Embarking on the journey to becoming a pilot is an exhilarating adventure filled with challenges, triumphs, and limitless opportunities to soar through the skies. For many, the dream of flight begins with a childhood fascination, fueled by an unwavering passion to conquer the skies.
In this blog post, we will explore the steps you’ll need to take to transform that dream into reality, guiding you through the process of obtaining a pilot’s license and launching a successful career in aviation.
Whether you aspire to fly commercially, transport cargo, or navigate the skies for recreation, this comprehensive guide will provide you with the insights and resources necessary to embark on your own incredible journey towards becoming a pilot. So strap in, and let’s prepare for takeoff!
Prerequisites to becoming a pilot
The prerequisites for becoming a pilot can vary depending on the type of pilot’s license you’re aiming for and the country in which you’re pursuing your training. However, there are some general prerequisites that apply to most pilot training programs. Here are the basic requirements you’ll need to meet before starting your journey to becoming a pilot:
- Age requirement: For a student pilot certificate (USA), the minimum age requirement is typically 16 years old for powered aircraft and 14 years old for gliders or balloons. To obtain a Private Pilot License (PPL), you must be at least 17 years old, while a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) requires you to be at least 18 years old. For an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL), the minimum age is usually 21 years old.
- Educational background: Although a college/university degree is not mandatory for most pilot licenses, having a high school diploma or equivalent is generally required. Some airlines may prefer or require pilots to have a bachelor’s degree, especially for more competitive positions.
- Language proficiency: Pilots must have a good command of the English language, as it is the international language of aviation. You may be required to demonstrate your English proficiency through a standardized test or an interview.
- Medical fitness: Before beginning flight training, you’ll need to obtain a medical certificate confirming your physical fitness to fly. The class of medical certificate required depends on the type of pilot’s license you’re pursuing. For example, a Class 1 medical certificate is required for commercial pilots, while a Class 2 medical certificate is needed for private pilots. Medical requirements may include vision, hearing, cardiovascular health, and the absence of any conditions that could impair your ability to fly safely.
- Background check and security clearance: Depending on your country and the type of license you’re seeking, you may need to undergo a background check or obtain security clearance before commencing flight training.
- Student pilot certificate: Before you can start flying lessons, you will usually need to obtain a student pilot certificate from your country’s aviation authority (e.g., the FAA in the United States). This involves meeting the age, educational, and medical requirements mentioned above.
Keep in mind that these prerequisites may vary slightly depending on the specific regulations of your country’s aviation authority and the type of pilot’s license you’re pursuing. Always consult the relevant authorities or flight schools for the most accurate and up-to-date information on prerequisites.
Types of pilot licenses
There are several types of pilot licenses available, each with its own set of requirements, privileges, and limitations. Here’s an overview of the most common pilot licenses:
- Student Pilot Certificate (SPC) – USA: This certificate allows you to start flight training under the supervision of a certified flight instructor. It’s the first step on your journey to becoming a pilot.
- Sport Pilot License (SPL) – USA: The SPL is designed for recreational pilots who want to fly light-sport aircraft (LSA) during daylight hours and good weather conditions. It requires fewer training hours compared to a Private Pilot License, making it more accessible and affordable for hobbyists.
- Private Pilot License (PPL): The PPL is the most common pilot license for those looking to fly for recreation or personal transportation. It allows you to fly single-engine aircraft under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and carry passengers, but you cannot be paid for your services as a pilot.
- Commercial Pilot License (CPL): The CPL allows you to fly for compensation or hire, opening the door to a professional career in aviation. With this license, you can work as a flight instructor, corporate pilot, or cargo pilot, among other roles. You’ll need to meet more stringent requirements, including more flight hours and additional training, compared to a PPL.
- Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL): The ATPL is the highest level of pilot certification and is required for those who wish to work as a captain or first officer for commercial airlines. This license has the most rigorous requirements, including a minimum number of flight hours, advanced training, and thorough exams.
- Multi-Engine Rating: This rating allows pilots to operate aircraft with more than one engine. It can be added to a PPL, CPL, or ATPL after completing additional training and passing a practical test.
- Instrument Rating (IR): The IR allows pilots to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), which means they can operate aircraft in low visibility and adverse weather conditions by relying on their instruments rather than visual references. This rating can be added to a PPL or CPL after completing additional training and passing a written and practical test.
- Certified Flight Instructor (CFI): A CFI certificate allows pilots to teach others how to fly. To become a CFI, you must hold a CPL or ATPL and complete a flight instructor training program, followed by passing a written and practical exam.
- Type Ratings: Some aircraft, particularly larger and more complex ones, require pilots to obtain a type rating specific to that aircraft. Type ratings are added to a pilot’s existing license after completing specialized training and passing a practical test.
Check out my best selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon for how to become a pilot!
The process of flight training involves a combination of ground school, flight lessons, and flight simulation, all of which are designed to teach you the necessary skills and knowledge to become a competent and safe pilot. Here’s an overview of each component, along with the estimated duration and costs involved in obtaining a pilot’s license:
- Ground school: Ground school covers the theoretical aspects of aviation, such as aerodynamics, aircraft systems, navigation, meteorology, aviation regulations, and flight planning. You can attend ground school in person at a flight school or complete an online course. The duration of ground school varies depending on the type of license and the individual’s learning pace, but it generally takes several weeks to a few months to complete. The cost of ground school ranges from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, depending on the program and materials.
- Flight lessons: Flight lessons involve hands-on training in the cockpit under the guidance of a certified flight instructor. You’ll learn essential piloting skills, such as takeoffs, landings, climbs, turns, and emergency procedures. The number of flight hours required depends on the type of license you’re pursuing. For a Private Pilot License (PPL), you’ll need a minimum of 35-40 hours (depending on your country’s regulations), while a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) requires at least 200-250 hours. Flight lessons can cost between $100 and $200 per hour (Approx £180-£250 per hour in the UK), depending on the aircraft and instructor’s fees.
- Flight simulation: Flight simulators are computer-based systems that replicate the cockpit environment and allow you to practice flying without leaving the ground. Simulators are particularly useful for practicing instrument flying and gaining experience in various scenarios, such as dealing with system failures or adverse weather conditions. The use of flight simulators varies by flight school and the type of license you’re pursuing. The cost of flight simulation can range from $50 to $200 per hour (£50 to £250 per hour in the UK), depending on the complexity of the simulator.
The total duration and cost of obtaining a pilot’s license depend on several factors, such as the type of license, the individual’s learning pace, and the flight school’s fees. Generally, it can take anywhere from a few months to over a year to obtain a PPL, while a CPL may take one to two years or more, depending on your availability and flight experience.
The total cost of obtaining a PPL typically ranges from $8,000 to $15,000, while a CPL can cost between $30,000 and $80,000 or more, depending on the flight school, location, and additional ratings or endorsements.
Keep in mind that these are rough estimates and may vary depending on your specific circumstances. It’s essential to research flight schools, compare costs, and factor in any additional expenses, such as study materials, examiner fees, and travel or accommodation costs, if necessary.
Flight instructor selection
Selecting the right flight instructor is crucial for your success during pilot training, as they play a significant role in shaping your skills, knowledge, and attitude toward flying. Here are some tips to help you choose the right flight instructor:
- Research flight schools: Start by researching flight schools in your area or preferred location. Look for schools with a good reputation, modern facilities, and a well-maintained fleet of aircraft. Check online reviews, ask for recommendations, and visit the schools in person to get a feel for the environment.
- Instructor qualifications: Ensure that the flight instructor holds the appropriate certifications and has relevant experience. A Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) or Flight Flight Instructor (UK) certificate is a basic requirement, but it’s also a good idea to look for instructors with additional qualifications, such as an Instrument Instructor (CFII) or Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI) rating, depending on your goals.
- Teaching style and personality: Look for an instructor who has a compatible teaching style and personality. Schedule a meeting or an introductory flight lesson to assess your rapport with the instructor. Consider factors such as their communication skills, patience, enthusiasm, and ability to adapt their teaching methods to suit your learning style.
- Availability and scheduling: Make sure the instructor has availability that aligns with your schedule. It’s essential to have regular flight lessons to maintain consistency and progress in your training. Be sure to discuss expectations regarding lesson frequency, cancellations, and rescheduling policies.
- Student success rate: Ask about the instructor’s student success rate, including first-time pass rates for written and practical exams. While these numbers are not the only indicator of a good instructor, they can provide valuable insight into their teaching effectiveness.
- Safety record: Inquire about the instructor’s safety record, including any accidents or incidents they have been involved in. A good instructor should prioritize safety and emphasize its importance throughout your training.
- Cost: Consider the instructor’s fees and the overall cost of training. While it’s important to find an instructor who fits your budget, keep in mind that the cheapest option may not always be the best one. It’s essential to strike a balance between affordability and quality instruction.
- Ask for recommendations: Reach out to fellow pilots or aviation communities, such as online forums or local flying clubs, for recommendations. Personal experiences and testimonials can provide valuable insights into the quality of a flight instructor.
Remember, the right flight instructor can make all the difference in your pilot training experience. Take your time to evaluate your options and find an instructor who not only meets the necessary qualifications but also complements your learning style and helps you achieve your aviation goals.
Throughout pilot training, a pilot-in-training must pass various exams and assessments to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and proficiency in flying. These assessments typically include written tests, oral exams, and practical flight tests. Here’s an overview of each type of assessment:
- Written tests: Written tests, also known as knowledge tests, assess a pilot’s theoretical knowledge in areas such as aerodynamics, aircraft systems, navigation, meteorology, aviation regulations, and flight planning. These exams usually consist of multiple-choice questions and are administered by the relevant aviation authority or an authorized testing center. Depending on the type of pilot’s license, there may be different written tests to take, such as a Private Pilot Knowledge Test or a Commercial Pilot Knowledge Test.
- Oral exams: Oral exams are conducted by an examiner and are designed to evaluate a pilot’s understanding of aviation concepts, decision-making abilities, and situational awareness. During an oral exam, the examiner may ask questions about various topics, such as aircraft systems, weather, flight planning, emergency procedures, and aviation regulations. The oral exam typically takes place on the same day as the practical flight test and serves as a precursor to the actual flight portion of the test.
- Practical flight tests: Also known as checkrides, practical flight tests assess a pilot’s ability to safely and competently operate an aircraft in various flight conditions and scenarios. The test is conducted by an authorized examiner and consists of a series of maneuvers and procedures that the pilot must perform to demonstrate their proficiency. During the practical flight test, the examiner will evaluate the pilot’s pre-flight preparations, takeoff, navigation, aircraft handling, emergency procedures, and landing skills, among other aspects.
The specific exams and assessments required depend on the type of pilot’s license being pursued. For example, a Private Pilot License (PPL) candidate will take a different set of exams than a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) candidate. The exams and assessments also vary depending on the country and its aviation regulations.
To ensure success in these exams and assessments, it’s essential to thoroughly prepare through ground school, flight lessons, self-study, and practice.
Utilize available resources, such as textbooks, online courses, and practice exams, to enhance your understanding and build your confidence for the actual tests. Additionally, work closely with your flight instructor to address any areas of weakness or concern before taking the exams.
Building flight experience
Building flight hours and gaining various types of experience during flight training is crucial for several reasons, contributing to a pilot’s overall competence, safety, and career advancement. Here are some key aspects of the importance of accumulating flight hours and diverse experiences during training:
- Skill development: As with any skill, practice is essential for improvement. The more flight hours you accumulate, the more comfortable and proficient you become in handling the aircraft. This leads to increased confidence in your abilities and improved decision-making skills in various flight situations.
- Exposure to diverse conditions: Gaining experience in different weather conditions, airspace types, and terrain helps you become a more adaptable and resourceful pilot. Encountering and managing various scenarios during training prepares you to handle real-world situations with greater competence and confidence.
- Meeting licensing requirements: A minimum number of flight hours is required to obtain different pilot licenses and ratings. For example, you’ll need at least 35-40 hours for a Private Pilot License (PPL) and around 200-250 hours for a Commercial Pilot License (CPL), depending on your country’s regulations. Building flight hours is necessary to progress in your aviation journey and achieve your goals.
- Enhancing employability: For those pursuing a career in aviation, accumulating flight hours and diverse experience can improve your employability. Airlines and other aviation employers often require a minimum number of flight hours for pilot positions. Moreover, having experience in various flight conditions, aircraft types, and operational environments can make you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.
- Networking opportunities: Building flight hours often involves flying with different instructors, pilots, and passengers. This provides an opportunity to expand your professional network, learn from others’ experiences, and gain valuable insights into the aviation industry.
- Developing good judgment and decision-making: The more time you spend flying, the more you’ll encounter situations that require sound judgment and decision-making. Gaining experience in diverse conditions helps you develop the ability to assess risks, make informed decisions, and manage unexpected situations effectively.
- Pursuing advanced ratings and endorsements: As you gain flight hours and experience, you may choose to pursue advanced ratings and endorsements, such as an Instrument Rating (IR) or Multi-Engine Rating. These additional qualifications can enhance your skill set, making you a more versatile and capable pilot.
In summary, building flight hours and gaining various types of experience during flight training is essential for skill development, increased safety, and career advancement. It helps pilots become more adaptable, resourceful, and confident in their abilities, ultimately contributing to a safer and more successful aviation journey.
Networking and mentorship
Networking and mentorship play significant roles in becoming a pilot, offering valuable support and guidance throughout your aviation journey. Here are some reasons why networking and mentorship are essential in the process of becoming a pilot:
- Knowledge sharing: Connecting with experienced pilots, instructors, and aviation professionals allows you to learn from their experiences and gain insights into the industry. This knowledge sharing can help you avoid common pitfalls, enhance your skills, and make more informed decisions throughout your training and career.
- Career opportunities: Networking can lead to potential job opportunities, as many aviation positions are filled through referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations. By building a strong professional network, you increase your chances of being considered for job openings or being connected with potential employers.
- Access to resources: Networking with other pilots and aviation professionals can provide access to valuable resources, such as study materials, flight training tools, and advice on selecting the right flight school or instructor. This access to resources can save you time and money during your training.
- Emotional support: Flight training can be challenging and stressful at times. Having a mentor or a network of peers to lean on for emotional support can help you navigate the ups and downs of your journey more effectively. Sharing experiences and learning from others’ successes and failures can be motivating and reassuring.
- Professional development: A mentor can provide guidance, constructive feedback, and encouragement throughout your training and career. They can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and develop strategies for overcoming challenges. This support can lead to personal and professional growth, making you a more competent and confident pilot.
- Building a reputation: Networking and mentorship can help you build a positive reputation within the aviation community. Being known as a dedicated, responsible, and skilled pilot can open doors to opportunities and contribute to your long-term success in the industry.
- Staying current: The aviation industry is constantly evolving, with new technologies, regulations, and best practices emerging regularly. Networking with other professionals and having a mentor can help you stay up-to-date with the latest developments and ensure that your skills and knowledge remain current.
In summary, networking and mentorship are essential for personal and professional growth, providing valuable knowledge, resources, and support throughout your journey to becoming a pilot.
By actively engaging with the aviation community and building strong relationships, you can enhance your skills, increase your employability, and ultimately achieve greater success in your career. Gliding was invaluable during my flight training – being able to mix with like-minded people, including those who were already flying commercially.
There are numerous career paths available for pilots, ranging from commercial aviation to specialized fields. The choice of career path often depends on personal interests, skills, and qualifications. Here are some popular career paths for pilots:
- Airline Pilot: This is one of the most sought-after career paths, where pilots work for commercial airlines flying passengers and cargo on domestic and international routes. Airline pilots typically begin as first officers (co-pilots) and progress to become captains after gaining experience and seniority.
- Corporate Pilot: Corporate pilots fly private jets or turboprop aircraft for corporations, business executives, or wealthy individuals. They often have more flexible schedules and fly to a wider range of airports compared to airline pilots.
- Charter Pilot: Charter pilots work for on-demand air charter services, flying passengers or cargo to various destinations. This role offers a more flexible schedule and diverse flying experiences, as charter pilots often fly to different locations on each flight.
- Cargo Pilot: Cargo pilots fly for companies like FedEx, UPS, or DHL, transporting goods and packages worldwide. These pilots often fly at night and have less interaction with passengers, but the job can provide a stable and well-paying career.
- Flight Instructor: Flight instructors teach student pilots how to fly and help experienced pilots maintain their skills or earn additional ratings. This career path allows pilots to share their knowledge and passion for flying while building flight hours and gaining valuable experience.
- Military Pilot: Military pilots serve in their country’s armed forces, flying fighter jets, transport aircraft, or helicopters for various missions such as combat, reconnaissance, or humanitarian aid. This career path can offer extensive training, unique flying experiences, and opportunities for advancement within the military.
- Regional Airline Pilot: Regional airline pilots typically fly smaller aircraft on shorter routes, connecting smaller airports to major hubs. This career path can be a stepping stone for pilots looking to gain experience and eventually transition to major airlines.
- Agricultural Pilot: Also known as crop dusters, agricultural pilots fly specially equipped aircraft to spray crops with pesticides, fertilizers, or seeds. This career path requires specialized training and precision flying skills.
- Bush Pilot: Bush pilots fly small aircraft in remote areas, providing transportation, cargo delivery, and emergency services to isolated communities. This career path often involves flying in challenging weather conditions and rugged terrain, requiring exceptional flying skills and adaptability.
- Air Ambulance Pilot: Air ambulance pilots fly specially equipped aircraft to transport patients, medical personnel, and equipment for emergency medical services or inter-hospital transfers. This career path requires the ability to handle high-pressure situations and a strong commitment to safety.
These are just a few examples of the many career paths available for pilots. Each path has its unique challenges and rewards, and the choice often depends on personal preferences, skills, and qualifications. It’s essential to research and explore different options to find the best fit for your interests and career goals.
Tips for success
Becoming a successful pilot requires dedication, hard work, and a strategic approach to training and career development. Here are some tips for aspiring pilots to help them achieve success:
- Set clear goals: Define your career objectives and create a roadmap to achieve them. Determine which pilot’s license or rating you want to pursue, research the requirements, and set a timeline for completing each step.
- Choose the right flight school: Select a reputable flight school with experienced instructors, a well-maintained fleet, and a positive learning environment. Research different schools, read reviews, and visit them in person to find the best fit for your needs.
- Stay disciplined and committed: Consistency is key in flight training. Maintain a regular schedule for lessons, allocate time for self-study, and stay focused on your goals. Motivation and discipline will help you progress more efficiently through your training.
- Emphasize safety: Prioritize safety in all aspects of your training and flying. Develop a strong foundation in risk management, decision-making, and emergency procedures. Being a safety-conscious pilot will make you a more responsible and valuable asset in the aviation industry.
- Network and find a mentor: Connect with fellow pilots, instructors, and aviation professionals to build a supportive network. Seek out a mentor who can offer guidance, advice, and encouragement throughout your journey.
- Embrace continuous learning: Stay curious and never stop learning. The aviation industry is constantly evolving, and staying up-to-date with new technologies, regulations, and best practices is essential for success. Attend seminars, read industry publications, and participate in online forums to enhance your knowledge.
- Practice and build flight hours: The more you fly, the more proficient and confident you’ll become. Take advantage of opportunities to build flight hours, such as volunteering for charity flights, participating in flying clubs, or working as a flight instructor.
- Stay physically and mentally fit: Flying can be demanding, and maintaining good physical and mental health is crucial. Develop a regular exercise routine, maintain a healthy diet, and prioritize sleep to ensure optimal performance in the cockpit.
- Develop strong communication skills: Effective communication is vital for pilots, both on the ground and in the air. Work on developing clear, concise communication skills to ensure smooth interactions with air traffic controllers, flight crews, and passengers.
- Stay adaptable and resilient: Aviation can be an unpredictable industry, and pilots need to adapt to changing circumstances, such as weather, equipment issues, or regulatory changes. Cultivate a resilient mindset and learn to adapt to challenges as they arise.
By following these tips and remaining dedicated to your goals, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful pilot. Stay focused, stay motivated, and enjoy the journey!
Personal anecdotes/ my story
My first access to flying came with the air cadets when I was at school. The air cadet organisation was phenomenal for me – a 20-30 minute flight once or twice a year in the Grob 115 tutor. That then led to a Gliding Scholarship and Advanced Glider Training course.
Finally, I was lucky to win a Flying scholarship towards the end of school, providing 12 hours of flying towards my PPL.
At University, I could not afford to pay £150 per hour for flight training, so my friends and I formed a gliding society. University gliding was a cheap way to keep flying, and we also had a lot of fun as most of gliding involves sitting around waiting for the weather or aircraft to return!!
Towards the end of University, I was awarded a PPL scholarship by the Honourable Company of Air Pilots. I started graduate life in oil and gas as a mechanical engineer, and I flew when I could, but life took over. I had a lot of university debt to pay back and then later needed to buy a house etc.; affording flying training was less of a priority.
When the oil price collapsed in 2013, my job in oil and gas was at risk. I was fortunate to keep my job, but that was the wake-up call I needed!
I dusted off my PPL and, around my job, evenings and weekends, went through modular pilot training to gain for frozen ATPL (CPL with Multi Engine Instrument Rating) in around 12 months.
I got a job soon after, flying the 737 as a first officer in 2018, and I am currently going through the process for my Captains upgrade!
- Set clear goals and create a roadmap: Determine the pilot’s license or rating you want to pursue, research the requirements, and set a timeline for achieving your objectives.
- Choose the right flight school: Research different flight schools, read reviews, and visit them in person to find the one that best suits your needs.
- Stay disciplined and committed: Consistency is crucial in flight training. Maintain a regular schedule for lessons, allocate time for self-study, and stay focused on your goals.
- Emphasize safety: Prioritize safety in your training and flying by developing a strong foundation in risk management, decision-making, and emergency procedures.
- Network and find a mentor: Connect with fellow pilots, instructors, and aviation professionals to build a supportive network and seek guidance from a mentor.
- Embrace continuous learning: Stay up-to-date with new technologies, regulations, and best practices by attending seminars, reading industry publications, and participating in online forums.
- Practice and build flight hours: Take advantage of opportunities to build flight hours and gain diverse experiences to become a more proficient and confident pilot.
- Stay physically and mentally fit: Maintain good physical and mental health through regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep to ensure optimal performance in the cockpit.
- Develop strong communication skills: Work on improving your communication skills to ensure smooth interactions with air traffic controllers, flight crews, and passengers.
- Stay adaptable and resilient: Cultivate a resilient mindset and learn to adapt to challenges in the unpredictable aviation industry.
Becoming a pilot is a rewarding and fulfilling journey that requires dedication, hard work, and a strategic approach to training and career development. Remember, every successful pilot once started where you are now. Stay focused, stay motivated, and embrace the adventure ahead. Your dream of becoming a pilot is within reach – believe in yourself and take that first step towards the sky!
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.