Aeronautics-Learn to Fly

FAA Pilot Certificates & Ratings

Costs & Time Considerations

The entry-level pilot certificate for aviation careers requires a minimum of 40 hours flying time, with a minimum of 20 of those hours dual and 10 hours solo (FAR Part 61). However, the national average is closer to 75 hours, and an industrious Mt SAC student can expect to spend at 50 to 60 hours in attainment of the Private Pilot Certificate. The 10 to 15 hours of solo time is somewhat realistic, but the dual flight hours normally far exceeds 20 hours, considering the unique nature of flight within the Los Angeles area. We fly in an airspace region that requires  additional training and occasional air traffic control delays even during initial training. Taking all costs into consideration, including those of medical certificates, flight test examiner fees, and the expected cost of the additional dual flight instruction, the minimum cost at which a private pilot certificate can be obtained is $9000. This projected minimum cost is based upon 50 total flight hours (30 of which are dual) at the Mt SAC Flight Training Association rates of $75/hour for a Cessna 152 aircraft (wet rate), plus $35/hour for the flight instructor, plus examination fees.

The minimum time required for the Private Pilot Certificate is usually about 10 months. Since there is no problem beginning your flight training commensurate with your initial ground school course (AERO 100), this certificate can be obtained in two semesters. However, cost considerations and student schedule considerations may necessitate that the training be spread over three full semesters. Flying at a rate of 2 hours per week would allow attainment of the private license in a 10 month period. However, this is seldom realistic – personal schedules, weather cancellations, and financial considerations usually become a factor. There is an advantage in taking your flight lessons concurrently with AERO 100, since the ground school and flight training tend to compliment each other and speed the student's progress.

Statistics show that the Private Pilot Certificate is obtained in the minimum number of flight hours when individual lessons are sequenced with only a few days between lessons. Probably an ideal situation would involve flying three times per week. Once again, individual considerations often prohibit this, but it does seem to produce the lowest total cost in the long run.

The Student Pilot Certificate (accompanied by a Class III medical certificate) is not required prior to first solo, so it is not a prerequisite for your first lesson. The first solo flight normally does not occur until at least ten hours of dual flight instruction have been received. The FAA computerized knowledge exam (written exam) need not be completed until you are approaching the date for your final flight test. Thus, there is no fear of your flight training getting ahead of AERO 100. The flight test cannot be scheduled until you have passed your FAA computerized knowledge exam (minimum grade 70%).

The Private Pilot Certificate is the entry-level certificate for the building of flight time towards higher certificates and ratings. The good news is that a private pilot can share the operating expenses of an aircraft with passengers, so Mt SAC students routinely utilize this as a tool for advancing towards higher flight credentials. Usually there are lots of other Mt SAC students who are quick to share flight expenses with new private pilots in mutual advancement towards flying careers.

Military aviation does not have an entry-level flight requirement, since the military services train their pilots from the beginning. However, a private pilot certificate (especially with an instrument rating) is a great credential for entry into the very competitive military environment.

Advanced FAA Certificates & Ratings

Instrument Rating

The first rating after attainment of the private pilot certificate is normally the instrument rating, typically obtained at approximately 200 hours of total flight time – the FAA no longer requires specific minimum total hours for this rating). The instrument rating prerequisite includes 50 hours of pilot-in-command cross-country after the private pilot certificate (each flight at least 50 nautical miles from point of departure) and 40 hours of instrument flight time. The most efficient route to the instrument rating involves beginning work on the instrument rating immediately after receiving the private pilot certificate. Your flying schedule after the private license should be oriented towards the 50-hour cross-country requirement, and considerable instrument experience can be accumulated by utilization of a vision limiting device (an instrument hood) with an appropriately rated safety pilot aboard. This experience can be attained without a flight instructor aboard during cross-country flights, but the safety pilot must be a private pilot (although not necessarily instrument rated). This all takes a lot of personal discipline when sight-seeing flights might be the preferred way to travel, but it does provide a more efficient route to the instrument rating.

Simulators (flight training devices) are an excellent method of obtaining instrument experience. In many ways, flight simulators are superior to aircraft for instrument training, and up to 20 of the required 40 hours may be completed in an approved simulation device (such as those utilized in the Mt SAC program). Academically, this is the most advanced license or rating, since it requires considerable coordination and mental skills at a time when the student is still fairly low in flight experience. Under ideal conditions, the student could obtain the private pilot certificate during the second semester at Mt SAC and the instrument rating by the end of the fourth semester.

The approximate cost of the instrument rating would be approximately $8,500, dependent upon type of aircraft selected for the instrument rating. Most of our students prefer to complete their instrument rating in Mt SAC's Cessna 172 due to its cockpit instrumentation and the increased stability of a larger aircraft for instrument flying. These prices also assume maximum utilization of the college's flight simulators, an innovative method of reducing the total cost of the rating. The same medical certificate (Class III) obtained as a student pilot may be utilized for the instrument rating (it is valid for a total period of three years, under age 40). And, of course, the flight time towards the instrument rating can also be utilized as required flight experience towards the Commercial Pilot Certificate.

Commercial Pilot Certificate

The minimum required hours for this license is 250 hours total time, with 50 of those hours acceptable in a flight simulator. This flight experience can be obtained by the end of the student's second year of study at Mt SAC under ideal conditions. Assuming the instrument rating is received at the 200 hour mark, the commercial pilot license could then be obtained for an additional $7000. This is based on most flight experience being built in the Cessna 152, with the final 20 hours of training in a complex airplane (the flight test must be conducted in an airplane with retractable landing gear such as the Piper Arrow). Only 10 hours must be in the complex airplane, but 20 hours is probably more typical. Required maneuvers are a simple extension of private pilot flight skills, with many of the private pilot requirements being repeated to higher levels of precision. Many of our students complete training for this certificate after transfer to their chosen four-year university. Students attending our college part-time require more than two years to complete our program, so the commercial pilot certificate is more common before Mt SAC graduation in these instances. A Class II medical certificate is required for the commercial operations (valid for one year).

Flight Instructor

In the normal sequence of certificates and ratings for pilots who select a commercial airline career, the certificated flight instructor (CFI) is typically the next license sought. Although the commercial pilot certificate does allow flight for hire, it is usually the flight instructor who first finds work in the flying field. Even a brand new CFI is immediately employable, since flight instructors are in continual demand. Additionally, CFI's build valuable pilot-in-command time whenever they are flying with a student pilot. Thus, this certificate is usually the key to progression within a civilian flying career. The new CFI is building important experience, while finally being paid to fly by someone else. There are few career CFI's, but most airline pilots have passed through this career briefly en route to the jet cockpit.

There are no minimum hours for the flight instructor certificate, but a commercial license is a prerequisite. Normally at least 50 hours beyond the commercial certificate is required, with some of it in a complex airplane (once again, the flight test must be in a retractable gear aircraft). In the process, the student learns the details of precision flying along with basic teaching techniques. Based on 50 hours of training (half of it in a complex airplane) the additional cost after the commercial license is estimated to be $7500. Normally, the flight instructor certificate is not obtained until after graduation from Mt SAC. Students with an A.S. degree in Commercial Flight or Aviation Science who complete their flight instructor certificate can apply for employment with our college’s flight training program (College Aviation).

Other Advanced Ratings

Most of the remaining certificates and ratings occur rather automatically once the flight instructor certificate is obtained. The flight instructor simply builds flying experience while being paid to fly, and sometimes employers pick up part of the costs of higher licensing. As a minimum, the successful flight instructor will be able to self-finance these advanced certificates and ratings. Normal progression is to the instrument instructor rating next (CFII), then to the multi-engine rating, and finally the airline transport pilot certificate (requires 1500 hours). At this point the pilot has normally attained enough hours to be hired by regional airlines. While serving with these regional carriers the pilot is building jet time. The natural route to the major airlines is then pretty well assured.

Total time from first flight as a student pilot to employment with a regional airline (or as a corporate pilot) can realistically be as little as five years total time, which might be accomplished soon after attainment of the four-year college degree (SIU at Mt. SAC or Cal State LA). Success stories vary a lot in this regard, but it is certain that this goal is fully attainable by the dedicated aeronautics student. It is not an easy route nor is it an inexpensive route, but this career is far from routine. Like many other things in life, a flying career is one of those many goals that can only be obtained with diligence, but the personal and financial investment provides a lifetime payback that cannot be equaled anywhere. Being paid to fly is a difficult dream to surpass.

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