Learning to fly, or thinking of learning? Post your questions, comments and experiences here

Moderator: AndyR

For the benefit of those considering a PPL(A) and wanting to know time and cost, I’m sharing my experience based upon detailed records I kept. This is just my way through it, yours may differ, but I hope it gives you some insight and food for thought.

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, ... and Educate.

I was an ab-initio modular PPL(A) student at a flying school in the South East of England. I started in September 2017 and passed my skill test just before June 2018. I’m somewhere between young and old. I have had a successful career elsewhere, so my goals are recreational. I'm a technical engineer by background, but with no prior experience in, or knowledge of, aviation.


I chose a PA28-161 over a C152, and the cost at my school was £145/hr plane rental (airborne time plus 10 mins to cover pre/post flight taxi). Training flights were an additional £50 for the instructor for a 2 hour slot (1 hour for pre-/post-flight briefings, 1 hour for flying). My school offered discounts for pre-payments which I made use of and are built into the figures below. Note a PA28-161 consumes 9 USG per hour, i.e. 35 litres per hour of AvGas at between £1.50/£2 per litre, so 1/3 of plane rental cost is fuel.

I chose to arrange weekly training on 1 weekday a week for 2 training slots. Due to weather, I soon moved to 2 weekdays (still 2 slots per day) a week in order to average 1 weekday a week, and I introduced some flexibility to fly on other weekdays at short notice. I live 45 mins drive from the airfield. I work for myself, so my time is flexible. Weekdays are better for flight instructor and plane availability. Weekends seemed to be booked far in advance and given the weather, progress must be very erratic, not to mention there are movement restrictions on weekends for noise abatement. My stats show I had 7 gaps of more than 7 days (being gaps of 13, 19, 21, 22, 13, 9 and 20 days) due to weather or availability (my vacations, or my instructors), but otherwise I was able to fly weekly (31 of my 38 flight days were less than or equal to 7 days apart from each other). Over the winter period meant more plane and instructor availability, and by the time I reached navigation the weather was good. The downside of winter is that I felt I did more dual circuits than I needed to, as sometimes the local area was not flyable, and the overall number of cancellations due to the weather was high (I didn’t keep track of these figures), but I used that to my advantage for theoretical exams (I’ll mention later). The instructors at my school were very good and weren’t pushing for flights.

In total, I did 66 flights (incl. the skill test flight) on 38 flying days (which excludes the days I turned up but were not flyable, that I didn't track), over a span of 281 calendar days (about nine months, forty weeks), at a total cost of £11,686.50 for all training flights (plane rental and instructor). My school/airfield does not charge for circuits, touch’n’go, takeoff, or landings, so that is the all in flight costs. Important that you consider this as it can be a hidden overhead! My nav land-aways did cost, and I’ll mention this later.

Overall, it took me a total of 61h20m flight time, being 48h40m P.u/t (dual) time and 12h40m P.1 time (including 2h20m for skill test). Flight time is counted as airborne time plus 10 mins (as mentioned above). In the following table you can see the breakdown according to type of flights.


I felt like I did more circuits than I needed to, largely because of the weather, i.e. the local area was not flyable, or crosswind meant dual circuits were okay, but solo circuits weren't. I mostly had the same two instructors (one for the first half, one for the second half) which helped consistency and didn’t contribute to repeating familiarisation with new instructors.

I did my first 15 min P.1 solo circuit after 25h05m of P.u/t time.
I did my first 55 min P.1 solo nav after 47h05m of total (P.u/t + P.1) time.
I did my QXC 8 days after that 1st solo nav (having done another solo nav in between).
I did my Skill Test 18 days after my QXC.

I did some revision flights during and at the end of general handling phase (before circuits), then some revision flights before skill test. Due to weather I did not do a mock test, which was normal at my school. In my skill test, I know I was weak on PFLs, and I made a couple of mistakes but identified and rectified them.

In theory you can get a license after 45 hours, but in reality it seem realistic to budget for time/cost of at least 60 hours. My estimate was 60 hours, and I just made it (being 59h00m before skill test). I wasn't working towards minimums because I knew it wasn't about the hours, its about being competent - a good safe pilot, not a bad dead one. I'm somewhere on that spectrum ...


Being a good independent learner (having multiple university degrees), I chose to self-study rather than attend a classroom Ground School. I used the Pooley’s APMs which were excellent, but they have more material than is needed for the exams, which is fine with me as I enjoy learning. I saw others rely on classroom Ground School at my school or elsewhere, which tended to be more targeted to just what was needed to pass exams. Horses for courses.

In addition to the Pooley’s APMs, I used the Pooley’s Q&A Examination Preparation Books. I tried a couple of websites/apps and I found the “PPL Tutor” app to be too basic, but “AirQuiz” to be very good. I also used some online resources for various parts I needed more depth in, including these forums (thank you). My school had its own Ground School notes, which I also used, and its own Mock Exams, which I also used (and the instructors wanted to see good marks in before they would permit taking the actual exam). A good school like mine has all of these books you can use on site, but I bought my own set anyway.

I used non-flyable days to study, and allocated a couple of nights per week for 3 hour blocks. First I went through the APM and made my own notes and did the per-chapter progress tests. Then I did multiple passes at AirQuiz until I was getting >80/90%, then I moved onto the Pooley’s Q&A practical exams, and then finally the school’s Mock Exams. After each of these practice exams, I fixed up areas of deficient knowledge. It’s just rinse and repeat.

I did Air Law (APM 2a) and Operational Procedures (APM 6b) on the same day (I will baseline as Day 0), scoring 15/16 and 12/12. The exams were easier than expected and took me not more than 10-15 mins each for each of the 9 of them. I did Human Performance (APM 6a) on Day 6, scoring 12/12, and I decided to then cram study for Communications (APM 7) on Day 7, and sit it on Day 8, scoring 12/12. That was four exams in the first 10 day sitting period. I choose Human Performance simply because it was in the same Pooley’s book as Operational Procedures, meaning after these 4 exams I could put APM 6 and 7 away.

I did Meteorology (APM 2b) on Day 15, scoring 14/16, then Aircraft General Knowledge (APM 4b) on Day 20, scoring 15/16, then Principles of Flight (APM 4a) on Day 22, scoring 11/12. That was three exams in the second sitting period, and I could put APM 2 away. I found Met the hardest, and now I realise that Met takes more real-world experience to appreciate, particularly the last scenario oriented Met question - now I can read an F215 and estimate the weather a couple of days in advance.

Finally, I did Flight Planning and Performance (APM 4c) on Day 42, scoring 12/12, then Navigation (APM 3) on Day 51, scoring 11/12. APM 4 and 3 done with. That was also two exams in the third sitting. That was also all 9 exams in a total of 51 days, less than the entire 6 sittings multiplied by 10 days.

I later did my HF theory exam (yes, not common) on Day 96, scoring 15/16. That’s an average of 95% across all ten theory exams. I then did my RT practical exam on Day 148, for a pass. The RT practical was so artificial and I did worse at it than my real RT.

For the HF theory exam, you need to build your own study material: I can share my pages of electronic notes if needed. I have a telecommunications background, so it was a quick and easy way to remove a limitation from my licence now than risk it become a problem in future, say in 10 years time if it prevents me flying a plane in Australia because they complain that I’m limited to VHF only when they still use some HF in remote areas. For the RT practical exam, I used the QuizAero RT Audio Course, CAP 413 of course, and my school’s Mock RT practical exam.

Then of course the PPL skill test cost £210 to the examiner, not including plane rental time.

Total cost for all testing was £564.00 (9 x £26 for the standard theory exams, 1 x £35 for the HF theory exam, 1 x £85 for the RT practical exam, 1 x £210 for the skill test).

I recommend doing all exams before solo nav, incl. RT practical exam. It means you can concentrate for the last third of your training on the quality of your flying and not have the exams hanging over you, and you're shooting for that one final goal, passing your skill test.

The order of exams might be dictated by your school, but there are natural groupings and orderings. For example, AL and OP go together, and AL is usually needed before going solo. AGK and PoF also go together. And the material for all 9 exams is applicable for nav, because after all, nav is real flying.


There are other costs to incur. I am not on a strict budget, so I indulged myself a bit.

Medical Class 2 was £238, AOPA Student Membership £20, and my flying clubs membership £150. These will be ongoing costs. Total £408.00.

I bought the Pooley’s Fixed Wing Pilot Starter Kit £237.94, which I highly recommend, it includes the Aircraft Pilot Manuals (APMs), a CAA map, basic navigational gear, A5 kneeboard, a bag, etc -- I estimate half of this to be just for training purposes (the other half is equipment for ongoing use), so I attribute £118.97 of it to being training item costs. I also bought the APM 5 for Radio Nav £30.77, the EASA Part-FCL PPL (A) Syllabus and Student Record of Training £21.85, and the Pooley’s Q&A Examination Preparation Books £64.90. For HF theory I bought Ground Studies for Pilots, Radio Aids 6e £3.23, and Aircraft Communication and Navigation Systems £39.99. There were various stationary and printing costs (e.g. incl. my schools ppl and ground school notes) £37.57. I attended an RT Ground school £45. I bought the PPL Tutor App £14.99, and AirQuiz £20.00 -- I used the latter and not the former. The QuizAero RT Audio Course £9.99. I also bought RANT XL software for radio navigation training £80. Total £487.26 of training item costs.

I bought the CAA Skyways Code £16.94, and had my own copy of all the safety sense materials and various other notes printed at £56.33. Folders, Tabs, etc were £23.93. When the CAA map expired, I bought a new one, and also went through three logbooks (first one damaged, second one I didn’t record my times properly, third one don’t ask), all up £55.50. I paid for the METAR/TAF App £3.49, AeroWeather App £3.09, and SkyDemon £139.00. Total of £298.28 of operational item costs.

For equipment, I attribute the other half of the fixed wing starter kit at £118.97, then an A4 kneeboard at £24.50 (the starter kit includes an A5 kneeboard, which I now prefer, so the A4 is redundant). Non-permanent markers £5.65, and flight diversion rulers/etc £15.44. I bought an ASA Flight Timer £49.72. I bought a Bose A20 ANR headset w/ bluetooth £999 (seems expensive, but you only get one pair of ears …). My Serengeti sunglasses £82 are dedicated to being in my flight bag, they are non-polarised and have excellent side visibility. A Uniden UBC-75XLT and software to listen to VHF radio was £107.73. My ASA flight bag and tags for it cost £77.90. RAM mounts for both phone and tablet (I repurposed an unused Nexus 9 from our house) cost £146.82. Total of £1,627.73 of equipment costs.

Finally, nav landing fees (dual nav, solo nav, and QXC) totalled £85.16, being training item costs.

The CAA licence application fee was £201.00, also a training item cost.

Overall, that’s £3,107.43 in training (£773.42), operational (£706.28) and equipment (£1,627.73) costs.

That can certainly be pared down if you are on more of a budget. I categorised all my expenses as either “necessary” (e.g. medical, licence application fee, landaway fees, paper notebook, etc), “preferable” (e.g. pooley’s starter kit, PPL AirQuiz, sunglasses), “optional” (e.g. APM 5 for radio navigation, HF theory books, RAM mounts, etc), or “not needed” (e.g. PPL Tutor App, A4 kneeboard, new logbooks). You might still disagree with some of those. In the following table you can see the breakdown.



£11,686.50 (76% of total) in flight costs, for total 61h20m (being 48h40m P.u/t, and 12h40m P.1/P.1cus) flight time, incl. skill test.
£564.00 (4% of total) in exam costs.
£3,107.43 (20% of total) in item costs, being £773.42 for training items, £706.28 for operational items and £1,627.73 for equipment.
⇒ £15,357.93 total.

Before I started, I estimated costs would be £13,143.00, plus a 15% contingency/overheads to make it £15,114.45. So at £15,357.93 I came £243.48 over budget. Happy with that.

For a PPL(A) in a PA28 in the UK, it seems you should plan a budget of no less than £10K, but you should be able to come below £15K. Though I can see how it can easily end up to £20K if you need more hours, or you have overheads (takeoff, landing, circuit fees), or higher costs than my school.

Note those are direct costs. They do not include cost of fuel / car to get to/from the airfield, cost of food and drinks at the airfield, and some incidentals (pens, batteries, etc) etc.

Happy to answer any questions. Even happier if this helps your decision making. I ran into students who hadn't fully appreciated the budget and they stopped/started their training, even had to repeat exams.
Morten, jasonw, FlyingFreddy and 9 others liked this
What a great post. Very informative and invaluable for a new starter like me. I am also going to purchase the Pooley starter kit and hope I make use of all the extras it comes with. I’m also looking to purchase some A20s from ebay, is that a good idea?

What was your reason for training in a PA28? I’ve started in a C152 and find the seating position rather low because I’m only 5”5’ and it’s also rather bumpy. Would the PA28 be a better choice?

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I agree, great (useful) post for future reference. Also, it made me find an historical financial calculator
http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bill ... -1900.html
and put in my student year and (here is the dodgy bit) put in what I think was the dual training rate then to compare to your dual rate here. I was surprised it wasn't as far out as I thought it would be.
Extremely useful reference post; thanks for taking the time to pull the data together and write it up, @MSGr. :thumleft:

I've made it a sticky so that it doesn't fall off the bottom of the page in time.
Irv Lee wrote:http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-1633409/Historic-inflation-calculator-value-money-changed-1900.html

I put in the £2000 (it was $3000) my PPL cost (in the US) in 1996 and it says it should now cost £ 3,658.81.


I'm glad I'm not looking to start now...

Though flights (two of them as due to a bereavement I had to come back, then go out again a couple of months later, and food/beer. cost me probably another £500 or so.

When I came back, the cost of flying a Tomahawk at Cardiff was £64 an hour, which translates to £ 117.08.
Thank you for the positive replies, hope the information helps.

On C152 vs PA28, there are a variety of variables to consider and I think an FI experienced on both types could help you make a choice, but as for my own reasoning and observations ...

larger considerations to make a decision on ...

- economics ... C152 can be £20/hr cheaper, meaning £1K-£2K overall impact on total cost (~45 to 100hrs), you could train in a C152 and then convert to a PA28 (5-10hrs) ... I did the math and figured PA28 was going to add ~£1.5K which was okay for me
- availability ... your school may have more or less C152s / PA28s impacting scheduling ... it was never a problem for FIs since all the ones I saw could do both types, but my school had less PA28s than C152s and I did experience some availability issues
- size/space ... PA28 cockpit is roomier depending on your physical size and personal space considerations ... both factors were important for me
- future plans ... post-licence planes you intend to fly, planes your school has, etc, if you plan to do IMC/IR(R) or Night Flying or CPL, you might need to convert (e.g. if train on C152 and your school doesn't have C172 for more advanced training, but has a PA28R, you may need to convert) ... I saw myself on PA28s post-licence rather than C172/182s

lesser considerations not to make a decision on but to know about ...

- 2/4 seat ... while training, the 4 seat PA28 means sometimes you can backseat another student and instructor pair, or another student can backseat you and your instructor -- did both and it was super valuable learning experience
- flyability ... C152 are less stable (I'm told) than the PA28s, but that might make you a better pilot because you have to manage it all better
- avionics/equipment ... if any preferences or differences you care about in either type depending on your schools setup
- low/high wing, ... just personal preference I think, and I have a thing for low-wing :-)
- cross wind limits ... are lower on C152 (12kts) vs. PA28 (17kts) which may impact flyability of training flights, saw this once or twice where PA28s could fly but C152s couldn't, but not a big issue overall
- time/speed/distance ... C152 cruise is lower (85kts) vs. PA28 (95kts), so will have some impact on flight times / distances, but not a big issue overall
Re C152 v PA28

As a student, I learned on the C152 and had no issue with it. To convert to a PA28 took an hour.
We hop in and out of different hire cars with no "conversion" so it seems daft to expect to take a huge amount of time to convert from one simple type to another. The main difference is fuel management and egress in an emergency. The single door is one of the reasons I'm less keen on PA28s. When I need to take more than one friend up at a time, I'll rent a C172. The view out is much better, especially for the people in the back, and it's less claustrophobic for rear pax.

As an instructor, I generally prefer the C152. Yes, it's slightly more cramped, especially for a larger student. But the high wing gives better stability, and a better view out. All aeroplanes have their blind spots caused by wings, but being able to see below and to the sides helps with navigation and choosing PFL fields. It's a fantastic aeroplane that will tolerate a huge amount of abuse. It's also a much better strip aeroplane due to the high wing, and having two doors just seems sensible to me.
I've chosen / suggested the PA28 for students who are bigger build, or who might want to regularly have back-seat friends along, or who simply prefer the idea of a PA28. I console myself with the thought that at least I get to sit closest to the door. At the end of the day it's still a perfectly decent aeroplane.

Note, while it was no more than an hour to convert to a PA28, other types such as tailwheel and complex types may take longer. For reference it took me 45 minutes to do a constant speed prop / retractable gear checkout, and 3.5 hours for tailwheel. I was very lucky with both and conditions / types / insurance requirements will all likely have an influence, so don't have a "target" in mind.

You should also bear in mind the age at which you learn. It took me 46 hours total flying time over a four year period to gain my PPL(A). I was 28 when I finished. That was a while ago, and these days I don't think I have the mental dexterity to be able to learn so easily. Most students take around 50-60 hours; there's usually something that they'll need to spend a little more time on to perfect, plus weather and real life often slows progress. Fortunately the journey is a huge part of the fun, so it's never wasted time imo. That said, as an instructor I see it as my responsibility to make sure that my student gets the best value for money and I won't encourage flying for the sake of it if learning isn't happening for whatever reason.
A great and v helpful post MSGr.

I got my PPL (A) last autumn taking around 16 months to do it, with the much the highest density of flights in the two summers. I took my test at 54hrs, having soloed at 17 hours. I might have been able to do it less time but a pretty big gap (months) over the winter meant more hours to get back on track. My age a factor too: I am in my late 40s.

I did my exams as I went along and enjoyed doing theory and practice alongside one another. I did not attend a ground school at all, being happy to self educate.

My costs were about £9,200 in total, excluding food, travel to airfield etc, but I was pretty stingy, buying many things in sales and or second hand. My training school, gave free exams for moderate block lesson payments, saving £200 or so. My estimates below.

Flights £7800 (£145 an hour in a 150/152, block to block)
Landing fees (home and away) £400
Written exams £0
R/T exam £75
Final test £500
License application £180
Books & material £100
Class 2 medical £150

Do buy a decent headset early on – hearing ATC clearly is a big help when you can barely understand the words when you start out. Decent used ones can be had for a little over £100 and are much better than the training school ones.
Just to add another data point for people to gain a good idea of cost...

I recorded all of my expenditure during my PPL(A) training in the North West (Manchester). Due to weather, the consequent waterlogged field, and the downtime that inevitably followed, I also had to do a few more hours and extend my training for a bit longer than I initially anticipated.

I paid for each lesson individually, rather than buying a block of flying hours, mostly because I'd read far too many horror stories of students losing an awful lot of money due to school closures.

You can see my expenditure on the following spreadsheet.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/ ... sp=sharing