The only way to fly, is as a pilot

Published 9:18 pm Thursday, August 10, 2006

An alternative way of personal travel is available to those who are willing to accept a change in elevation.

Project Pilot is one way prospective pilots can learn about the joys of flying by offering information to those who are interested. While the program is not affiliated with any instructor or flight school they are able to provide the information needed to get started such as where school in local areas are and how much the cost will be.

The organization is working to increase private pilot interest since it has been on a decline for the last quarter century, said Project Pilot spokesperson Kathleen Vasconcelos. Over the last 25 years private pilot population has decreased by 25 percent, Vasconcelos said. Reasons for the decrease could be attributed to family obligations or money and time constraints, Vasconcelos said.

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The average cost to learn to fly is between $5,000 to $9,000 including all the lessons of flight time and materials to obtain a private pilot certificate, Vasconcelos said. However that cost is not all up front, it is calculated from the 60 to 70 hours of flight time and instruction, Vasconcelos said. Vasconcelos said that 40 hours is all that is required to obtain a private pilot certificate, but a realistic average is 60 to 70 hours.

Time is be a factor that can be worked around since instruction is based off of time frames of the student, not the instructor, Vasconcelos said.

“You don’t have to fly everyday, it’s really up to your schedule,” Vasconcelos said.

The minimum age to receive a private pilot license is 17, however the average age of private pilots is about 45, Vasconcelos said. After a private pilot obtains their certificate, or license as it is unofficially referred, they need to take a skill check every two years to work on ground work, regulations and air space, Vasconcelos said.

A major perk of acquiring a private pilot license is that there are more than 5,000 public use airports, airlines only use about 540 of those, Vasconcelos said.

“That means you can fly closer to your ultimate destination and fly on your own time,” Vasconcelos said.

A local pilot is offering classes in the art of flying at Cloud Nine Aviation in Picayune who have been in business since 1995. Wayne Wilson, instructor for Cloud Nine, said that he usually averages about four to five students but he currently has about seven or eight with six or seven more calls from interested parties.

“This past year has been really good for us,” Wilson said.

Introductory flights are offered at Cloud Nine for about $60 with lessons beginning at $110, Wilson said. The plane is $80 to rent and the additional $30 will pay for the instructor, Wilson said. A new pilot can hope to fly solo after about 16 to 20 hours of flight time, usually at about the ninth lesson, Wilson said.

Wilson said he also offers a ground school one night a week for 16 to 20 weeks.

New pilots will need a medical and physical to ensure they are able to fly a plane, Wilson said. Once a pilot earns a private pilot certificate it never expires but they still need to take their refresher courses every two years, Wilson said. Homeland Security also requires that all new pilots are an United States Citizen and provide their original birth certificate or official passport, Wilson said.

Small planes are not very expensive but they require regular maintenance by a trained professional, Wilson said. Vasconcelos said the fuel is also not cheap, so the best path for a new pilot to take is to rent a plane. Wilson said a good used Cessna 150 like he owns and instructs with would run between $25,000 to $35,000, but he rents his out for $80 an hour with out his instruction.

There is nothing quite like flying, especially at night in a major city, Wilson said.

“There’s no way you can describe it until you’ve been there with the lights and everything,” Wilson said.