Before embarking on my pilot training, I needed to know exactly how long does it take to become a pilot? In this post, I’ll share everything you need to know to give you an idea of how long it takes to become a pilot.
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How long does it take to become a pilot?
It can take anywhere from 6 months to 5 years to become a pilot, depending on the type of pilot and licence you want to get and the kind of pilot you want to be. To give an idea of how long each pilot licence takes:
- Private Pilot Licence (PPL): 6 weeks to 18 months
- Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL): 18months to 36 months
- Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) : 3 years to 5 years
- Military pilot: 2 years to 5 years
The first thing to ask yourself is what type of pilot do you want to be? Being a pilot is very broad and covers everything from crop dusting, fighter pilot or even cargo flying!
Private Pilot Licence: How long to become a pilot?
It takes anywhere from 6 weeks to 18 months to become a private pilot. A private pilots licence allows you to fly in good weather with your friends and family in daylight conditions (unless you have a night rating).
Minimum requirements to be a UK private pilot (taken from the UK CAA website):
- Age 16 to go solo and age 17 to hold a PPL
- Hold a UK CAA Class 2 medical certificate
- Pass 9 theoretical knowledge exams
- 45 hours of flight instruction (5 hours may be completed in an approved flight simulator training device)
- 25 hours of dual flight instruction
- 10 hours supervised solo time (including 5hours solo cross country)
- Qualifying cross country flight: 150NM (270KM) cross country flight with landings at two different airports
- Pass PPL skills test
The item that typically causes the most delays is the qualifying cross country, as this solo flight needs good weather over a large area.
As an example, I was ready to complete my qualifying cross country flight in October. Still, I did not get a suitable weather day until the following March – as I was only able to progress my flight training at weekends.
TOP TIP: Even if the weather is not suitable for flying, you still have a valuable day to complete your theoretical knowledge exams using those rainy non-flying days for ground school
The PPL theoretical exams can also cause time delays – as that is probably the least exciting part of getting a pilots licence.
How long it takes to become a private pilot is dependant on these factors:
- How much time you can give to pilot training
- The weather (private pilot training requires good weather)
- How busy your flying school is along with training and instructor availability
- How long it takes to pick concepts up
If you can commit to an intensive private pilot course, have a good aptitude for flying, and have good weather (e.g. Florida or Europe in the summer), you can complete your PPL in as little as 6 weeks.
If completing your private pilot licence on a part-time basis, i.e. weekends, only expect your training to take around 1 year. I completed my PPL in 12 months, having lessons during the weekend along.
If completing your pilot training in Europe during the winter, be mindful that your progress will be slower because of the weather.
Commercial Pilot Licence: How long does it take?
It takes around 18-30 months to get a commercial pilot licence.
Minimum requirements to be a commercial pilot
- Age 18 years to hold a CPL
- Hold a UK CAA Class 1 medical certificate
- Pass 13 theoretical knowledge exams
- Hold a PPL(A) in accordance with Annex 1 of the Chicago Convention
- 25 hours of dual flight instruction (including 10hours instrument and 15hours visual flight instruction)
- 5 hours of instrument instruction can be in an approved simulator (BITD, FNPT I or II, and FTD 2 or an FFS
Before commencing your CPL course – these requirements will need to be met
- 150hours flight time (modular)
- 70hours pilot in command (integrated)
- 100hours pilot in command (modular)
- Completed night flying course (5hours night flight, 3 hours dual instruction at night)
Before CPL skills test:
- 200hours total time (modular), 150hours total time (integrated)
- 20 hours as PIC, including a VFR cross-country flight of at least 540 km (300 NM)
- 5 hours in complex aircraft i.e. Aircraft certified for at least 4 persons, variable pitch propeller and retractable landing gear (taken from CAA website)
Completing the ATPL exams via distance learning part-time (perhaps around existing work commitments) can take anywhere from 9-24 months, depending on the amount of time you can dedicate to study.
The next most time-consuming (but enjoyable) aspect of the commercial pilot licence is hour building. You need 70 hours pilot in command (integrated) or 100 hours pilot in command if progressing via the modular route.
Hour building can be completed in as little as two months if hour building is intensive and the weather is good. It can also take several years if occasionally flying on a recreational basis
The two routes to becoming a commercial pilot are integrated or modular pilot training.
How long does integrated pilot training take to become a commercial pilot?
Integrated pilot training takes around 18-24 months to complete.
This typically consists of 6 months ‘ground school’ to complete your 14 ATPL theoretical exam and then 12 months of flight training with the goal of passing your commercial pilot licence and multi-engine instrument rating (MEIR).
How long does modular pilot training take?
Modular pilot training normally takes around 18 – 36 months but can be completed in as little as 12 months.
If you want to learn more about modular pilot training, check out these posts.
- This is the 10 best complete modular pilot training steps
- Modular Pilot Training: 9 easy mistakes to make!
- Affordable Zero To ATPL Via The Modular Route Part-Time!
Modular pilot training is completed at a pace and time to suit you so ultimately you decide how quickly (or slowly you wish to complete your training).
Factors that will influence how long it takes to become a pilot via the modular route include:
- Access to money
- How quickly you are able to pick up concepts
- The amount of time you are able to dedicate to modular pilot training.
It took me 12 months to become a pilot via the modular route.
How long does it take to get from PPL to CPL
It takes 6-12 months to go from a private pilot licence to a commercial pilot.
In some cases, pilots start off flying purely for fun and then decide they want to progress their flight training to fly professionally. The typical path from PPL to CPL is hour building whilst progressing the ATPL theory exams and then enrolling on a CPL course.
The CPL course itself is relatively short (25hours). What takes time is hour building and sitting the theoretical knowledge exams. Between finishing the PPL and before starting the CPL, you will need to complete a night rating.
Air Transport Pilot Licence: How long does it take?
It usually takes about 3 – 5 years to get an Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL).
Once you complete your pilot training (i.e. have a commercial pilot licence with a multi-engine instrument rating and multi-crew course), you can apply for a suitable job to gain the experience needed to get an ATPL.
You need to meet these requirements to get an air transport pilot licence:
- 500 hours in multi-pilot operations on aeroplanes
- 500 hours as Pilot in command under supervision (PICUS) or
- 250 hours as Pilot in Command (PIC) or
- 250 hours to include a minimum of 70 hours as PIC and the remainder as PICUS.
- 200 hours of cross-country flight time, of which at least 100 hours should be as PIC or as PIC under supervision
- 75 hours of instrument time, of which not more than 30 hours can be instrument ground time
- 100 hours of night flight as PIC or co-pilot.
Of the 1500 hours of total flight time required, up to 100 hours can be completed in a suitable simulator (FFS or FNPT – but only a maximum of 25 hours may be completed in an FNPT)
In addition, you will also need to have completed your 14 ATPL theory exams.
Once you have all the necessary experience, you need to pass a skills test with a qualified examiner in the given aircraft type. The ATPL skills test is normally conducted in a full flight simulator.
It usually takes 2-3 years once in airline employment if you already have a commercial pilot licence to gain the necessary experience to get an ATPL once in airline employment.
How long does it take to become an airline pilot?
You can speed up your chances of landing that first airline pilot job by completing a good Multi Crew Course. I recommend the APS MCC course and genuinely – that increased my chances of passing the airline assessment and made my type rating much easier.
The APS MCC course prepares you well for your type rating and definitely flattens the curve.
- APS MCC: Fantastic VA Airline Training (Easily The Best)
- 7 genuine reasons why not doing APS MCC is disastrous!
Once you have completed your commercial pilot licence and hold a CPL + MEIR + MCC certificate and land a job your airline will put you through a type rating course.
How long does a type rating course take to complete to become an airline pilot?
The type rating takes around 2-3 months to complete depending on aircraft type. During the type rating course, you will be taught how to fly the specific type of aircraft that your company operates.
The type rating consists of:
- Theoretical knowledge specific to the aircraft your fill fly
- Standard Operating Procedures
- Around 40 hours of simulator time (Procedure trainer and fixed base sim)
- 6 take off and landings in the actual aircraft.
If you want to learn more about what is involved in a type rating course, check out our post on B737 Rating For The First Time? 10 Important Things You Need To Know.
How long does it take to become a fighter pilot?
It takes around 4 years to become an operational fighter pilot within an operational squadron.
Is it hard to become a pilot?
Becoming a pilot is challenging, but it is certainly achievable. Provided you have a reasonable aptitude for flying i.e. hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, leadership and teamwork, workload management, etc. then it is just a case of working hard.
The biggest barrier to most in becoming a pilot is simply finding the money to become a pilot. Check out our post on How to become a pilot if I don’t have money? 7 excellent options for ideas on how you can learn to fly without paying a penny!
How many years does it take to be a pilot?
On average, it takes around 2-4 years to become a pilot. The 9 steps to complete to become a pilot are:
- Trial flight
- EASA Class 1 Medical
- Getting your PPL
- Hour Building & Night Rating
- ATPL Theory
- Multi Engine Instrument Rating
- Commercial Pilot Licence
- Multi Crew Course & UPRT!
- Pilot Interview
If you have any questions about how long it takes to become a pilot, please leave a comment in the section below. We would love to hear from you!
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Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 captain with over 3,000 hours of flying in Europe. He holds a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, is a chartered engineer, and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self-funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.