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The High Cost of Not Flying

"Ungh!" I grunted involuntarily as the Arrow plunked down unceremoniously on Reid-Hillview airport's runway 31R. That was supposed to be a "soft-field" landing. My session in the pattern wasn't going particularly well. While my takeoffs, airspeeds, and approaches were pretty good, the landings just were not coming together. There was no mystery about it. It had been a couple of weeks since I'd flown, and the time before was three weeks earler. For someone supposedly preparing for a checkride, I wasn't flying nearly enough.

It's a well known issue in flight training. Many people start flying as soon as they have just enough money saved up for a few lessons, hoping to maintain enough cash flow to keep them going. Whenever anyone asks my opinion, I always advise saving enough money up front to cover a pessimistic estimate of the costs and to clear the calendar for flying at least two to three times a week, preferably starting as early in the year as the weather allows to minimize interruptions in the training schedule. We learn more quickly the more often we fly because we're continually practicing and reinforcing our skills. In learning theory this is known as the principle of exercise. Without this frequent practice, we have to keep re-learning old material over and over again, which gets expensive.

What's that old saying? "Do as I say, not as I do!" Busted. Of course before I started my training for the Commercial certificate I planned for what I thought was a reasonable number of training hours using the currently available hourly cost figures. But I didn't count on an increase in hourly rate. But I didn't expect to need so much checkout time in the airplane. But I expected the skills to come more easily than they did. But I didn't expect a brain-drain at work to require me to spend more time there. But I didn't count on how much extra time it takes to train when you don't fly often enough. And now I found my training funds running low while my skills were actually eroding rather than improving!

Oh, there's my petard! I was wondering where that got to…

So what are the lessons learned? What's my way forward? I'm going to start with my most pessimistic estimate of the remaining time and money I'll need to spend to complete my certificate. Then I'll come up with a budget, set aside twice that amount into a training fund, and arrange my calendar for twice the amount of time I think I'll need—and schedule it!

And next time I'm planning some flight training I'll do all this before starting the flying, because anything less is just too expensive—in more ways than one.

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