How to Fly a Plane for Fun or Profit – An Overview

how to fly

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Learning how to fly will be harder for some folks than others, but the hours spent in practice and instruction will pay off with a lucrative career or enjoyable leisure time.

There are three popular licenses you can train for – sport, recreational, and private pilot, though some students may want specific training as a commercial pilot, helicopter pilot, flight instructor or airline transport pilot (ATP).

Consider the following information before you pay for flight school if want to fly a plane as a profession or just for fun,

Private pilots can use their planes or a rental plane for their travel or just for fun. Sport and recreational pilots have restrictions placed on where and when they can fly but can fly for fun and relaxation. Commercial and Airline Transport pilots make a career out of flying.

Should You Learn how to Fly a Plane?

Learning to fly costs a lot of money. It’s not a quick, instant gratification hobby or an easy career choice. Talk with a flight school rep and take an introductory class or flight to find out more about what’s involved in learning to fly. You don’t want to spend a down payment or even the entire cost of flight school, and then decide it’s not for you. Most folks can tell if flying is in their blood right away.

During the introductory lesson, you may fly the plane yourself, (with the instructor there to help you). The instructor will explain how the plane works, and what the controls do, and a bit about dealing with weather and wind conditions.

You’ll need to have an excellent sense of direction and the ability to make quick decisions based on the instruments on your control panel and weather conditions. Flying isn’t the hobby or career for you if it takes you a long time to make a decision.

You need to be at least 14 years old to operate a balloon or glider, and 16 before you can fly an airplane by yourself. You must be 17 before you can get a private pilot certificate and 16 before you can get a sports pilot license for a glider or balloon. It may be more cost-effective to wait for your child is 15 or 16 before they start flying lessons, as they can’t receive a license until age 16.

There is no age limit on flight lessons. As long as you’re healthy and have good eyesight, you can learn to fly. Many folks learn to fly after they retire.

You’ll learn about other elements of flight school before or after your introductory hands-on flight. The instructor or school rep will tell you what courses are available, how long they last, what exam you’ll need to take to get your certificate, and the estimated cost for instruction and aircraft rental.

Pilot License Cost

The cost of getting a pilot license depends on the number and type of lessons you take, the cost of renting aircraft and the school you attend. Basic classes cost between $4500 and $10,000, with sport flying lessons being less expensive than recreational or private pilot lessons.

Payment plans, loans or financial aid are available at most schools if you need help paying for lessons. Even sport pilot courses cost four to five thousand dollars, so many students will need some monetary assistance to pay for a pilot license.  

How to Make the Most of Your Flying Lessons

Flying lessons sound challenging and glamorous, but ground training, reading books and listening to lectures sounds boring to most people. However, when you take your pilot exam, you’ll take a multiple choice written an exam and an oral exam, as well as a flight exam. Two-thirds of your testing will be on the ground.

Flying an aircraft requires a lot of knowledge about how to operate in certain weather conditions and the dynamics of how aircraft move, take off and land.

A weekend ground school consists of lectures by an instructor, but it will help you concentrate on the written and oral exams. Self-study is an option if you have enough time and the discipline to stick to a schedule. There are online ground school courses that let you review test preparation material several times.

Choosing a Flight School

Choosing a flight school is the first step to getting a pilot certification. There are several types of flight schools, some specializing in light sports aircraft, like gliders, helicopters, or seaplanes, while others teach students to fly traditional aircraft.

Decide on your long-term flight goals. Why do you want to fly – for a career or fun? Do you have the money to buy a plane, or will you rent? Do you want to fly all over the country, overseas as well as in the U.S., or will you be okay with flying only in your local area? You’ll also need to look at your schedule and other commitments, and determine whether you’ll take flight classes full-time or part-time.

Part 61 and Part 141 Flight Schools

Flight schools may be Part 141 or Part 61. The numbers refer to which part of Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) oversees the school’s operations.

Part 141 schools state that instructors must be associated with an FAA-approved flight school. A Part 141 school must submit its curriculum to be approved by the FAA, and the FAA can conduct periodic surveillance audits.  A minimum pass rate on exams is also expected from a 141 school.

Part 61 flight schools don’t adhere to the same rules and have the same accountability as Part 141 schools. A Part 61 school lets you have the flexibility to change flying lesson order and content to fit your needs, which is helpful for part-time students.

Part 141 schools offer special programs and benefits that Part 61 schools lack, including Veterans Administration reimbursed training. Part 61 schools may be a better choice for students seeking sport or recreational licenses, while students who want to be career or private pilots should seek out Part 141 schools.

Both flight school types expect students to meet or exceed minimum requirements.

Anyone considering a career as a professional pilot should consider going to an aviation college. Financial aid and scholarships are available for many of these flight schools.

Instructor – Student Compatibility

Make sure you are compatible with your instructor. If your flight instructor is too temperamental or rigid and you prefer someone who is more laid-back, ask to work with another instructor at the school. Consider checking out another flight school if you can’t find a compatible instructor at the first school you visit. Working with the wrong instructor is detrimental to your progress and may even cause you to quit your flying lessons.

Questions to Ask Before Enrolling

Ask questions before you enroll in a school. Not all schools have the same experience and track record in teaching students how to fly, and this may not be evident from their website or promotional material.

  • How do you schedule flying lessons?
  • Who keeps records and how often are they updated?
  • Do you give progressive in-flight checks to evaluate a student’s progress?
  • What is the instructor to student ratio?  (One teacher should handle no more than five full-time or ten part-time students.)
  • What are the school’s insurance requirements, and how do the collision and liability policies work?
  • Is the school responsible for the insurance deductible? How much is that deductible?
  • How are student pilots covered in case of an accident?
  • How are planes and aircraft maintained, inspected, and repaired?

Spirit Airlines – Example of a Low-Cost Carrier

If you want to become a commercial or airline transport pilot, you should think of starting your career at a regional, low-cost or major airline. Beginning pilots may have an end goal of flying for American or another legacy airline, but pilots usually work their way up from majors and regional airlines to legacy airlines.

You can always begin your career with low-paying regional airlines to get experience and then work your way up to a major or popular low-cost carrier. The most popular regional airlines include American Eagle, Porter, and Alaska. Major and low-cost carriers include

Frontier, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Virgin America, and Southwest.

Spirit Airlines ranks as one of the most inexpensive airlines in the U.S. Budget travelers can fly cheap, but they won’t be able to enjoy meals, check in many bags or get lots of legroom. The airline has made strides to improve its on-time arrivals, as management and pilots work toward better Spirit flight status.

Any student pilot who wants to fly for a living should look into working for Spirit or other low-cost or major airlines before contacting legacy airlines such as United. Despite well-publicized problems, these carriers are growing and offer many jobs for pilots and other personnel.

Call the Spirit airlines phone number at 1 (801) 401-2222 for flight status, booking or general information. Visit their job board if you are looking for work as a pilot or other employment opportunities.

Anyone can learn how to fly with determination and dedication. Do your research and choose the right license and flight school, and you’ll have a great career – or lots of fun in the air.

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