How to Become a Frugal Pilot

This publication assumes that you already are a licensed pilot who wants to fly on a budget. But what if you're not yet a pilot? What do you need to be a licensed pilot? Let me summarize the process.

To fly an airplane in the United States (Canada and other countries have similar processes), you must be at least 17 years old and you need to pass two tests:

  • Knowledge Test – Written test requiring a passing grade of 70 percent or more.
  • Practical Test – An oral examination and a flight test performed by a certified flight examiner.

For a Private Pilot Certificate, you also will need at least 40 hours of logged flight experience including flight instruction performed by a certified flight instructor and solo flight experience. Sixty to 70 hours is more typical. Younger students seem to require less training than older students.

For a Sport Pilot Certificate, you will need at least 20 hours of logged flight experience including flight instruction performed by a sport flight instructor and solo flight experience. The typical Sport Pilot requires 35-40 hours of experience to earn a certificate.

What's the difference between a Private Pilot and a Sport Pilot?

A Private Pilot can fly many general aviation aircraft under visual flight rules (VFR) day or night and, with additional training and testing, instrument flight rules (IFR). A Private Pilot is required to pass a Third Class Medical examination.

A Sport Pilot can fly two-seat light-sport aircraft under VFR rules during daylight hours only. A Sport Pilot only needs a driver’s license to comply with medical requirements.

The good news is that to fly yourself (no passengers) you only need a Student Pilot Certificate which you can get by passing a Knowledge Test, satisfying your instructor that you can perform basic flight operations including takeoffs and landings, and get your Third Class Medical, if required. Most people earn their Student Pilot Certificate in less than 20 hours of flight instruction.

Actually, there is more to getting a pilot license than is summarized here. Much more. But this will help you start. Begin with an introductory flight from a nearby flight school (call your local airport), get enrolled in a ground school (theories and requirements of flying), find a certified instructor and rental aircraft, and get started. Additional guidance is available online at the AOPA's Flight Training Magazine.

Then review the many practical articles in this document to help you learn to fly on a budget as a Frugal Pilot.

See you in the pattern!