How long does it take to become a pilot? If you’ve ever been interested in aviation, you may have thought of this at least once.
Getting your student pilot license actually takes only about three weeks. For a private pilot’s license, it can take up to three months, but if you’re aiming to become a commercial pilot, it can take a significantly longer time to meet the requirements. The time it takes depends on what kind of aircraft you want to fly.
There are a number of different kinds of pilot licenses you can obtain, and each of these takes a different amount of time.
Having gone through the processes, we put together all the information we had on things you should be considering when trying to become a pilot and collected them in one place for convenience.
Types of Pilot Licenses
Student Pilot License
This type of license, as mentioned earlier, takes only about three weeks to get, with the minimum being about 20-25 hours. You don’t need any flight hours for this license, which reduces the total time too. This license is required for learning by the FAA.
At this stage, pilots are usually only just starting their pilot careers.
Private Pilot License
This is the license required if you’re trying to fly any kind of aircraft solo. It takes a minimum of three months to acquire but usually takes six to twelve months. You also need a total of 40 flight hours before you are able to acquire this license.
Private pilots will generally tend to learn how you maneuver single-engine aircraft without getting assistance. This certification is not regarded as a professional one.
Commercial Pilot License
This license is the minimum requirement for anyone who wants to fly professionally. The time it takes to acquire this license is relatively high. Though the minimum is about the same as a private pilot license, at 3 months, it usually takes about six to 24 months to acquire and has a requirement of 250 flight hours too.
This certification allows you to fly professionally, though you are still unable to fly larger aircraft – especially those with large numbers of passengers. With this certification though, you can fly planes for skydiving, crop dusting, towing banners or operating flying tours.
Certified Flight Instructor
This license is optional for pilots and is only required if you want to be an instructor. The minimum requirement is about three weeks and it can take up to two or three months to obtain. There is no requirement for flight hours either.
This kind of certification is not uncommon for pilots to obtain while they are working towards higher certification of their own, since it provides them with income. Since CPI certification also involves flying, they are able to complete their flight hours during their instruction as well.
Airline Transport Pilot
Understandably, this pilot’s license can take a long time to obtain, and is a minimum requirement for anyone who wants to fly aircraft for an airline. It takes at least two years to obtain, and can actually take much more – from three to five years, with 1,500 flight hours being mandatory.
Sometimes the flight requirement is reduced for candidates with certain qualifications, such as a bachelor’s degree in aviation.
This license is required if you want to fly as a pilot for aircraft where aircraft has multiple engines. It is also required for anyone who wants to work as a pilot in command for airlines.
This is more of an add-on to a previously existing license, and takes about 10-15 hours at minimum to obtain. There is no flight hour requirement.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Requirements
Before being certified, pilots need to meet certain requirements set by the FAA. The FAA monitors all the flights in the US and all the surrounding skies, including space.
Eligibility for pilots depends on the following:
There are specific age requirements for pilots depending on the kind of license or certification you want to obtain.
There is no age requirement if you want to operate a plane with a certified plane instructor, whereas you have to be 16 years of age to fly solo. Private pilot certificates are only available for people above 17, and operation is limited to people above 18.
If you want to be an airline transport pilot, you have to be at least 23 years old to qualify for the certification.
Medical Certificate Requirement
Depending on the type of pilot certification you’re pursuing, you need to obtain one of three classes of medical certificates. Each one of these will determine whether your health is in good enough condition to be able to fly a plane. These will range from basic things like vision and hearing to more complex bodily functions like cardiovascular or neurological functioning.
First-class Medical Certificate
This is the highest class of medical certificates available and has stricter standards than the rest. It can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months, depending on how old you are. If you’re looking for ATP certification, or if you’re a commercial pilot above the age of 60, you will need to get this certificate. Since it has more rigid requirements, you have to be in the best of health to get this certificate.
Second-class Medical Certificate
Anyone who wants to be a commercial pilot needs to get this certification, and it also needs to be renewed every year. Although it is not as strict as the first-class certificate, it is still rather rigid and has very high standards for some abilities, especially vision.
Third-class Medical Certificate
Third-class certification is needed for pilots who want to fly privately, and usually lasts up to 24 or 60 months, after which it expires. Expiration depends on your age – younger folks may not need renewal as soon as older pilots do. This certification checks your body’s condition and health but is less rigid and extensive than the other two certifications.
As a pilot, communication is very important. Not only do you have to communicate with your co-pilots, you also have to work with airports at your destinations, as well as your passengers, so you need to have proficient English skills. You have to be able to communicate with all other personnel in English – both written, and spoken – to be able to operate any US aircraft around the world.
Testing and Endorsements
Pilots have to complete airman knowledge and practical testing before they are able to obtain their license. The requirements of these tests depend on the license they are pursuing.
Vision and Instrument Rating
Aircraft operate under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) or Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Instrument ratings allow pilots to fly in different weather conditions, which includes clouds or rain or any other conditions that could result in lower visibility. This takes about 50 hours to earn, and 20 of these are in-aircraft training.
Visual Flight Rules are the opposite. Pilots with visual ratings can only fly their aircraft in weather conditions where the skies are clear and visibility is good.
While an instrument rating isn’t necessary for students or private pilots, commercial or career pilots will need it before they are able to get a job in their field.
Becoming a pilot takes a long time, but just getting an education and your certification isn’t actually as easy as it sounds. It also takes some special qualities for you to get to that point.
Leadership and speed thinking are essential traits for pilots, because it is important for you to always stay calm and immediately know what to say or do in case of emergencies. Good understanding of technical information as well as situational awareness are also very important, as is the ability to multitask.
Even if you don’t have these qualities, don’t worry about whether you’ll be able to become a pilot or not. The time you spend learning as you gain your license will drill these traits into you.
About THE AUTHOR
Alex has logged close to 400 hours on his own Piper Cherokee and enjoys bush flying as it offers a chance to test out his skills in difficult situations. His favorite trip, and one he makes regularly, is to the Red Deer Forestry Airstrip.Read more about Alex Costa