Is a Flight Simulator Worth the Cost?

We often get asked if it is worth spending money on a home flight simulator when you could put that money towards more real world flying.  In this article, we go over some of the costs of real world flying and show how owning a home flight simulator can actually help save you money.

What does it cost to get your private pilot's certificate?

This depends a lot on how you do it as there are multiple options out there for obtaining your private pilots certificate.  In the USA you have the option of either Part 61 (usually via a local flying club with a private instructor) or Part 141 (via a registered flight school).  A big variable is also the type of aircraft you choose to train in, along with the hourly rate of your Certified Flight Instructor (CFI).  A lot of training is done in Cessna 152 or 172 aircraft with typical hourly rates around $100-$150 per hour.  Most CFI’s in the USA will charge anywhere between $50 and $70 per hour.  Most students will require around 40 hours of flight time to obtain their certificate, plus you need to add on additional ground based training, test preparation and test fees.  When all added together, this results in a minimum cost of around $10,000.

For many, the private pilot certificate is just the first step.  The Instrument rating often follows, which is the same if not slightly more expensive to achieve.  This means most people should budget at minimum $20,000 to obtain both their private pilot certificate and Instrument rating.  Thinking of going all the way to becoming an airline pilot? Some schools such as ATP offer a zero time to airline pilot program for a fixed fee amount of just over $80,000 which does not include equipment such as your headset etc or FAA examiner test fees which add up to another $8,000.  So depending on your goals, the investment in real world flight training is significant and ranges anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000.

How Home Flight Simulation can help

The use of a home flight simulator is not meant as an alternative to real world flight training but should be viewed as a way to supplement and enhance the training you get with your CFI.  By having the ability to practice maneuvers and procedures at home, at your own pace, you can significantly reduce the amount of time required in the real airplane, with the engine running.  For example, a typical IFR flight lesson will consist of about 1.5hrs of flight time.  During this lesson you will typically do 2-3 practice approaches in quick succession.  Having a simulator at home will allow you to practice the things you can at home, things like programming your GPS for the various approaches, tuning radio frequencies and importantly dealing with ATC while flying the aircraft.

Having a home simulator can help you reduce the amount of real flying time required to become comfortable with the required procedures thereby saving you money during your flight training.

The utility of a home simulator doesn’t stop once your training is over.  As every pilot knows, flight training never stops and it is a continual process of learning, practice and maintaining proficiency.  A home simulator will help you with this, allowing you to easily practice maneuvers or procedures, as well as practice approaches flying into airports for the first time.

The Benefits 

There are hundreds of benefits of owning a flight simulator and once you invest you own it forever and can fly whenever and however you like. 

For Student Pilots – Students who fly daily will progress through training more quickly and have a better understanding of the systems before even stepping in the cockpit. Sharpening your skills with flight simulation in our own home is a great way to reinforce training with your CFI.

For Active Pilots – Pilots require frequent training and recency to be able to fly.  In times of breaks (or pandemics) it’s important for pilots to stay proficient in IFR procedures. Brushing up on flight-deck skills is something that can also be done with flight simulators using all the same buttons and knobs. See  Why Every Pilot Should Own a Flight Simulator.

Benefits you get with a home simulator

  • You own the simulator forever 
  • You can fly in any weather conditions 
  • You can practice any day or time 
  • You can fly a variety of aircraft

Where should you start 

No simulator out there will beat the real thing but having the ability to fly whenever you’d like and, in any conditions, while sharpening your skills at home is an experience worth investing in. You can start by adding smaller components and eventually build out a cockpit or you can begin with a full package and maximize your practice.

Our article covering different types of Cessna 172 simulators shows three different price level options but our products start at $379 for a GNS430 which provides very effective home training when coupled with X-Plane 11 and a basic PC.  We also have these other guides that you may find helpful.