After obtaining a private pilot license, the next step for many pilots is to usually work towards getting an instrument rating – and for good reason too.
Being able to fly under instrument flight rules lifts many restrictions private pilots face. It is practically a necessity to work as a commercial pilot in any capacity too.
But just how much does it cost to get an instrument rating, what is the breakdown of costs, and is there any way of paying less money?
How Much Does an Instrument Rating Cost?
An instrument rating costs between $8,000-10,000 depending on aircraft rental, instructor time, ground school, study materials, and the written and checkride fees.
Let’s take a look at each of these factors and breakdown the costs in more detail.
An instrument rating requires you to log 40 flight hours in actual or simulated flight conditions. It’s likely that you will use both as you work towards obtaining your instrument rating.
Let’s assume that you will be starting from zero hours of instrument time because it is the most common scenario.
There is no fixed cost of renting an airplane. It depends on several factors, including your location, wet or dry rental rates (whether you will be paying for fuel on top or not), the type of aircraft, and if the fees for instructor time are included in the rental rate.
The way many flight schools are set up is that you can hire a plane with fuel but without instructor time. So, let’s call the average cost of renting an airplane $130 per hour.
At the required minimum of 40 hours that comes to $5,200.
But as simulator time can also count towards the minimum number of flight hours required to get your instrument rating, it’s a good idea to take advantage of this and save some money.
You can expect to pay half as much for simulator time as you do for aircraft rental time. So $65 per hour for 15 hours works out to $900.
Aircraft Rental Cost:
- 40 hours of aircraft rental: $5,200
- 22 hours of aircraft rental + 18 hours of simulated time: $4,030
Again, we’re going to assume the most common scenario, which is paying for instructor time separately.
Let’s match the 40 flight hours with 40 hours of instructor time, whether that’s a combination of aircraft rental and simulated time, or just aircraft rental alone.
As the average cost of flight instruction is $50 per hour, you can expect to pay $2,000 for instructor time.
Instructor Time Cost: $2,000
Coming from a private pilot license, there is a lot of new material you need to learn – or at the very least in much more depth – including weather, procedures, approach plates, and new maps.
There’s a couple of ways of going through ground school and obtaining all the necessary knowledge you need to pass the written test.
You can enroll in an in-person ground school, an online ground school, or a combination of the two.
Some pilots opt for an intensive in-person weekend ground school, but further learning may still be required.
In-Person Ground School Cost: $300
Online Ground School Cost: $250
In addition to ground school, you will want to do plenty of self-study, which requires purchasing a few books, and a course or two.
We recommend anything by Rod Machado, as he’s taught and helped thousands of students pass the knowledge portion of their instrument rating. You can’t go wrong with his IFR Pilot Handbook.
IFR Study Material Cost: $50-250
Written Exam Fee
The written knowledge exam costs $150.
Before you are able to sit the exam, you first need to be endorsed by an instructor to indicate that you are well-prepared and ready for the exam.
Written Exam Test Cost: $150
The final step in obtaining your instrument rating is to take your checkride.
For this, you need to pay an examiner’s fee, and will of course need to hire an airplane for an hour to an hour and a half max.
Expect to pay $500 for the examiner fee, and $130 for aircraft rental.
Checkride Cost: $130
Examiner Fee: $500
Total Cost of Instrument Rating
The total cost to obtain your instrument rating will therefore be approximately $8,500, though you can expect to pay around $8,000 if you use a combination of actual and simulated flight.
How to Get Your Instrument Rating at a Lower Cost
At this point, the question on every pilot’s mind is usually how can I get my instrument rating cheaper?
There are a few ways that you can lower the costs.
Use a Simulator
As mentioned, anyone who wants to get their instrument rating is allowed to log simulated time and have it contribute towards the 40 flight hours required for an IR.
It can also be a good idea to use a simulator before or after flying lessons to practice what you have learned and retain knowledge better.
Just make sure that you use an approved Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATDs) or Basic Aviation Training Devices (BATDs).
Stick to a Schedule
If you create a schedule, stick to it, dedicate as much time as possible, and put your full focus towards getting your instrument rating, then this can help you save money.
As long as you don’t leave too big of a gap between lessons, you won’t have to spend time (and money) trying to regain the knowledge and motor skills you first learned.
Choose Your Plane Wisely
Depending on the size of the flight school, there are usually a few planes to choose from, which can definitely be a good thing.
Training on a glass panel will be more expensive than on steam gauges, for example. So, be prudent in the plane you decide to fly in working towards your instrument rating.
Part 61 vs Part 141
A Part 61 program allows a maximum of 20 hours of simulated flight to be logged via an AATD, and 10 hours in a BATD.
A Part 141 program allows up to 40% of the required hours to be logged through an AATD, and up to 25% in a BATD.
Thankfully, if during your PPL training you logged cross-country time as pilot in command, this can contribute to the flight hours required for your instrument rating. If not, meeting this requirement can significantly add to the cost.
Logging 50 hours of cross-country pilot in command time is not required for Part 141 programs.
Choosing a Part 61 or Part 141 program can therefore save or cost you more money, depending on whether you take full advantage of the maximum allowed hours of simulated flight time, and need to log 50 hours of cross-country time or not.
Be Well Prepared
If you put the time in away from the plane and simulator and come to every lesson fully-prepared, you can expect to spend less time and money on aircraft rental and flight instruction.
Review concepts and maneuvers before and after lessons, paying particular attention to the ones that you struggle most with.
Do Accelerated Instrument Rating Training Courses Cost Less?
Accelerated instrument rating courses that promise your IR in 10 or 14 days can be a good choice for some.
They may be more expensive upfront, but you will ultimately save money in the long-term.
Be warned that condensing everything you need to know, including logging 40 hours of flight time, in just 10-14 days can be challenging and stressful for some pilots. If you’re up for it, though, it can be the better choice.
Why You Might Actually Have to Pay More for Your Instrument Rating
In the best-case scenario, expect to pay about $8,000 to get your instrument rating.
However, this best-case scenario ignores the very real possibility that you might have to take additional training time, and pay for the aircraft rental and instructor time that comes with that.
It’s, therefore, a good idea to budget an additional 10-20%.
If you enroll in a Part 61 program, be aware that 50 hours of cross-country pilot in command flight time is also required.