Become an Airline Pilot
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How Much Does it Cost to Become a Pilot?

It costs $105,000 to become a pilot if you’re starting with zero experience in the Zero Time to Airline program. It costs $83,000 if you’re starting with your private pilot certificate.

Those prices include all of the ratings and certificates you need to work as a commercial pilot and flight instructor plus the test fees. Starting your journey to become a pilot begins with understanding how much flight school costs, which is a key step in planning your aviation career.

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How Much Money is Flight School?

“How much does flight school cost” is a question every potential students asks our admissions team because it’s no secret that flight training is expensive. As shared above, if you’re starting with zero experience your total flight training program will cost you $105,000 for our Zero Time to Airline program.

But if you aren’t looking to become a professional pilot, you’re likely wondering how much it will cost for each individual certificate and rating. In this article we’ll go through the average cost to complete each certificate and rating you need to work as a commercial pilot.

Flight Training Financing

There are many partners you can use to financing your Thrust Flight training program. Most students finance the entire cost of their Zero Time to Airline program through Sallie Mae. If you aren’t participating in a full time professional pilot training program your financing options will be much more limited.

Get started on your Sallie Mae application today.

Costs for Private Pilot Certificate, Commercial Certificate, and Other Ratings

The flight school cost includes a number of things, including ground school, flight hours, and additional fees.

Below is a rough estimate of how much it would cost to complete each of the certificates and ratings listed on their own. The Zero Time to Airline program includes all of these. The time to complete estimate is based on full time training which means you are flying at least 5 days per week.

Cost RangeTime to Complete (Full Time Training)
Private Pilot Certificate$21,000-$26,0002-3 Months
Instrument Rating$21,000-$26,0002-3 Months
Commercial Certificate$25,000-$27,0002-3 Months
Certified Flight Instructor$6,500-$8,0001-2 Months
Certified Flight Instructor Instrument$5,000-$8,0001 Month
Multi-Engine Add On (with 25 hours of flight time)$15,000-$18,0002-3 Weeks
This includes checkride fees, written exam fees, and other material fees you’ll likely need.

Pilot Training Cost

The biggest factors that affect how much it costs to become a pilot are aircraft rental and flight instructor time. When you first start your training there are also a number of basic supplies you’ll need to purchase.

If you’re pursuing an individual rating you can use the chart above to give you a rough estimate. But if you’re looking at how much does it cost to become a commercial pilot, the above breakdown should give you a more complete picture when you add them all up.

Aircraft Rentals

Aircraft rates are billed per hour to the nearest tenth. Depending on the school, they may be billed wet, an all-inclusive number including fuel, or dry, where the student will pay for the fuel they use.

Aircraft time is billed based on the Hobbs time recorded from the aircraft, which begins and ends when the engine operates.

The price you pay will vary depending on the type of plane.

Larger, more complex planes cost more to operate and are therefore more expensive. Smaller planes provide a better value since they can be rented for less money.

Flight Instructor Time

Flight instruction time is billed hourly, as well. You’ll pay for instruction time while you are in the aircraft receiving training, as well as for any ground instruction you receive before and after the flight.

You’ll also occasionally pay for ground-only instruction to help you prepare for exams or checkrides.


In the Zero Time to Airline program these supplies are included in the cost of your program.

Cost of taking the FAA exam

Cost of Pilot Exams

Written Exam

When you take a written exam, you have to pay a fee to the FAA testing center. The fee is usually around $150, but it varies by location and type of exam.

FAA Practical Exam

When you do your check ride with a designated pilot examiner (DPE), they’ll charge for their time. Costs vary considerably depending on the type of checkride and your region.

Most schools don’t include these in the cost of flight training (but they are included in the Zero Time to Airline program).

FAA practical exams are between $700 and $1,200 in most areas.

Sportcruiser on the ground

Private Pilot License Cost

The private pilot course consists of three different phases of training. During the pre-solo phase, you learn what you need to fly the plane safely. That training culminates in your first flight alone around the traffic pattern.

You then move into the cross-country phase of training to learn more about navigation and moving between airports. The last part of the course is practical exam preparation, where you bring all of these skills together and master them. It culminates in your FAA checkride, a two-part practical exam. You’ll have an oral question and answer session, followed by a flight test in the plane.

The minimum private pilot license cost, including 35 hours of flight training, is around $18,000.

Get Your Private Pilot Program Estimate

Get Your Private Pilot Program Estimate

Training Speed
Accelerated training is full time training, flying twice a day over the course of 2-3 weeks. Paced training is 2-3 flights per week.
The FAA minimum requirement is 35 hours of flight time under Part 141 training. However, the national average is about 60 hours of flight time to earn a Private Pilot Certificate.

Cessna 172 in the air

Instrument Rating Cost

You need to complete a written exam, and many pilots choose to attend a formal ground school to prepare for it. Some people will attend an online instrument ground school. You must complete at least 35 to 40 hours of training, broken into a few phases.

In the end, like the private pilot license, you must pass a practical exam that consists of an oral knowledge test and practical flying skills checkride.

The instrument rating’s estimated total cost, including 21 hours in the G1000-equipped Cessna 172SP and 14 hours of dual in the RedBird full-motion simulator, is around $12,000.

Commercial Pilot Cost

The estimated total commercial pilot license cost is about $24,000. The exact makeup of the sorts of training flights you need to accomplish to fulfill the regulations vary considerably, so make sure you work closely with a flight instructor when you get to this point.

Fly turboprop planes with a high performance rating

Multi-Engine Rating Cost

The course includes roughly ten hours of dual instruction in a multiengine airplane. Only about five hours of ground instruction is needed to bring you up to speed on the new airplane’s systems and some multiengine aerodynamics.

The estimated total cost of the multiengine rating, with 7 hours in the Piper Seminole, is about $5,000.

If you’re working to become an airline pilot you’ll need 25 hours of multi engine time which will cost about $15,000 to earn your rating and build that time.

Flight Instructor Cost

The flight instructor course is one that mostly revolves around ground training. There are no new maneuvers or airplane systems to learn, but you will be expected to know the material you have learned well enough to teach it to someone else.

There are two written exams required for the CFI course. The Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) is an exam about basic teaching techniques, introductory learner psychology, communication, and how to structure lessons and a curriculum. The Flight Instructor-Airplane exam looks a lot like the commercial pilot aeronautical knowledge exam. These will cost about $150 each.

The total flight time required is usually around ten hours. You may have to do spin training if you are getting the single-engine airplane rating.

The estimated total cost of a CFI training course is around $6,500-$8,000. However if you are doing a 141 CFI program expect to pay considerably more because it has rigid flight requirements.

Become an airline pilot with an ATP rating

Airline Transport Pilot Cost

To qualify to become an airline transport pilot (ATP), you must have accrued 1,500 hours of total flying time. Few people pay for all of that time; the ATP is usually a license that working professionals get after they’re already well into their careers.

Remember, there are lots of jobs in the aviation world that only require a commercial pilot license.

The actual cost of getting the ATP isn’t that great because the flight training is pretty simple.

Any pilot who has built up 1,500 flying hours is likely to be reasonably experienced. Most ATP applicants need less than 20 hours of flight training to get themselves ready for the checkride. Pilots who do not do a lot of instrument flying may need a little more time since the ATP is heavily an instrument-flying checkride.

The written exam is another matter. The ATP written is difficult, but most pilots find success with independent study programs and the occasional check-in with their flight instructors.

If you are paying for this expect to spend around $6,000.

However, if you’re becoming an airline pilot you don’t need to worry about paying for your ATP certificate because the airline that hires you will pay for you to get it.