With the economic downturn and unemployment and underemployment that ensued, many Americans are enjoying less disposable income. As a result, your flying budget may not be what it was a few years ago. And meanwhile, the cost of flying has risen. We all know that staying proficient is equivalent to reducing the risks associated with flying. And nobody wants to compromise safety. So with a trimmed flying budget and higher costs, how do you stay proficient?
Being proficient means different things to different pilots. So the first thing you need to do is to specify what proficiency means to you. To some it may mean simply being able to safely take off and land. To others it may mean being able to land without power, touch down at an exact point and roll to a stop at a specific location. Others may desire the ability to fly a perfect instrument approach, exactly on the glideslope and localizer (or GPS approach with vertical guidance). And of course it is important to stay proficient with in-flight failures. There are also many regulations to keep track of and other aviation-related knowledge that should be considered as part of the proficiency package.
If your goal is to stay proficient on all levels, there is a lot of work to do. But the good news is that there are more opportunities than ever to achieve proficiency while spending very little money. So if you’re looking to maximize the dollars you have set aside for flying, here are some tips that will help.
Finding the Money
Flying is by no means an inexpensive hobby, so finding the money to stay proficient may be the biggest challenge. At the same time, you don’t need to be rich in order to fly. But the best way to make sure that you do get some time in the air is to set aside funds specifically for that purpose. So make sure that you include flying in your monthly budget.
“I have a good friend who sets aside $100 each paycheck, and that money goes into a separate account and he knows that that money is dedicated to flying,” says Jason Blair, executive director of the National Association of Flight Instructors.
Actually taking the money out of your personal checking account and putting it into a dedicated flying account ensures that you don’t spend it on a nice dinner out or a pair of jeans that calls your name out of a storefront window.
Time to Fly
If your flying budget is tight, make sure that you don’t spend all your money in one place. It’s best to stay away from long cross-country flights and focus on taking shorter, more frequent flights instead.
“You don’t have to fly for two hours every time you fly,” Blair says. “By flying more regularly for a half-hour to 45 minutes each time, you’ll get better proficiency than if there are big gaps between flights.”
You’re also best off sharing your time with another pilot. That way you’ll get double the time in the cockpit for the same price. If you can get to know somebody who owns an airplane who is willing to share time for the cost of fuel, that’s a very economical way to do it. Flying clubs can also help you with both saving money on each flight and connecting with others to share the cost with. If one of you is always wearing a view-limiting device, you can both log all the flight time. This type of flying is particularly helpful for instrument pilots.
But if you’re really serious about proficiency, Martha King, co-owner of King Schools, recommends taking a look at what jet pilots are required to do in order to keep their type certificates current. Generally, the pilot (or pilot/copilot combination) is put in a situation where there is a short distance from the departure point to the destination, a failure happens during the takeoff and vectors are issued while the pilot is dealing with the problem.
“The whole idea of keeping the workload up and keeping it very intense is that you get a high level of proficiency pretty quickly and a big dose of it in a concentrated, economical period of time,” King says.
So have an instructor put you through the ringer in a simulator for an hour. While this may not sound like as much fun as taking a $100 hamburger flight, the time will definitely pay off in flying skills.