How to Become a Pilot: Here's What You Need to Know

How to Become a Pilot: Here's What You Need to Know

By on Apr 9th 2018

If flying a plane has always been a dream of yours, you've come to the right place. At least as far as learning about becoming a pilot goes.

There are a lot of requirements and training that goes into building the profession. We'll go over the foundation of these licenses in this post so you know what you need to earn to get your license.

Commercial vs. Private vs. Airline Transport Pilot Training

The process of becoming a pilot starts with one basic requirement: age. You have to be at least 16 years old to be eligible to be a student pilot. If you're looking to be a private pilot, you must be 17 years old while a commercial pilot or flight instructor must be at least 18 years old and an airline transport pilot must be 21 years old (sometimes 23 under certain circumstances).

No matter your age, you must also be able to read, speak, write, and understand English, per Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 61.83. Training can take between one and one and a half years to complete.

Training for a commercial certificate requires training both on the ground and in the air. This training allows you to work for hire, but doesn't mean you can fly for commercial airlines (more on this later). If you're interested in this license, we covered it in-depth here

Private Pilot License

On the other hand, training for a private license requires both on- and off-ground training and learning basic flight maneuvers rather than the in-depth training a commercial pilot receives. Pilots with this license are able to fly for personal reasons.

The first step to obtaining any flying license is meeting certain medical standards and receive an Aviation Medical Certificate for private use. You want to make sure you meet these standards before you invest in training.

From there, you must take a test through a flight school in your area. There are multiple subjects in this part of the training that you must pass in this FAA Written Exam before moving to in-flight training. Once you pass the FAA Written Exam, you must go through your flight training with a certified instructor and then log the required amount of flight hours your particular license requires.


The final step is passing a practical exam with an FAA examiner, consisting of both a verbal and flight exam. After passing that exam-congratulations! You'll fill out the required paperwork to obtain your private pilot's license.

Airline Transport Pilot License

This is the highest pilot's license you can obtain and is required for potential airline pilots. This certification is required by Part 121 and 156 operations only, but it is held in high regard by all aviation operations.

To obtain your ATP certification you must either be 23 years old and have logged at least 1,500 hours of total flight time, including 100 hours of night time flying (75 hours of night flying with 45 night landings counts as well), 75 hours of instrument time (including up to 25 with a simulator), and 500 hours of cross-country flying. Alternatively, if you have earned a degree in the aviation field and are at least 21 years old, you can obtain a restricted ATP certificate (or an R-ATP) with just 1,000 hours of total flight time. With this, they can fly with a certified pilot until they reach 1,5000 hours. University-based ATP-CTP programs are not available if you're looking to earn a degree while obtaining your Airline Transport License.

This post goes into the process of all three licenses in great detail, so be sure to check it out if you're considering becoming a pilot of any kind!

Have you trained as a pilot? What license do you have? We'd love to hear about your experience in the comments!


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