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Become a pilot US

How to become a pilot in the US

Your journey to become a pilot

Discover the journey you will take to become a FAA certified pilot.

Becoming a pilot is an investment in your future. This page will provide an overview on how to become an Airline Pilot if you are living in the United States. This means you will undertake an FAA (Federal Aviation Agency) pilot training program.

The type of training program you choose to undertake will depend on your ultimate career goal. Obtaining your Commercial pilot license, with a Flight Instructor Certificate, in the U.S.A. can be achieved in as little as 15 months in some cases.

Stage 1: Research

Find a flight school: use the FAA’s school finder tool: https://av-info.faa.gov/PilotSchool.asp

Pilot training is available on-site at most airports, either through an FAA-certificated (approved) pilot school* or through other training providers. An approved school may be able to provide a greater variety of training aids, dedicated facilities, and more flexibility in scheduling. A number of colleges and universities also provide pilot training as a part of their curricula.

Enrolment in an FAA-approved pilot school usually ensures a high quality of training. Approved schools must meet prescribed standards with respect to equipment, facilities, personnel, and curricula. However, individual flight instructors and training companies that are not certificated by the FAA as “pilot schools” may also offer high quality training, but find it impractical to qualify for FAA certification.

When one attends a four year aeronautical college in the states there is a huge upside. Eligible schools give the curriculum and the training necessary to grant an RATP (Restricted ATP) which means you’re given your ATP at 1,000 hours instead of 1,500.

College’s partnered Regional Airlines are recruiting pilots since the minute the students walk into school, so junior or senior year in University when you have your CFI, the airlines have you placed as a Company CFI at your school therefore building seniority in the airline and building hours. Once achieved 1,000 hours, you go right to the airlines and start as a first officer or maybe even a captain.

Another difference between training provided by FAA-approved pilot schools and other providers is that fewer flight hours are required to be eligible for a pilot certificate when the training is received through an approved school. The flight hour requirement for a private pilot certificate is normally 40 hours, but may be reduced to 35 hours when training with an approved school. However, since most people require 60 to 75 hours of training, this difference may be insignificant.

When starting your flight training you also have to choose between FAR (Federal Aviation Regulations) 141, or FAR 61. FAR 61 is all about the regulations for pilot certification. It outlines the topics covered during flight training and the amount of flight hours required to obtain specific flight certificates. FAR 141 describes rules for flight training schools and says a flight school must sustain FAA approval for its training curriculum, syllabus and lesson plans, creating a more structured flight training environment. The big advantage with 141 is that students can progress faster and get their ratings within fewer hours; whereas a FAR 61 training environment is less strict, and leaves an instructor with more flexibility to change the training program as he sees fit. 

You must make your own decision on where to obtain flight training. Once you have decided on a general location, you might want to make a checklist of things to look for in a training provider. By talking to pilots and reading articles in flight magazines, you can make your checklist and evaluate different options. Your choice of a provider might depend on whether you are planning on obtaining a recreational or private certificate or whether you intend to pursue a career as a professional pilot. Another consideration is whether you will train part-time or full-time.

Make Sure You're Eligible

Make sure you meet the eligibility requirements outlined in the regulations. See FAR 61.103 for more information. A private pilot applicant needs to be at least 17 years old, able to read, speak and understand English, successfully complete the flight training requirements and the knowledge exam. In the end, a private pilot applicant will need to pass a practical exam that consists of a verbal exam and a flight test.

Pilot Medical

Pilots must meet basic medical requirements to fly. If you want to fly professionally, you must meet higher medical standards than recreational pilots and should apply for a first class medical certificate through an Aeromedical Examiner (AME).

Stage 2: Admissions or Trial flight

Successfully completing an Admissions Flight can be required before enrolling in a pilot training program. This flight lesson will help you see first-hand the training, aircraft, and quality of instruction a flight school will offer you. It is also a great way to get a better sense of what it’s like to fly from behind the controls. Also a trial flight will do the same thing and give you a better understanding of the school, instructor and aircraft.

Stage 3: Preparation

Apply for FAA Student Pilot Certificate through the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website (your flight instructor can help with this). While you don’t need a student pilot certificate to start flying lessons, you will need it to fly solo during your training.

Stages 4-7: Training

Start taking flight training lessons and begin working towards obtaining the aeronautical knowledge and pilot training experience requirements needed to become a private pilot. During your flight training, you will need to take and pass the computer-based FAA private pilot knowledge test. To be eligible for the test, you must receive an endorsement from your flight instructor.

Stage 4: Private Pilot Certificate

A Private Pilot License is the most frequently sought license initially. Before you can begin pursuing your PPL, you must begin as a student pilot.

Student Pilot Certificate – A student pilot certificate authorizes you to take flight instruction from a licensed instructor. This is the first step toward earning an actual PPL. To obtain a Student Pilot Certificate, which allows you to pursue flight training, you must meet some basic eligibility requirements. First of all, you must be 16 years of age. (If you intend to pilot a glider or balloon, you only have to be 14 years old.) Also, you must be able to proficiently read, speak, and understand English. This is because English has been designated as the universal language in aviation.

Next, you have to complete an application through Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA). Submit this to any Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), an FAA pilot examiner, an airman certification representative at a part 141 flight school (such as Epic Flight Academy), or a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). Your application will be processed and submitted with the required documents to the Airmen Certification Branch (ACB). Once it has been reviewed by ACB, you can expect to receive your student pilot certificate by mail in approximately three weeks.

Becoming a student pilot also requires you to obtain a medical certificate from an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). Find an examiner near you to schedule your medical exam.

When you have your student pilot certificate and medical certificate, you are ready to begin training.

Private Pilot License – This is the most common type of pilot license issued by the FAA. In order to obtain your FAA private pilot license you must log a minimum of 35 hours of varied flight time, pass the written tests, pass the FAA check-ride, and hold a valid drivers license.

An FAA PPL certificate allows you to be able to fly in most single-engine airplanes and aircraft, although some additional instrument rating tests may be required for more advanced aircraft or if you wish to be rated to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). With a PPL, you will be authorized to fly alone or with other people, but you may not receive compensation for flying or taking people on flights.

Stage 5: Instrument Rating

The Instrument Rating is the next logical step, after the Private Pilot License, for pilots looking to expand the flight territory in which they can safely operate, and to increase their overall business/personal flight capabilities. The certification itself is supplementary to the Private Pilot or Commercial licenses, and qualifies the pilot to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).

To be eligible to pursue your Instrument Rating, you must:

  • Be at least 17 years old.
  • Hold at least a current private pilot certificate.
  • Read, speak, write, and understand English.

Stage 6: Commercial Pilot Single-Engine Certificate

The commercial pilot license (CPL) allows you to be paid for your pilot services. In order to receive your CPL, you will need to meet the following FAA CPL certificate requirements.

You must be at least 18 years old, speak and understand English proficiently, pass all exams, and log a minimum of 250 hours of varied flight time. To work as a CPL, you will need a 2nd Class Medical Certificate. You will need your Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) to write an endorsement stating you are a sound pilot and have passed your ground school courses.

You must also pass your check-ride with an FAA instructor, have a current medical license, and, if you want to fly more advanced aircraft, you will need to pass a multi-engine check ride. Please note that in order to fly in inclement weather you will need to take and pass an instrument rating (IFR) course.

Stage 7: Commercial Multi-Engine Add-on Rating

You can add the multi-engine rating to your PPL or CPL. With the CMEL certification, you will be authorized to fly twin-engine aircraft. To earn this rating, you will be required to fly specific maneuvers in a twin-engine aircraft. The course covers topics such as slow flight, stalls, and VMC demos, focusing on proper procedures for complex emergency situations.

Stage 8. Certified Flight Instructor Certificate

Pilots must have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time before they can apply to passenger airlines in the United States. Teaching others is a great way to embed your own learning as well as building up valuable flight hours.

Once you have successfully built up the required 1,500 flight hours you may decide to continue your career as a Flight Instructor or apply to become a Co-Pilot at an airline.

Airline Transport Pilots License:

The Airline Transport Pilot License is what you need to fly for the major airlines. If you are interested in becoming a commercial airline pilot in the United States or becoming a commercial airline pilot outside of the United States, you will need to complete the first two types of pilot licenses (PPL and CPL) before you can earn your Airline Transport Pilot certification (ATP). To earn your commercial airline transport pilot license, you will need to meet the following FAA ATP requirements. You must be at least 23 years old, have a valid drivers license, pass all exams and tests, pass the flight exams, log more than 1500 hours of flight time (in the U.S.) in various weather conditions and in numerous types of aircraft, pass the IR courses and ground school courses, pass all medical and eye exams, and be of sound body and mind.

What are the Flight Training Requirements to Become a Pilot?

Private Pilot

Commercial Pilot

Airline Transport Pilot

Language

Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language.

Age

17

18

21

Total Flight Time

40 Hours

250 Hours

1,500 Hours

Tests & Exams

Knowledge Test & Practical Exam

Knowledge Test & Practical Exam

ATP CTP, Knowledge Test, & Practical Exam

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pilot?

Starting from Zero Time

Starting with Credit for Private

Private Pilot

3 Months

Commercial Pilot

4 Months

4 Months

Certified Flight Instructor

2 Months

2 Months

Total Duration

9 Months

6 Months

Entry criteria – United States

Standard entry requirements. (may vary from school to school)

AGE

Applicant must meet 1 of the 3 following requirements:

  1. Received high school diploma – evidence of a cumulative GPA of 2.5
  2. High school transcript required of received GED – evidence of completed 24 college credit hours from an accredited institution with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5
  3. College transcript required Private Pilot’s Certificate with verification of high school diploma or GED

MEDICAL

Photocopy of an FAA Medical Certificate.i

CRIMINAL RECORD CHECK

Produce a criminal record check (CRC) basic disclosure certificate before training can commence.

VISAS

United States Citizens: (including individuals from D.C., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Island, American Samoa, and Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Island):

  • Valid U.S. passport or passport card
  • And Certificate of Birth Abroad (if applicable)
  • And Certificate of Naturalization (if applicable)

OR – Any two of the following:

  • State issued Birth Certificate
  • Unexpired government issued photo ID
  • U.S. Military ID Card
  • Native American Tribal Card

Permanent residents:

  • Valid international passport
  • And unexpired Permanent Resident Card