How to Become a Pilot: A Comprehensive Guide

Many of us have seen movies, commercials, or even been in planes ourselves and have wondered what it must be like to be a pilot. It seems like an exciting job with tons of adventure. While all of that may be true, it can be quite the journey to becoming a professional airplane pilot. And it might not be as glamorous of a journey as you’re imagining. Still wondering what it takes? Here’s what it looks like to become a successful airplane pilot.

Airplane License – Private Pilot

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has specific criteria to meet to become certified as an airplane pilot. The first license an individual can get in this process is a private pilot’s license. There are many important details to consider when it comes to pursuing a private pilot’s license to fly airplanes:

  • You must be able to read, write, and speak English
  • Minimum age requirement is 17

Must pass an FAA 3rd Class Medical Exam

  • You must maintain a log of 40 hours of flight time, which includes 20 hours of flight time with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight time
  • There is a written test, an oral test, and a practical flight test which an individual must successfully pass to complete this process.
  • Cost: It’s not cheap, the average cost ranges from $7,000 – $15,000.

Airplane License – Commercial Pilot

Acquiring your commercial pilot’s license is required if you want to get paid as a pilot. Depending on the aircraft you plan to fly, you will need to get licenses in single-engine and multi-engine ratings. Here is what that means for you:

  • Hold a private pilot license
  • Be at least 18 years old, and as above, must be able to read, write and speak English
  • Log 250 hours of flight time, 100 must be in a powered aircraft and 50 hours in airplanes.
  • You must also have at least 100 hours of pilot-in-command time, 50 of these hours must be in an airplane.
  • 50 hours of cross-country time, with 10 occurring in an airplane
  • 10 hours of solo training including cross-country and night flying
  • 20 hours of training: 10 hours of instrument flying, and 10 hours of cross-country and test preparation
  • As with the private pilot license, you will also need to pass a written, oral, and practical flight test
  • Cost: this is where things start to add up for paying for flight time, the average cost for a commercial license is over $30,000.

Airplane Certified Instructor Rating

This rating will allow you to teach others how to fly airplanes. This is beneficial as some schools will hire their graduates that are working on accruing enough hours for commercial employment.

  • Hold a commercial pilot license with  instrument rating and at least 250 hours of total time
  • Must be at least 18 years old and read, write, and speak English
  • Complete 50 hours of ground school and 10-12 hours of flight training
  • Must pass the written, oral, and practical flight test
  • Cost: this is probably going to cost another $6,000 or so to complete

Airplane Instrument Rating

Getting an instrument rating helps improve a pilot’s confidence level, especially when landing in new or unfamiliar locations. It’s also highly regarded as a mechanism to improve your safety, as it will allow you to navigate through changes in weather and keep your passengers safe. Here’s what you need to know to complete this task:

  • Must at least have your Private Pilot License
  • At least 17 years old, and read, write, and speak English
  • At least 50 hours of cross country
  • 40 hours of either actual or simulated IFR
  • 10 hours in an FAA-approved simulator
  • Pass a written, oral, and practical flight test
  • Cost: To complete everything for the instrument rating, the average cost ranges around $8,100.

Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument

This is the certification needed to teach others how to fly by the use of instruments. Here’s what you need to know in completing this next step:

  • Hold a fixed-wing commercial pilot license with an airplane instrument rating
  • Be at least 18 years old, and read, write, and speak English
  • Pass a written, oral, and practical flight test
  • At least 3 hours of airplane instruction
  • Accrue a minimum of 15 hours as Pilot in Command (PIC) in an airplane
  • Cost: This cost isn’t so bad when compared to everything else, it’s about $5,500 for this step

Airline Transport Pilot Airplane License

This is the big license that takes some people years to achieve. The FAA has it broken down into the following requirements:

  • Must hold a Commercial Pilot License with Instrument Rating
  • Must be at least 23 years old and read, write and speak English
  • A lot of flight time; 1,500 hours of pilot time to be exact. This includes 500 hours of cross-country time, 100 hours of night flying, and 75 hours of instrument time, 50 hours in the class of airplane for the rating you are testing for, and 250 hours of Pilot in Command (PIC)
  • Pass a written, oral, and practical flight test
  • Cost: While the cost for the actual training and exam is around $5,000, you will have easily exceeded that total during all of the steps before getting to this final license. You can add up, and depending on the hours, the cost of all your training can easily exceed $70,000. So it might be wise to find a school to employ you as an instructor at some point to help accrue some of those hours while getting paid, instead of trying to pay out of pocket.

Flying a plane is definitely an exciting career and can easily pay for itself many times over if you land a good job. It’s easy to understand why pilots enjoy what they do, after all, not everyone gets to fly every day and see new parts of the world on a regular basis. If this sounds like you, then it’s time to jump in the cockpit and get ready for the flight of your life!

Share the knowledge