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If you've had the itch to soar above the freeways like Basso, you might find it's easier than you think. Be a Pilot, a nonprofit aviation organization, offers $49 introductory lessons at more than 1,800 schools. (For one near you, check beapilot.com or www.aopa.org/learntofly/school. To obtain a pilot's license to fly a single-engine aircraft with fixed landing gear under visual flight rules, you must meet FAA requirements: 40 hours of training and a flight exam. But instructors say most people need 50 to 70 hours in the air before they can pass the test. The cost: about $90 to $120 an hour for the plane, the instructor and the fuel. Certification to fly a plane with greater range--one with multiple engines and retractable landing gear--requires about 250 more hours of flight training. If you fantasize about zipping coast to coast at the controls of a private jet, brace yourself: that license requires 3,000 to 4,000 hours of training and costs as much as $40,000.
On an unseasonably warm October afternoon, Basso climbed into the sky above Long Island at the controls of a Piper Warrior, with his instructor Matt Grimaldi, 24, at his side. The cockpit, a little larger than a sports car's interior, was stuffy and the landing a bit bumpy. But Basso--who figures his flying endeavor will have cost him about $6,000 to $7,000 by the time he gets his private pilot's license--was smiling at the thought of flying solo on business trips. Says he: "I can't put a price tag on the time I'm going to save."