I started my flight training journey the summer before my senior year of high school when I was 17 years old. My parents were not about to foot the bill, so it was up to me to pay for it. Working two minimum wage jobs after school and on weekends, that meant that I had to make every penny count...so I was determined to do everything in my power to learn how to fly for as little money as possible. It ended up taking me 10 months to complete my private pilot training, because I could only fly on weekends...and thanks to winter weather in the PNW, sometimes I had to abstain from training for a week or two at a time. Even so, I ended up getting signed off to solo at 17 hours and signed off for my Private Pilot Checkride at just under 44 hours. Since then, I have trained at many flight schools throughout the PNW and have learned to stretch the dollar in nearly every way possible without compromising safety. I have also developed a method of studying that minimized costs while yielding a 100% first-time pass rate on all 11 checkrides that I have taken to date. Below, I am going to share with you have YOU can learn to fly on a budget and save as much money as possible during flight training. Please note that this advice is meant to minimize the amount of money you spend overall on your flight training...which may come at the cost of convenience and time, which is often times just as important of a commodity as cash. It is important to consider your financial situation and lifestyle before beginning flight training and weigh money vs convenience/time because in many cases, I would recommend advice that contradicts the advice that I am providing here. Ok, with that in mind, let's dig in.
Before You Begin Flight Training
1. Make sure that you are medically fit to fly, take a Discovery Flight, and determine your aviation goals BEFORE you start spending lots of money. Schedule an appointment with an Airmen Medical Examiner (AME) and apply for a third class medical certificate (third class is usually the cheapest option) or BasicMed. Learn more about this process here.
Is flying really for you? Find out with a low-cost "Discovery Flight." Usually you can get these for $99, and it will include about 30 minutes of flight time that is usable towards the 40 hours that is required to take the test. You instructor will hand the controls over to you for much of the flight so you can get a feel for it, and determine if it is something you want to pursue.
Do you want to be a professional pilot, or are you doing this for fun? Learn a bit about the process of becoming a pilot, and what it takes to learn to fly. If you want to make a career out of being a pilot, learn about what the career is actually like and what it takes to get there. It is an AMAZING job, but like any career, it has its own set of cons. Do the research. Don't invest thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into a career that doesn't sound appealing after all the glamour has been stripped away.
2. Avoid the Sporty's/King/ASA/etc. flight training kits and courses that include video courses, books, flight computers, knick knacks, etc. You don't NEED them, and they will cost you. Expect to pay $250-$400 for any of these courses. Many schools or instructors will insist on one, but remember that YOU are the customer. If they won't relent, maybe it is time to find a different flight training option that allows you to spend less. You can get by just fine with the following study materials:
3. Avoid big-name or Part 141 flight schools (ATP, HAA, etc.). Instead, opt for small mom-and-pop flight training options that instruct under part 61. Part 141 vs Part 61 explanations can be found elsewhere, but for the sake of this article, just know that part 61 training is much less structured by federal laws and affords a lot more flexibility to students and instructors alike, which means less jumping through hoops for the sake of jumping through hoops, as required under part 141 training regulations. Mom and pop FBOs or flight schools also have a much less inflated marketing budged, so they won't be passing on their high administrative costs to their students. If possible, select a flight school with more than one trainer airplane so that there will be more general availability and a backup in case one goes down for maintenance. Though this may be cost-prohibitive due to relocation, learning to fly in an area with lots of sunshine year-round is preferable because flying frequently is ideal, and bad weather can ground you for weeks.
The other Issue with big Part 141 schools is that it is reported by many that instructor or airplane availability can be limited, so completing their programs can be a very drawn-out process. I don't have any personal experience training at a 141 school, but I have instructed at a community college with a Part 141 program, and many of my students had issues with administration-based delays that required them to delay their flight training by many months. If you do opt for a part 141 program, be very, very, very careful considering their additional costs that may include housing, quarterly fees, required courses or prerequisite courses, etc, because these can add significant costs to the flight training process, and if you end up missing deadlines for enrollment in certain situations due to financial, weather-based, or maintenance delays, you might have to wait months before the window opens again. Compare this to the relative simplicity of Part 61, where you and your instructor work together to check off simplified flight training requirements at your own pace. Both 141 and 61 give you the EXACT same license at the end of the day (though collegiate 141 programs can reduce hour requirements for those of you looking to go the the airlines...but those almost certainly will increase flight training costs substantially, so I will not discuss that here since our goal is to save money).
Finally beware of programs that advertise a fixed-cost flight training program. They will often base these numbers off of the minimum required flight training times (40 hours) instead of more realistic flight training times (45-60 hours). It would be very frustrating to base your budgeting off of only 40 hours of flight time, only to reach 40 hours in your logbook and have you instructor tell you that you will need an additional 10-15 hours of training before they sign you off because you need some more practice.
4. Avoid glass-cockpit airplanes and opt for airplanes with old-school, round-dial gauges. Glass cockpits (cockpits that feature lots of screen and digital flight instruments instead of round-dial gauges) are sexier and often times newer than their round-dial (aka "steam-gauge") counterparts, but they are also much more expensive - often times as much as 30-75% more expensive. Many flight school marketers or instructors will tell you that if you want a career in aviation, you will want to learn on airplanes with these modern avionics and bells and whistles because that is what you will be operating down the road at your job. While there is some truth to that, you will have plenty of opportunity to learn these systems down the road. Further, many, many airplanes used today are not equipped with modern avionics, and if you don't learn how to operate the old-school systems, you may be at a severe disadvantage when offered a job someday if all you have flown is glass.
Another point to be made here is that when training for your private pilot's license, you need to develop good habits early on of keeping your eyes outside of the airplane 90% of the time. A glass cockpit, with its bright, vibrant colors and library of information, can be very distracting and could lead to developing bad habits. I know this because it happened to me!
5. Your rental training aircraft should cost between $90-125 per hour (with fuel) max for a Cessna 172, 150/152, or a Piper. You won't often find these prices in a large city, so this might mean you need to train somewhere more rural. Even if it requires a commute, remember that you will need AT LEAST 40 hours of training in the aircraft, which means a $25 per hour price difference will end up costing you AT LEAST $1,000 more. This stuff adds up. You don't need to train in a high-performance airplane, or as stated previously, in an airplane with fancy avionics. You might find that, if you can, purchasing "block time" in an airplane will save you some money. For example, a Cessna 152 might cost $100 per hour, or you can save 10% by paying $900 for a 10-hour block, up front. This can be a good way to save, but again, make sure you are committed to learning to fly before you do this, as it is often non-refundable.
Your Instructor should charge you $40-$60 per hour. The same advice to train in a rural location applies here. Even in rural areas at mom-and-pop flight schools, some highly experienced, in-demand instructors may warrant higher costs, but you should have no problem finding great instructors who charge within this price range as well. I even welcome my students to ask me for a reduced hourly rate in exchange for being a top-notch student who shows up prepared to every lesson. My gracious instructor gave me a reduced rate when I was learning, so I want to pass on the good will if someone truly needs it and is willing to be a no-hassle student.
Some flight schools or aircraft rentals require membership to a flight club. Membership in a flight club can cost $300-$1000 per year, and often times it only marginally reduces the hourly rate of rental aircraft and instructors. I personally never joined one of these, but I did run the numbers when doing research and found out that more often than not, these clubs either didn't save me any money or ended up costing me more. Do your research and crunch numbers before joining.
6. You don't need a Bose A20, Lightspeed Zulu, or any other ANR headset. They are great if you have the extra money to spend on them, but by no means are they necessary at all. An affordable headset like this one will work just fine. You might consider treating yourself to a better headset upon completion of your checkride or maybe when you land your first job as a pilot.
7. Don't go buy an iPad or tablet. Don't subscribe to ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, or any other expensive navigation app. Don't buy an expensive GPS receiver like a Stratus. If you already have an iPad or tablet, you can download the FltPlan Go app and use it for free. Find a used Dual XGPS150 or something similar on eBay for cheap and use that as a GPS receiver. If you don't have an iPad or tablet, it isn't a necessity; paper charts will work just fine. You can always go digital down the road when you aren't strapped for cash. If you MUST buy an iPad, buy a relatively recent version that will have hardware capable of running the apps, but try to buy it used.
8. Look into scholarships. Many organizations out there provide scholarships and financial aid for flight training. Particularly numerous are scholarships for women pilots or gay pilots, so be sure to do your research. Some Oregon-based flight training scholarships can be found here.
During Flight Training
9. Ask your instructor what the next lesson will cover, and show up to that lesson having already studied it thoroughly. Be able to explain the subjects to your instructor. This reduces the need to spend excessive ground time or flight time learning what a maneuver is. I will go out on a limb as say that most instructors - myself included - enjoy flying more than teaching ground lessons. The more flying we get to do during a lesson, the more fun we are probably having. Obviously its not about us having fun, but your instructor will appreciate it, and you will save time and money. Everyone wins.
10. Study, Study, Study, Study, Study, Study. I've mentioned you should show up prepared, and I mean it. If you have already read up on short and soft field landings and takeoffs, and you can explain them to me pretty well, that saves me a 20-30 minute lecture and we can get straight to work after just a couple minutes of discussing the maneuvers. Once you have learned the maneuver in the airplane, go home and read about it again. Be sure to chair fly each maneuver, meaning sit in a chair and imagine you are flying the maneuver. This will help develop muscle memory and it is a lot cheaper to practice in an imaginary airplane than it is to pay for the real thing. It might help to find a cockpit poster of your airplane, or take photos of the entire cockpit to help during your studying and chair flying.
Throughout my own flight training journey, I developed a particular method for studying that really helped me learn the material, not just pass a test. I was able to pass all 11 checkrides I have taken so far by studying this way, so hopefully it might work for others. It is somewhat tedious, and can take time, but it works. Check it out here.
11. Have everything COMPLETELY ready to go when your instructor arrives. This means airplane check-put paperwork done, preflight done, weight and balance done, oil levels checked, airplane gassed up, weather briefing obtained, NOTAMs checked, chains unhooked, headset plugged in, etc. Your instructor should be able to get out of their car, walk to the airplane, and fire up the engine. Obviously, this arrangement is to be allowed only after the student has learned how to properly take care of everything, and they are comfortable with it. As an instructor, I begin charging for my time the moment I show up at our agreed upon time. If you as my student are comfortable with all the preflight routines, I would MUCH rather show up, do my 30 second preflight walk around to double check things, get in, and go, than stand around watching my competent student fuel up, preflight, etc,. This saves everyone time, and your money will go much further. You would be surprised at how few of my students ever take me up on this, though. Despite repeated reminders, they will show up at 4pm when we plan to meet, and then I sit there for 15-20 minutes watching them do something that, at that point, really does not require my supervision. I want my students to save money, and I give them every opportunity to do so...but at the end of the day, its on them to be proactive.
To drive this point home, here is a quick story: I had a student with whom I had spent considerable time working on a lengthy and complex cross-country flight plan. The night before, he sounded a little unsure of the flight over the phone. I told him no problem, we can call off the flight right now if he doesn't feel like he can do all the required flight planning in time for the next morning, as it was time for him to call some shots as a near-private pilot. He elected to meet as planned the next day. When we met, he still had flight planning paperwork to complete that ended up taking 2 hours for him to do...and I charged him for the 2 hours that I sat around waiting for him to finish. Moral of the story? Showing up unprepared can cost you.
12. Study Study Study some more. Review step 8. Do your homework. If the weather sucks and you can't fly, spend that time studying instead. Chair fly the lesson that you were supposed to fly.
13. For advanced aviation students (and even Private Pilot students) who are working on their instrument rating or commercial certificate, an FAA-approved simulator can save you thousands. For example, there is a simulator in Independence, Oregon, where a commercial pilot student can fly up to 50 hours of the required 250 hours...for just $35 per hour, with an instructor, TOTAL. Yes, you read that right. That means they would pay just $1,750 for 50 hours of the 250 hours required in order to take the commercial pilot checkride. I consider this Oregon's best-kept flight training money saving secret out there. Learn more here.
14. Fly often. This will help you retain and strengthen skills learned in previous lessons. Many instructors advocate for 2-3 times per week, and advise students not to begin training until they have accumulated enough money to allow them to fly this frequently. However, don't be discouraged if you cannot afford to fly this often, or if your schedule does not allow it. It CAN be done in an affordable manner, but you will want to be strict about following the other advice in this guide to compensate for the reduced frequency.
15. Finally, if I have learned anything throughout my career in aviation, it is this: anything and everything in aviation CAN and WILL take longer than you planned, expected, or budgeted for. If you always consider this rule in your flight training plans, there will be few surprises. It is an annoying reality, but with so many figurative and literal moving parts, required maintenance, unexpected maintenance, schedule conflicts, weather, administrative delays, and with lives on the line and little margin for error in aviation, there will ALWAYS be delays here and there that end up costing you time and potentially money.
During my training, I have spent entire weekends waiting at the airport for the weather to clear (the forecast said it would! SURPRISE - the forecast was wrong!). I have driven up 3 hours to take my checkride only to have my examiner no show because of a miscommunication between my instructor and the examiner. I have had to postpone multiple checkrides multiple times - sometimes for weeks - due to weather. I have had to wait in limbo up in Alaska for days at a time for a training slot to open up. I've slept through my alarm on the only sunny day sandwiched between weeks of bad weather and missed the chance to finish a critical cross country training flight, putting me weeks behind. I had to quit instrument training three times because I ran out of money or my college workload became too great or the airplane turned out to have a bad engine. And then there are the times when I had to stop flying due to things happening in my personal life.
Life happens, sometimes we are responsible for the delays, and many times we are not. I don't say this to discourage you, or to tell you that you need to budget 150% of your planned expenses just to be prepared, but I do want you to realize that there will be frustrating delays that can require you to spend a little more money, and to be ready for them. Don't quit - it is worth it!
Hopefully this guide can help you save some money during your flight training. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments, or additional tips to help make flying as affordable as possible.
This guide is meant to help guide pilots of all skill levels in their journey of acquiring additional licenses and ratings, preparing for tests and checkrides, and becoming a more knowledgable aviator. I started flying in 2010 and over the past 8 years, I have experimented with different methods of studying this material. I also completed a Bachelors of Science in Business and Marketing in 2014 using some of these methods, which proved to me that they were somewhat universal and could be applied to other disciplines - which is not surprising, as they are actually pretty simple.
This guide primarily covers knowledge acquisition, as the best practices for learning and practicing actual flight maneuvers, skills, and techniques will be covered elsewhere. What I will describe is what worked well for me, and though everyone is different and learns differently, I encourage all of my students to start here. So far, these methods have resulted in a 100% passing rate during the first attempt on every knowledge test, oral, training program, and checkride I attempted, including:
Step 1: Acquire the Reference Materials
The first step is acquiring the books or publications that contain the information which you need to learn for your particular subject and test. With the exception of my early Instrument Rating training, I never used videos and found that investing $40-$50 in a couple books worked really well for me.
For student pilots and those of you beginning instrument rating training, you will want to either buy the print versions or download the free PDF versions of the FAA's handbooks. Which route you choose depends on if you prefer reading from a book or screen and if you want to pay $15-$30 for the books. Personally, I bought each book and I am glad that I did because it is much more convenient to flip through pages than try to find a certain topic by swiping on a tablet. You can also highlight books and take notes in them. For flight instructors, I would highly, highly recommend paper copies of each book so that you can reference them immediately while instructing and during your oral.
For written knowledge tests (aka "written tests"), I found Gleim Knowledge Test Prep books below to be most helpful, and I used them to prepare for my Private, Instrument, Fundamentals of Instructing (FOI), and Flight Instructor Airplane (FIA) written tests. All Gleim books contain reprints of the FAA Testing Supplement, which will be provided for you at the testing center where you take your knowledge test. The Gleim Fundamentals of Instructing (FOI) Knowledge Test Prep book actually contains the entire Aviation Instructors Handbook within (which is why it appears to be so thick), so its essentially two books in one.
For getting ready for the oral and checkride, I can't recommend the ASA Oral Exam Guides enough. I credit these books as my primary source of relevant information because they essentially cover everything that one needs to know in a single compact and very affordable book. They also have scenario questions at the back which I found to be very helpful with commercial pilot training, since there seems to be very few books that touch on commercial pilot content.
Once you have the book(s) you need in hand, proceed to step 2.
Knowledge Test Prep Books
Oral Exam Guide Books
Step 2: Read and Highlight
Once you have the books in hand, its time to read through them. The FAA publications are large, very information-rich books, and reading them cover to cover might not be practical. For student pilots and pilots training for their instrument rating, I would recommend reading through the chapters as needed as your training progresses. For example, when your instructor tells you that during your next lesson you will be working on ground reference maneuvers, open up the Airplane Flying Handbook and read up on those maneuvers. As you begin to plan for Cross Country Flying, open up the Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge and read the chapter on Navigation. This will make topics much more relevant and meaningful to you and you will be able to retain the information much better. Having said that, I encourage you to peruse through the books whenever you can, as they are very interesting and full of great content.
The Gleim Knowledge Test Prep books contain contain condensed summaries of relevant information for each subject, and then a list of questions pertaining to that subject. All the information needed to answer each question is in the condensed summaries. Read through each summary, and highlight the most important points of everything you do not already know. Then, answer each question (without marking the answer in the book) and highlight each question that you got wrong or did not immediately know the answer to.
The ASA Oral Exam Guides may be read cover-to-cover initially. When you read it, you are just becoming familiarized with the content. Don't get hung up on being able to answer questions. You will probably know the answers to some of the questions, but many of them will cover new material. Once you have read through it, go back through the guide and highlight everything you do not already know.
Note that if you are questioning whether you know something or just "kind of might" know it, you should highlight it. Be very liberal with your highlighter. Ideally you will find keywords or phrases that summarize the point of whatever it is you do not already know. The photo below provides an example of highlighting the most important bits of weight and balance information from my ASA Flight Instructor Oral Exam Guide. You can see that only the most important information from each definition has been highlighted. In effect, the definition of each term has been roughly cut in half, saving you time and ink.
Step 3: Write it all down
Out of the entire process, this is what I have found to be the most critical part. So far you have read through the book(s) once and then gone back through and highlighted everything that you did not know. In essence, what you have done is taken an entire book of information, and condensed it down into a highlighted list of everything you need to study. This next step involves taking everything you highlighted and writing down in a notebook to create a study guide that is most relevant to you and your needs. This may sound time consuming - and it can be - but the physical act of writing everything down by hand is the key (this study discusses the subject of taking notes and doing so with pen and paper). The adage "blood sweat and tears," or "paying your dues" comes into play right here because this process will take some time and your hands are likely to become sore. But this is where you will imprint the content and knowledge into your brain.
I would recommend buying a very durable binder and at least a couple hundred pages of loose leaf paper to place in the binder. Find a couple good pens and head to your favorite coffee shop or wherever you will be able to stay focused and get to work. I encourage color-coding if that helps, as well as drawing pictures and using Google to find clarifying answers to things that might not be clear to you in the book. Abbreviate, annotate, whatever - just make sure that what you write down is representative of everything that you highlighted in the book. Below are some examples from my book. (Apologies for my terrible hand writing! I know how to read it, so I didn't need to take extra time by writing for others.)
First, my notebook is separated by rating/certificate. Each rating/certificate is further broken down by study book (either Gleim Knowledge Test Prep book or ASA Oral Exam Guide book). Finally, I subdivide each study book by topic or chapter. You can see my sticky note tabs on the top of the pages. The best part about the paper being loose is that you are free to move sections around as appropriate. For example, when I was studying for my Commercial, I moved all of the very in-depth weather notes from my Instrument Rating section into my Commercial section so they were on-hand.
Step 4: Read and Highlight again!
Once you have written out all of the highlighted parts of each book, you will have your own personalized study guide which contains everything that you need to work on. You still have the option of reading through the original study books and focusing on what you had highlighted. They may be easier to read (if your writing is like mine!), and the ASA Oral Exam books may be more compact and easy to throw in your bag. Or, you might want to continue to study from your own notebook because it will be more streamlined. Remember that the process of writing the information down was the point, so even if your dog eats the entire notebook, you will have gained from it already.
After you have spent some time studying and quizzing, you can go through your notebook and again highlight the material that you do not yet know. This will showcase your progress because everything that you copied into the notebook was originally stuff that you didn't know, and now you are going through the notebook and highlighting the stuff that needs further attention. The less you need to highlight, the more progress you have made! Now you have an even more compact list of highlighted material so that you can focus solely on highlighted notes in your notebook when you are studying.
Now go back to your Gleim Knowledge Test Prep books and answer the questions. You should be able to answer many of them, and circle each question that you still cannot answer. Once you have gone through each chapter of the Gleim book, take online practice tests from King Schools for free. I found the King Schools practice tests to have the most up-to-date question banks and very few glitches. You can select which subjects from each test to focus on (ie weight and balance, navigation, etc), and the number of questions you'd like to try. Just like on the real knowledge tests, you will be timed, and the time given to you will be pro-rated based on the number of questions you elect to answer (ie if you are given 2 hours to answer 60 questions, you will only get 1 hour to answer 30 questions).
I should note that this method works for airline Ops Specs, GOMs, and Aircraft Training Manuals/POH/AFMs as well. I went through my Pat 135 Ops Specs/GOM and highlighted the most important information that I figured would show up on my .293 checkride. I also went through the training manuals during Cessna Caravan, Beech 1900, and Hawker 800 training and copied all of the important topics into a notebook (or Google Docs, explained below).
Additional Study Tools
You may or may not have heard of Sheppard Air. Essentially what Sheppard Air provides is a training system through which you will be able to memorize the answers to the FAA Knowledge Test questions as efficiently as possible. This is done by using their software which repeatedly showing the correct answer to each question over and over. You will literally just memorize correct answers so that you barely have to read the question and you will know exactly which answer is correct. Its actually quite genius for a method of test preparation that lets you "play the system." Some people claim to have spent 5 or 6 hours using Sheppard Air as their only studying method the day before their Knowledge Test and passed it the first try with 100%. I don't doubt this is possible, and in fact, I used this program myself for my Instrument Rating Knowledge Test and I had similar results. However, this program prepares you to pass the Knowledge Test only. You will NOT learn the material, you will NOT understand the material, and this will NOT prepare you to pass the oral exam or become a knowledgable pilot.
What you will be able to do is get a good score on the Knowledge Test your first try and put in as little time as possible in preparation for it. So if that is necessary, then it is a great tool. If you are struggling financially or are on a very tight deadline (which was my case, since I had a fixed number of days until my training program ended and I had to fly back home across the United States), the $40-$50 that Sheppard Air costs might be good insurance to make sure you pass that $150 Knowledge Test the first try. BUT - make sure you actually put in the time to learn the material at some point before your oral and checkride.
Google Docs/Google Sheets
While I prefer writing notes by hand and find it generally more effective, sometimes typing can be most convenient - especially if it allows you to create multiple copies that are accessible on multiple devices. Plus, the ability to copy/paste and quickly delete information helps to create more concise documents. I created summaries of Ops Specs, GOM, and aircraft limitations using Google docs and Google Sheets, as seen below. I then saved the PDF files onto all my devices, and was able to study during my commutes up to Alaska and whenever I was without internet. I also printed out the aircraft limitations summaries that I made on Google Sheets and folded them up into my pocket so I could pull it out whenever I had a free moment.
After passing my Private Pilot Checkride when I was 18, I wrote a guide book titled "Teenage Pilot" because I wanted to share all that I learned throughout the process of learning to fly as a teenager with other teenagers or young adults who had the desire to learn how to fly.
This guide will not explain how to land an airplane, nor will it explain weather, maneuvers, or the rules of flight; there are numerous publications and resources out there that were written by more experienced pilots and aviation experts that will explain all that there is to know about flying. Before I began training, I had all kinds of questions that were specific to my age, so I rarely could find the answers because the vast majority of pilots did not begin flying at such a young age.
I wrote this guide to provide to others what did not exist when I began flying. Within this guide, I share the advantages, disadvantages, tips, and any other information that I can think of that may pertain specifically to a teenager learning or wanting to learn how to fly an airplane.
Check out "Teenage Pilot" here on Amazon!
In addition to the equipment required for VFR flight, there are certain pieces of equipment that are required in order to fly under Instrument Flight Rules legally (FAR 91.205). An easy way to remember what equipment is required for IFR flight is "GRABCARD"
G - Generator
R - Radios
A - Attitude Indicator
B - Ball
C - Clock
A - Adjustable Altimeter
R - Rate of Turn Indicator
D - Directional Gyro
An easy way to remember what inspections are required for an aircraft to remain airworthy is to remember “A1TAPE”:
A - Annual Inspection (end of last day of month - must be signed by Inspection Authorization holder [aka "IA"])
1 - 100 Hour Inspection (if the airplane is for hire - must be signed by A&P)
T - Transponder (every 24 months)
A - Altimeter - (every 24 months)
P - Pitot/Static (every 24 months)
E - ELT (every 12 months replace the battery OR if 50% of battery has been used)
Additionally, all Airworthiness Directions (aka "AD's") must be complied with.
If an airplane is being used for hire, an inspection is required every 100 hours. If it turns out that the airplane is going to have its annual inspection before the airplane hits the 100 hour mark, that annual inspection will suffice and the airplane can reset its 100-hour timer after the annual is complete. This does NOT work in reverse. A 100 hour inspection does NOT take the place of an annual.
The 100-hour inspection may be exceeded by no more than 10 hours IF en route to the place at which the 100 hour may be performed. However, this excess time must be included towards next 100 hour. For example, if the airplane reaches the inspection location at 106 hours since its last 100 hour, It will now need its next 100-hour inspection after only 94 hours.
So, what does "for hire" mean? A rental airplane used for non-commercial purposes is not for hire, and thus it does not require a 100-hour inspection. What about flight instruction?
You can follow a three-part test to decide if a 100 hour inspection is required during flight instruction:
Operation of aircraft after maintenance (even preventative), rebuild, or alteration is prohibited unless:
The owner/operator of the airplane is responsible for maintaining aircraft airworthiness. The “operator” is the person who will use, cause to use, or authorize to use aircraft for the purpose of air navigation including the piloting of the aircraft, with or without the right of legal control (as owner, lessee, or otherwise). The Pilot in Command is responsible for making sure the aircraft is airworthy after inspections or repairs and before every flight
The following must be kept until work is superseded by other work, or for one year after work is performed:
The following records must be retained and transferred with aircraft when it is sold:
Preventative Maintenance is considered that which does not alter the weight, CG, or flight controls and does not require tampering with key components (prop, struts, etc.). Private Pilot or higher may perform this kind of maintenance if the airplane is not used in air carrier service. This includes oil changes, wheel bearing lubrication, hydraulic fluid refills. A maintenance entry must be made in records and must include:
All installed equipment must be operational. If it is not, the aircraft is no longer airworthy and the broken equipment must be repaired OR removed or placarded.
Airworthiness Directives and SAIB’s
Airworthiness Directives (AD’s) are the FAA’s medium of communicating with pilots and maintenance personnel that there are unsafe conditions that may exist due to design defects, maintenance, or other. AD’s specify conditions under which the produce may continue to be operated. They are either emergency & require immediate compliance, or less urgent and are given longer time period to comply.
Special Airworthiness Information Bulletins (SAIB’s) are simply alerts that educate and recommend actions to aviators and people within the aviation community. They are not mandatory.
Special Flight Permits
Special Flight Permits are needed to fly an aircraft when the aircraft is otherwise unairworthy. It may be obtained through the the FSDO, or some air carriers employ authorized personnel who can issue them. Reasons for obtaining a SFP include:
What do you do if you get your airplane ready to fly and notice that something isn’t working correctly? Proceed through the following 5 steps (found in FAR 91.213):
Step 1: Does your airplane have a Minimum Equipment List (MEL)? An MEL allows a specific aircraft (tail number) to operate without certain equipment under specific conditions. It is issued by the FAA after a somewhat lengthy process. If the airplane doesn’t have an MEL, or the piece of equipment is not mentioned by the MEL, or the MEL says it cannot be operated without that equipment, then the airplane is not airworthy. If that piece of equipment is on the MEL, the MEL will list the specific conditions under which the airplane may be operated without that piece of equipment. It should be noted that most trainers and small aircraft do not have an MEL - it is more of an airline thing - so you will probably just skip to the next step.
Step 2: Is the equipment listed under FAR 91.205 Day VFR Minimum Equipment (and Night VFR, if applicable):
Day VFR Flight: "FATOMATOFLAMES"
F - Flotation devices if beyond gliding distance from shore + pyro signaling device
A - Airspeed Indicator
T - Tach gage for each engine
O - Oil Pressure gage for each engine
M - Manifold Pressure gage for each engine (if applicable)
A - Altimeter
T - Temperature gage for each liquid-cooled engine
O - Oil Temperature gage for each air-cooled engine
F - Fuel gage for each fuel tank
L - Landing Gear Position Indicator (if applicable)
A - Red/White Anti-Collision Light (if aircraft type was certified after March 11, 1996)
M - Magnetic Compass
E - ELT
S - Safety Belts (metal to metal latch for all occupants over 2 yrs old) + shoulder harnesses (front seats, in aircraft manufactured after 1978)
Night VFR Flight (Day VFR plus these): "FLAPS"
F - Fuses (one set or 3 of each type, accessible by pilot)
L - Electric Landing Light (if for hire)
A - Red/White Collision Light
P - Position Lights
S - Source of Electricity (alternator or generator)
Step 3: Is the equipment listed as “Required” on the aircraft’s Equipment List (usually found in POH/AFM) or the Kinds of Operations List for the kind of operation being conducted?
Step 4: Is the equipment required under any AD’s?
Step 5: Do YOU feel comfortable flying without it?
Once you have gone through these steps, and if you have determined that the equipment is NOT required for flight AND that you feel comfortable flying without it, the equipment must be either:
Required Aircraft Documents
An easy way to remember what documents are required to be onboard an aircraft is to remember “AROW”
A - Airworthiness Certificate
R - Registration
O - Operating Limitations
W - Weight & Balance
The Airworthiness Certificate is issued by the FAA and deems an aircraft’s design to be legal for operation. It remains valid for as long as the airplane meets its approved type design and is maintained correctly. In other words, it does not have an expiration date.
The Registration certificate is similar to the registration of your car. The registration includes the owner’s information as proof of ownership, and expires every 3 years (to the month). An aircraft’s tail number, or “N” number, is the aircraft's registration number. It is required to be visible on the outside of the aircraft, and the paper registration document is also required to be onboard. Both the Airworthiness Cert and the Registration are often kept together in a clear pocket somewhere inside the airplane.
The Operating Limitations of the airplane must be on board. This includes, but is not limited to, placards and signs indicating limitations, gage indications (white arc, green arc on the Airspeed Indicator, etc.), and the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (aka “the POH”) or Flight Manual. The POH should be within reach of the pilot at all times during the flight, as it contains useful information on operation of the aircraft, as well as emergencies.
Weight and Balance documents are necessary to be on board so that the pilot can calculate the airplane’s Center of Gravity and assure that the aircraft - loaded with fuel, passengers, bags, and the pilot - is not going to takeoff heavier than its legal limit.