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The Cheapest Pilot Certificates You Can Get

Getting your airman ratings can be one the most expensive endeavors you ever set out on, whether for a career or a hobby.  However, there are a few certificates out there that are relatively inexpensive to obtain compared to a PPL or Commercial Cert, and can helps open up other doors in aviation as well as make you a better and more knowledgeable pilot.

Let’s take a look at few, what they are, and what they can do for you…

Contents [show]

Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI)


To obtain any ground instructor certificate, you simply have to pass the appropriate written exam and also pass either the FOI (fundamentals of instruction) exam or already hold a teaching certificate (i.e. Being a state certified teacher).  For the Advanced Ground Instructor Cert, you’ll take a ________________ question exam that is _______hrs long and answer questions very similar to the type of questions you would answer on a Commercial or CFI written exam (any semi experienced private pilot should have an easy time with these questions).  If you don’t already have a teaching certificate, you’ll need to take the FOI exam as well.  Both exams are offered through CATS or PSI/Lasergrade and usually can be taken at a FBO near you.  They run about the same cost as any of the other written exams ($150-$165 each).  At the end of the day, you’ll take the print out results from both tests down to your local FSDO, show them to the inspector, and they will issue you a whole entire new Certificate (not additional rating on your certificate, another certificate in and of itself).  Now that you’ve done that and have added another plastic card to your collection, let’s see what you can do with that $300 certificate of yours.


What you can do with an Advanced Ground Instructor Certificate:

Well now you can teach ground school!  You can give ground instruction in a classroom or one on one setting and endorse (sign off) students to go and take their written exams for sport, private, or commercial pilot.  You can even teach in an approved flight simulator and log the time in the students log book as dual received counting towards the required time for a certificate they are working towards (i.e 2.5hrs allowed in the sim towards the private pilot checkride).  Each simulator and school will have a letter from the FAA detailing how much sim time can be counted towards each certificate or rating.  Even if this is the only Certificate you hold (no pilot or other instructor certificates) you can still charge for your services as an instructor teaching ground material to a student or providing dual instruction in a simulator.

Instrument Ground Instructor (IGI)

The Instrument Ground Instructor Certificate is a very similar process to earning your Advanced Ground Instructor Certificate.  You will have to take a written exam for the IGI and also take the written exam for the FOI (unless you have already done so or hold a teaching certificate).  If you already hold an AGI, then when you take your test results from the IGI into your local FSDO simply showing them you AGI card or them searching your airman records is a satisfactory way to show you already meet the FOI requirement.  This time around adding this rating to your Ground Instructor Certificate should only set you back ~$150 (assuming you do not need to take the FOI written as well).  So for $150 what will that get ya?

What you can do with an Instrument Ground Instructor Certificate:

As an IGI you can instruct instrument students in a class room ground school or individually.  You can also endorse students to go and take the instrument written exam and Instruct in a simulator loging dual instruction and simulated instrument time towards a students instrument rating.  Even if this is the only Certificate you hold (no pilot or other instructor certificates) you can still charge for your services as an instructor teaching ground material to a student or providing dual instruction in a simulator.


sUAS stands for small unmanned aerial systems.  It basically means drones that are under 55lbs maximum takeoff weight.  There are a couple different ways to earn a sUAS certificate depending upon if you are already a licensed pilot or not.

If you already hold a valid pilot certificate

(of any type, fixed wing, rotor, etc.) AND you have a current BFR (meaning you haven’t been out of flying for the last 10 years), then you can simply go online and take a free course available on our website that will give you a certificate you can use to get a sUAS certificate.  Once you complete the course and download your certificate, contact a DPE or CFI in your local area to log into IACRA and complete the registration process with you.  Your application will be submitted to the FAA and it should take a few weeks for them to mail you a plastic card.  If you are in a rush to do this, a DPE can issue you a paper temporary certificate that a CFI could not.  This process is entirely free save for any fees the DPE or CFI chooses to charge for 30-60mins of their time.

If you do not currently hold a valid pilot certificate:

If you currently are not a pilot and simply want to earn this certificate the inexpensive way, then you can take our Part 107 sUAS online course to bring you up to speed on everything you need to know before going and taking the required written exam at a testing center (testing center is generally a CATS or PSI/Lasergrade center at your local airport).  The test fee is ~$150-$175.  Once you pass the written exam at the center you will receive a printout of your test results.  Next you will need to find a local CFI or DPE to log into a FAA website called IACRA with you and help you submit those test results and your application for the certificate into the FAA in Oklahoma City.  Once everything is complete and submitted it should take 2-3 weeks receive your plastic card in the mail.

What can you do with a sUAS certificate:

As a sUAS certificate holder (drone pilot) you can now go out and earn money flying your drone. Without this certificate it is illegale to operate a drone for hire (i.e taking pictures and selling them).  Now that you can go and take realstate photos or emabark on any other commercial endeavors, you’ll want to keep up to speed on the latest drone regulations HERE to ensure you are flying where you legally can.  Another interesting thing you can do as a sUAS holder is simply be present for another person who is operating a drone for hire that does not have the required certificate, and you can charge for this service.  Just remember the FAA is going to be holding you accountable for whatever the other person does who is operating the drone.



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Jon K

Jon is a CFI, CFII, MEI, ATP, AGI, and the rest of the alphabet. He started instructing for fun part-time to be able to give back to the GA community after earning his Commercial and CFI back in 2013. He has a strong background in academia, starting his career at the University of Michigan, and now is pursuing his dreams of flying, both for the airlines and teaching as a CFI on his days off.

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