By Matthew (Max) Bonello
Max is a CFI who has always been passionately curious about the world of
aviation. He shares this love of learning with others on TikTok and YouTube (@maxcfi).
So, you've just gotten your private pilot certificate and you're on your way to your instrument rating, and maybe even your commercial or flight instructor certificate. Congratulations! You've accomplished a lot and you should feel good about the work you've put in. Working towards your instrument rating and your commercial certificate is exciting as well. There's lots of cool things to learn. But the path forward after your private pilot certificate can seem daunting. The 50-hour pilot-in-command cross country requirement for the instrument rating and the 250 total time needed for your commercial license can feel discouraging to a new 50- or 60-hour private pilot. Fear not! Read on, and I'll fill you in on some tips and tricks for getting these hours while getting the most from your time and money.
1. Safety Piloting One of the best ways to save money while time building is to work together with another time building pilot. There's a way that both pilots can log pilot-in-command time at the same time, and it works like this: one pilot flies with a view limiting device (foggles or hood) to simulate instrument flight conditions. Since they can't watch for traffic now, a safety pilot is required. This is another pilot, with at least a private pilot certificate with appropriate ratings, who can be the eyes for the pilot under the hood, since they can no longer "see and avoid" on their own. Suppose both pilots agree before the flight that the safety pilot will be the designated pilot-in-command, responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft. Then, the pilot flying can log PIC time as the "sole manipulator of the controls" under 61.51 (e)(1)(i) and the safety pilot can log PIC time as pilot-in-command of an aircraft "for which more than one pilot is required under [...] the regulations under which the flight is being conducted" per 61.51(e)(1)(iii). This works because the safety pilot is required while the other pilot is under the hood. You can both log the time and split the cost of the flight, effectively cutting in half your expenses. The rules for logging time this way can be a bit complicated, so talk to your instructor and make sure you're doing things the correct way. As a bonus, you'll learn a lot by flying with other pilots who are near your same level of experience. For more detail on the rules, check out this excellent article: Safety Pilot Rules - AVweb
2. Explore Sure, you could get your cross-country time in by doing the same out and back flight to that airport 50.1 nm away over and over, but why? Now that you're a licensed pilot you have so much more freedom, so use it! Talk to other pilots and find out the most scenic or interesting destinations in your area and check them out! Plan out longer and longer trips, further from your home airport. Visit airports bigger or smaller than what you're used to. Slowly, cautiously, expand your personal minimums. Take friends and family up flying. The more variety you add to your flying the more you'll learn, so take advantage of this time to expand your skills.
3. Block Rates Some flight schools or clubs offer discounts for purchasing blocks of flight time in advance. The school I trained at, for example, would sometimes offer to kick in $100 when you loaded $1,000 into your account. You might also find discounted hourly rates when you purchase the hours in bulk. Shop around and see what you can find!
4. Look Ahead If you're planning on a career as a pilot and are going to continue on to get your flight instructor certificate, there's a few things you can do while time building for your instrument and commercial that will help you out. First, practice narrating what you're doing throughout the flight out loud. As a CFI you'll be expected to fly and talk at the same time - harder than it sounds, especially while landing. By practicing explaining what you're doing, as if talking to a student, you'll be ahead of the curve when it comes time to start preparing for your CFI checkride. Another way to prepare is to practice flying from the right seat. I didn't start doing this until after my commercial checkride and it turned out to be harder for me than I'd expected. My first set of landings from the right seat in gusty winds turned out to be a very humbling experience. Add in the talking through it and you have yourself a challenge. Getting started on this practice while you're building your 250 hours will definitely help you out.
5. Be a people person Being a part of the flying community at your local flight school, flying club, or airport, is a highly underrated tip for your flying career. You can learn a lot by talking with other pilots and hitting it off with the right people might even get you opportunities you wouldn't have had otherwise, like riding in bigger, faster planes or job openings down the road. Like pretty much any career, a lot of it is about who you know. So, meet people! Plus, it's a lot easier to get through the challenges of flight training, to sit through those days when the weather won't let you fly, when you have other pilots to talk to and share the struggle with. You'll feel a lot less discouraged by setbacks when you have support from the flying community!