expenses, such as test fees, amount to a fraction of it.

So, let’s start with the costs that won’t break the bank.

Medical, Written, Practical Exams, and Miscellaneous Costs

Becoming a pilot entails getting a medical certificate.

An Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) issues the certificate after conducting a medical exam. Medical exams cost anywhere between $75 to $200, depending on the class, doctor, location, and whether you need an EKG.

In most cases, you must also pass an aeronautical knowledge test to obtain your pilot license. The test fees range from $140 to $165, depending on the location.

The final step toward getting your license is to pass a practical test, the cost of which varies based on the license, location, and type of aircraft used to conduct the checkride. Most practical tests cost between $350 and $550. However, flight instructors pay a higher price that goes from $500 to more than a thousand bucks in a few places.

As you train to become a pilot, you need a headset, books, and maybe even a bomber jacket and a pair of Aviator sunglasses to look the part. It’s good to budget $500 to $1,000 for those training supplies.

Student Pilot License Cost


The vast majority of aviators start as student pilots.

Getting your student pilot license constitutes the first step toward obtaining higher certification.

Well, for the most part.

Recreational pilots may use a sport pilot certificate to get their licenses.

How much does it cost to get a student pilot certificate?

The FAA charges you nothing when you apply for the certificate through the Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).

But if you enlist the help of an examiner, representative, or an instructor, they can charge a fee to process the application.

How much exactly? The FAA doesn’t specify a fixed amount, but it should be reasonable.

However, the cost you’re concerned with is what you have to pay for pilot training. The FAA specifies no training requirements for the issuance of a student certificate.

You still need a medical certificate, though. So, taking that into account, the cost of getting a student pilot license is $75 to $200.

Sport Pilot License Cost

The FAA created the sport pilot certificate for aviation hobbyists back in 2004. It allows you to fly Light- Sport Aircraft (LSA).

Unlike the student pilot certificate, though, getting your sport pilot license requires ground and flight school.

Ground school comes in two flavors: Instructor’s lesson or a home-study course.

Instructors charge an average of $40 an hour for ground instruction. Online courses cost from $100 to $400, and some are even free.

The FAA sets the minimum flight time for a sport pilot license at 20 hours, which must include at least 15 hours of dual instruction and 5 hours of solo flight time.

On average, the light sport aircraft rental rate is $180 and the flight instructor’s rate is $60. Therefore, the flight training cost is $4,800 at the low end.

But 20 hours is the absolute minimum. Realistically, most pilots need around 30 flight hours to become proficient, which is another $2,400.

Add another $500 for the written and practical tests, as well as $100 for an online ground school, and the sport pilot license cost would be around $7,200.

Recreational Pilot License Cost

According to the latest FAA civil airmen statistics, fewer than 150 recreational pilots are active in the US.

Why such a low number?

It’s easier to get the sport pilot certificate if you want to fly for fun.

The majority of pilots also prefer to get a private pilot certificate, which grants more privileges, as it takes only a bit more training, time, and money than that of a recreational.

The FAA still issues the recreational certificate despite diminishing interest, though.

The cost breakdown is similar to that of the sport license, but with more hours and a slightly higher aircraft rental rate.

You need to log at least 30 flight hours, 15 of which must be with an instructor.

But as you can probably guess, most pilots need 10 to 15 hours more than the minimum, which puts the average at around 40 hours.

An average airplane rental rate of $180, along with $60 an hour for a flight instructor, brings the cost to $9,600 for training.

Now you need another $700 for a home-study course, medical exam, and test fees. Consequently, the recreational pilot license cost equates to around $10,300.

Private Pilot License Cost

A recreational pilot license has several limitations, but you may lift most through instructor endorsement.

However, you can never remove certain restrictions, such as flying aircraft that have more than four seats.

The private pilot license (PPL) allows you to command any aircraft for any non-commercial purpose. But it requires more training.

FAA’s minimum is 35 to 40 hours, depending on whether the flight school is Part 61 or Part 141. Most pilots require 60 to 75 flight hours, though.

With that in mind, the private pilot license cost averages about $15,000 – $20,000. It varies, however, depending on the school, aircraft, instructor, and location among other factors.

You also need proper ground instruction, adding up anywhere from several hundred dollars to a few grand.

And the good news?

A pilot training provider like provides you with lifetime access to an online private pilot ground school.

For a morsel of the standard ground course cost, mind you.

The virtual training course features videos, practice questions, and even a free instructor endorsement.

Commercial Pilot License Cost

Getting paid while doing what you love is the dream, right?

In the aviation realm, it starts by getting a commercial pilot license (CPL). The certification allows you to get paid for certain aviation activities, including agricultural applications, pipeline patrol, and traffic reporting.

The Part 61 vs Part 141 bind comes into play here too, bringing about a difference in the minimum required flight hours.

Under Part 61, you need at least 250 hours to get your CPL, but only a minimum of 190 in a Part 141 pilot school.

You must be thinking that training under Part 141 must be less expensive given the lower number of hours.

But that’s not always the case.

Since the FAA heavily regulates Part 141 schools, they tend to have higher aircraft rental and instructor hourly rates.

In either case, though, you must have a private pilot license, which means you accrued an average of 60 hours.

Often, commercial pilot license courses include multiengine and instrument rating training. The rationale being that both are essential for most commercial flight operations.

So, with both ratings included, the commercial pilot license cost starts at $55,000.

It can go all the way up to double that figure or even more, though, depending on the school and the licenses/ratings the program will provide you with.

Flight Instructor Certificate Cost

Becoming a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) makes for a path to gain flight experience. Furthermore, it’s a common way to get enough hours for an airline job.

However, you need a commercial pilot license before starting a flight instructor’s course.

But don’t fret.

The flight instructor certificate cost is only a fraction of what you paid for the CPL.

The Part 61 vs Part 141 difference is evident here too, which fluctuates the cost.

Part 61 schools have no minimum flight time requirement for a CFI course, it’s based on pilot proficiency. Conversely, you need at least 25 hours when training under Part 141.

On average, a typical flight instructor training cost runs at $5,000. At a Part 141 school? Well, it goes up to $8,000. However, the cost to become a flight instructor varies depending on the school’s type, location, and reputation.

You can also become an instrument or a multi-engine instructor.

The Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII) and a Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI) are often add-on ratings to an existing CFI. Usually, the cost of each ranges from $3,000 to $5,000.

Airline Transport Pilot License Cost


Airline pilots’ six-figure median annual salary makes for a good reason to become one.

You need more than a commercial pilot license to get here, though.

It takes an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL), which requires logging 1,500 flight hours.

Well, unless you obtain an aviation degree from an FAA authorized institution.

This permits you to get a restricted privileges ATPL (R-ATPL) with fewer hours, allowing you to fly as an airline co-pilot until you reach the 1,500-hour threshold.

The ATP certificate itself requires completing an FAA-approved Airline Transport Pilot Certification Training Program (ATP-CTP).

Typically, an ATPL training program runs at $5,000, which covers the training, knowledge exam, and practical test costs.

Drone Pilot License Cost

Recreational drone flyers require no certification, but you must have a remote pilot certificate to fly drones commercially.

Interestingly, the number of drone pilots grew exponentially since 2016, which is when the FAA started issuing remote pilot certificates.

You may obtain the license under Part 107 rules whether you’re a first-time pilot or an existing certificate holder.

How much does it cost?

Nada for Part 61 license holders, they only need to complete a free online training course.

But for first-timers, it’s the cost of an aeronautical knowledge exam, which is $150.

You need to prepare to pass the test, though.

You could opt to go through the free FAA’s study material, but you can find online courses with better structures.

One such resource is, which offers a multitude of training programs for aspiring drone pilots at affordable prices.

In total, the cost of a drone pilot license averages $450.

How to Save Money on Your Flight Training

Evidently, pilot training can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but you can save quite a bit. Here are 5 ways to reduce costs while learning to fly aircraft:

  • Find affordable aircraft: the largest portion of your pilot training cost is airplane rental. Therefore, renting older airplanes would save you a ton of money, especially if your goal is to get a commercial pilot license.
  • Research schools: Many flight schools offer packages, group discounts, and accelerated courses. It’s common to find less expensive deals on training courses, particularly when you seek multiple pilot certificates or ratings.
  • Study well: learning aviation theory constitutes a crucial part of becoming a good pilot. Moreover, combining it with “chair flying” reduces the time you need in the airplane to attain proficiency.
  • Join a flight club: flight club members get reduced rates, meaning a cost cut on flight training. Not only that, but you also become a part of an aviation community, which can open doors to a job opportunity in the future.
  • Apply for a scholarship: several organizations, such as AOPA, offer to pay the cost of flight training for select recipients. While not easy to get, it’s worth applying for a scholarship if you meet its eligibility requirements.

The Bottom Line

While sometimes costly, becoming a pilot doesn’t require an exorbitant amount of money.

If you’re looking to fly for fun, you can get your sport pilot license for a few thousand bucks. However, if the dream is to work for an airline, the monetary commitment jumps to a much higher figure.

But no matter how much cash it sets you back, the joy of flight is worth it.

Want to make the best out of your aviation experience?

Start by defining your goal. Once you get that figured out, you need to shop around and see what different flight schools have to offer in terms of airplane rental rates, instructor fees, and financing options.

The best way to get your pilot license may not be the cheapest. Therefore, you should find a balance between cost and training quality.

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