How Long Does it Take to Become a Pilot and What Does it Cost?

The sky’s the limit when you’re a pilot, right? Between traveling to new destinations and exploring the world from above, it’s no wonder there were 609,000 certified American pilots in 2017.

If flying is your dream job, get familiar with the course of action to become a pilot. How long does flight school take, and what are the costs associated with achieving a license to fly? Keep reading to get the answers to your pilot questions.

Pilot Job Description

Pilots, or aviators, operate various types of aircraft in a diverse range of industries. Some pilots fly for commercial airlines while others handle private planes.

There is always a pilot, captain, and first officer (also known as a co-pilot) aboard the aircraft. The three work together to navigate the airplane and perform routine inspections.

The typical responsibilities of a pilot include:

  • Acting as a liaison between the flight crew and cockpit staff
  • Keeping passengers updated throughout the flight
  • Monitoring weather conditions and coordinating with air traffic control
  • Analyzing flight paths before takeoff
  • Operating the aircraft professionally at all times, even during an emergency

Successful pilots adhere to proper aircraft maintenance tips before, during, and after flying. Aviators perform pre- and post-flight inspections to ensure fuel, tools, and navigational systems are in tip-top shape before taking off.

In addition to these duties, pilots are also expected to be strong leaders and function under pressure. Aviators must be detail-oriented, professional, and responsible.

How to Become a Pilot

There are specific requirements all pilots must meet before obtaining their license to fly. Pilot requirements include:

  • Passing relevant tests and exams, including medical evaluations
  • Completing the required number of training hours
  • Holding a license or certification to fly

Let’s review the different paths of becoming a licensed pilot.

How to Become a Student Pilot

The first step to becoming a pilot is obtaining your student pilot certificate. These certificates are issued to pilots in training. All students must obtain a student pilot certificate before flying an aircraft solo.

Student pilots must be at least 16 years old, fluent in English, and have a valid driver’s license. They must participate in and pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s knowledge exam. The certificate is approved by an FAA Inspector. 

How long to become a student pilot? It varies between programs. An instructor will work with you to ensure you can accomplish basic airplane tasks, such as safe takeoffs, landings, control, and good judgment during flight. 

When your flight instructor believes you’re ready, they will endorse you to make a solo flight. The flight must be completed 90 days from when your flight instructor endorses you.

After completion of the flight, it takes three weeks for the FAA to issue your student pilot certificate. The SPC is valid for two years.

How to Become a Sport Pilot

Sport pilots must be at least 17 years old and fluent in English. You must complete a minimum of 20 flying hours, which includes 5 hours of solo flying and 15 hours with an instructor. 

Sport pilot flight training focuses on:

  • 2 hours of cross-country flights
  • 10 successful landings and takeoffs
  • One solo cross-country flights equalling 75 nautical miles
  • 2 hours of flight training to prep for the practical examination
  • Ground training

Sport pilots must pass an FAA exam for aeronautical knowledge areas and a practical test for using a light-sport aircraft. 

It normally takes between four and 12 weeks to become a sport pilot.

How to Become a Private Pilot

Becoming a private pilot takes a little extra time and money, but the license has a lot to offer. Private pilots can fly any type of aircraft for non-commercial purposes.

A private pilot must have a valid student pilot certificate. Once that is obtained, the pilot must possess a U.S. driver’s license, pass FAA knowledge and practical exams, and obtain an FAA Medical Certificate. The aviator must complete 35 flight hours, which includes night flying.

Most private pilot school programs take three months. However, there are fast-track programs that allow you to achieve your license in 14 days.

How to Become a Commercial Pilot

If you want to get paid for flying, you must obtain a commercial pilot license. To get a commercial license, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a second-class FAA Medical Certificate
  • Be fluent in English
  • Have a valid private pilot certificate
  • Record 150 to 250 hours of piloting
  • Pass a 100-question written aeronautic exam
  • Pass FAA flight tests by a certified FAA instructor

Commercial pilots must navigate cockpits and fly large planes with multiple engines, so the training can be intense. Most commercial pilot courses take between six and nine months. Fast-track programs can be completed in 12 weeks.

The Cost of Being a Pilot

Just like earning any other degree, pilot school and aviation certifications cost money. Let’s review the various costs associated with the different types of pilot licenses.

Student Pilot License Cost

The FAA does not charge student pilots for their certification when they apply through the Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). However, you will need to pay for instructors and examiners who help you train for the certification. The costs vary between programs and states. 

Sports Pilot License Cost

Achieving a sport pilot license requires ground and flight school. Instructors tend to charge $40 per hour for ground programs. There are also online courses available, ranging from $100 to $400 per course.

Written exams tend to cost around $500. Don’t forget to factor in the price of renting an aircraft to obtain your 20 flying hours. 

When it’s all said and done, you can estimate your cost of obtaining a sports pilot license will cost between $4,000 and $5,000.

Private Pilot License Cost

A private pilot license offers more than a recreational license, but it comes with a hefty price tag. The average cost for obtaining a private pilot license is $10,000. The prices cover flying hours, in-flight instructors, and ground training programs.

Most airplane rental fees range from $109 to $170 per hour, and you’ll need a minimum of 35 flying hours (but most pilots log 65 to 70). Instructors cost $45 per hour. Add in supplies and exam fees of $1,000 and more, and you’ll arrive at around $10,000 for your private pilot license.

Commercial Pilot License Cost

Commercial pilot licenses are one of the most expensive certifications in aviation, but they offer the most rewards. Pay up now so you can get paid for flying later.

First, you must have your private pilot license if you want your commercial license. As mentioned, a PPL costs $10,000. Add on the extra flying hours, training, and exams required, and you can expect to pay $30,000 for your commercial pilot license. 

Medical Examination Costs

Other miscellaneous costs include paying for medical certificates. To become a pilot, you need an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) to issue you a certification stating you are in sound mind and body to operate an aircraft. The evaluation can cost between $75 and $200.

Discover More Tips

How long is flight school? It depends on what type of pilot you want to be. To become a pilot, you must invest money, time, and energy into the process. But once you get up in the air, it will all be worth it.

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