Here’s a question that’s asked by just about everyone that’s interested in flying: “how much does it cost to learn how to fly?” or “how much does it cost to become a pilot?”. And rightfully so — learning to fly is a huge financial commitment.
In this post we’re going to run you through all of the main costs you should expect to incur on your journey to becoming a commercial pilot.
Financing Your Flying — An Overview
You need to carefully consider how to finance your flying.
- Can you afford to learn how to fly?
- Do you have expensive holidays lined up? Or large mortages/loans to repay?
- Will flying mean having time off work, and incurring a loss of income?
Unless you’re flying as a hobby, then there’s no use starting out if financial limitations will regularly disrupt your training. Taking breaks from your flight training usually works out more expensive, too. So you need to be realistic about what you can both afford, and commit your time to.
As a guideline, the commercial Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) can cost over £100,000 (depending on your circumstances), and it’ll take the best part of two years to complete. That’s a huge investment!
Here’s how most aviation students finance their flight training..
Some UK airlines offer financed training for a few lucky candidates. These individuals are given a loan to cover the flight training costs. This will be repaid later through the company’s payroll once the newly qualified pilot begins working.
This case makes life a lot easier on the trainee, because they don’t carry the financial burden upfront. Airlines also benefit from this format, because it ties pilots into the company for a number of years.
Note that the Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL) is a course format which some UK airlines have started adopting. MPL graduates are effectively restricted to the right-hand seat in the cockpit to fly as First Officers. To become a Captain, the MPL holder would still need to acquire an ATPL. Thus MPL training is generally shorter and less prestigious.
One option is to enrol on an exciting and highly focused aviation apprenticeship course as a flight student.
This relatively new route enables aviation students to study at one of the 45+ universities offering the course. Like an ‘integrated’ (intensive) course, it involves a class-based learning environment which incorporates all of the usual ATPL flight training.
Importantly, an apprenticeship has the bonus of providing students with access to loans and grants. The costs are usually very transparent and clearly stated on the University’s website.
The majority of prospective pilots fund their flight training themselves. So it’s crucial that you shop around for the most suitable school.
Some flight schools offer more value for the money than others. Read online reviews (if they’re available), and phone up schools to clarify their rates. With any flight school you need to 100% sure of what you’re committing to, and what you’ll be getting for your money. Clarify what additional costs you should expect to incur throughout your flight training, as they start to mount up quickly. Do as much research as possible before signing up.
Most flight training schools have schemes in place to protect your funds. For example, many offer a payment protection programme if the company dissolves before you complete your training. These are considerations you should make, because the sums you’re dealing with are significant.
Cost Of Obtaining The Private Pilot Licence (PPL)
First up is the PPL course. So how much does it cost to complete?
With everything included you should budget around £12,000 for this phase. Some pilots can certainly complete the PPL course for cheaper — but it depends on a number of circumstances and factors that we’ll explain in this section.
Note that a standard self-funded PPL(A) course is normally advertised as costing between £8,000 – £11,000. This guideline assumes the minimum 45 hours of training, whereas the national average is between 55 and 60 hours. Be sure to factor the hours into your cost estimates.
► Integrated or Modular?
PPL(A) courses can be customised to your specific requirements — and this impacts the cost of learning to fly. The PPL course is split into 2 formats: ‘integrated’ (as part of an intense ATPL program) or ‘modular’ (which is less intensive, subject-by-subject).
Modular — higher cost
Those who already have some flying experience, or are unable to immediately give up their existing jobs, can opt for a ‘modular’ course. This enables the student to complete individual PPL modules in their own timeframe. It has the advantage of allowing the trainee to remain in paid employment — but it’s a more expensive route than an intensive PPL(A) course.
Integrated — lower cost
Others may opt for an ‘integrated’ course. This route involves a full-time course of study, which lasts around 14-18 months. It takes a student from complete beginner to a position where they are ready to take up a role as a pilot ready to work for the airlines. Naturally the training includes all of the PPL(A) training modules.
Whilst integrated aviation courses are considered cheaper in the long-run (due to ‘bulk’ discount incentives), this type of course may also carry accommodation/living fees which significantly adds to the overall cost.
So what other expenses aside from the advertised PPL(A) costs do you have to consider?
Let’s run you through that…
► Additional costs to include in your PPL(A) expense calculations
How much you spend on the PPL(A) largely depends on what is ‘bundled’ in your package. Consider the following:
flight school Costs:
- Hourly aircraft hire rate including an instructor
- Skills test examiner’s fee
- FROTL exam & test fee — including ground exams and flight test fees
- Fuel costs
- Landing fees (at local & other airfields), and Touch & Go fees for the entire course
- School membership fees
- Cancellation and no-show fees.
Each of these components makes up — or adds — to the total cost of your PPL course.
Some flight schools offer packages including some or all of the above. It’s important that you get this information beforehand to avoid any ‘surprise’ expenses.
Non flight school costs:
- Class 2 medical certificate fee (£150 – £200)
- CAA license issue fees (£186 for PPL(A) + £73 for FRTOL = £259)
- Equipment & learning materials (£350 – £2,000)
In the next section we elaborate more on the ‘equipment & learning materials’. Most equipment expenses are optional (but recommended), as opposed to it being a requirement.
► Equipment & Learning materials
Often overlooked amongst the larger expenses in learning to fly are the learning materials, flight equipment, books and stationery required to support your learning.
- Stationery. This alone is likely to set you back a minimum of £150. If you decide to purchase a PPL starter pack, then you should budget a further £200. So £350 in total. Take a look at our growing range of flight equipment here.
- Text Books. These cost around £20 for each of the 9 PPL topics. In theory you could spend up to £200 on all PPL subjects. Buying second hand books from Amazon or eBay is of course a much cheaper option.
Note that some PPL starter sets include core textbooks. Try to avoid buying the same materials twice.
- Specialist ground courses. These tend to be expensive, typically costing between £500 – £1,000 per week. They’re not mandatory, but some pilots find it more efficient to learn directly from a professional as opposed to intensive self-study. A renowned course from an experienced instructor doesn’t come cheap!
- Additional flight equipment. Headsets, kneeboards and flight bags aren’t mandatory because you can borrow (or go without some of it). But consider them as a potential cost of £300+. You might for example decide at a later date that purchasing or upgrading your headset will be beneficial to your flight learning or performance.
For all of this we recommend setting aside between £350 – £2,000.
The good news is that there aren’t too many additional expenses required for equipment as you progress past the PPL(A). The majority of the tools used in the PPL(A) can be carried forward into the ATPL.
To cut down your costs, read our post: What Flight Equipment Do I Really Need To Buy For The PPL?
► Remember that PPL(A) costs vary for each individual…
One aviation student may complete their PPL(A) for as little as £10,000, whilst another has spent £16,000. Why is there such a difference between what pilots spend?
As shown by the expense considerations in this section, the PPL(A) course costs vary enormously between flight schools. Some are simply more well-known, or reputable than others. Then you have to factor in the regular costs you incur (e.g. landing fees, the hourly aircraft hire rate etc), which aren’t consistent for every airfield/location. This is something you need to investigate yourself.
Some individuals complete their PPL faster than others. If you take to the course very quickly, then you may require less practice or study resources to succeed in each module. This will reduce your costs. But worth noting is that many student pilots enjoy their PPL(A) course so much that they aren’t in any real rush to complete it! You may not know what type of aviation student you are until you start learning to fly.
Our aim is to help you spend close to the £10,000 mark by highlighting the expected costs — but much of your total expense depends on your own research. Carefully consider your options and always shop around.
You can learn more about the PPL course here: The EASA Private Pilot Licence (PPL) Explained
Cost Of Obtaining The Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL)
Whilst our focus is to help you through the first hurdle — the PPL(A) — we realise that it’s important to be clear about what costs lie ahead with the ATPL. After all, the ATPL course is where the bulk of your flying expenses will come.
Below is a general overview of the remaining costs you’ll incur on each core segment of the ATPL. Because it’s such a long road ahead from here, be aware that your budget predictions may have more variance than they did with the shorter, more predictable PPL(A) course.
Note: many of the same cost considerations made for your PPL(A) course also apply to the ATPL.
► Class 1 Medical Certificate
Budget around £600 – £700 for this.
► Night Rating (NR)
On the night rating course you qualify to fly between official night (30 minutes after sunset) and official day (30 minutes before sunrise). This takes 5 hours, 3 of which are completed with a qualified instructor.
Learn more about the Night Rating here: Night Rating (NR) Course — Fly in the Dark
For 5 hours at approximately £135 – £200 per hour, you should expect to spend up to £1,000 – £1,200 on the Night Rating, including fees.
► Hour Building (HB)
This is where you’ll build up your flying experience, and develop your flying skills to the standards required of a commercial pilot. This will take 20-100 hours, depending on requirements.
Learn more about Hour Building here: Structured Hour Building (HB) Packages
You should budget from £3,000 (20 hrs) – £15,000 (100 hrs), including fees.
Note: an alternative to hiring an aircraft at your flight school is purchasing an aircraft share.
► AIRLINE TRANSPORT PILOT LICENCE (ATPL) GROUND SCHOOL
You’ll need to complete the ground school training required for commercial pilots at. The ATPL Ground School is usually full time (FT) course.
You should expect to spend around £4,000 – £5,500, including fees.
Alternatively, Distance ATPL ground school can be completed at some major flight schools such as CAE Oxford, L3Company (Previously CTC Wings), FTA-Global, or Stapleford. We can recommend Bristol Ground School.
The cost of distance ATPL is far cheaper, at around £2,500, including fees.
► Multi Engine Piston Rating (MEP)
If you’re looking to qualify to fly an aircraft with more than one engine then you’ll need the complete an MEP Rating.
Budget up to £4,000, including fees.
► Multi Engine Instrument Rating (MEIR)
To fly aircraft under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) in controlled airspace, students require a Multi Engine Instrument Rating (ME-IR).
Learn more about the MEIR here: Single & Multi Engine Instrument Rating (IR)
► Multi Engine Commercial Pilot Licence (ME CPL)
Next up is your Multi Engine Commercial Pilot Licence.
The course is often offered in conjunction with the instrument rating (MEIR). Upon completion of the Commercial Pilot Course (with IR) the candidate will have acquired the necessary skills to operate single and multi-engine aircraft to the standards required and be in a position to be tested for a MEP Commercial Pilot Licence.
► Multi Crew Cooperation (MCC)
In this part of the course you develop the knowledge, skills and attitude required to operate a multi-crew aircraft. The MCC course combines classroom and simulator training.
This typically costs up to £3,000, including fees.
We hope this is informative and helps to save you money during your Pilot training!