How Long Does It Take To Become A Pilot?

There are a number of occupations that take a long time to achieve and require a lot of upfront work.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Pilot?

Careers in the medical and legal professions spring to mind when we consider an intensive learning curve that requires time and patience.

But what about becoming a pilot? Is there a steep learning curve, or can you be flying in the air within months of starting your journey?

What Type Of License Do You Require?

How long it will take to learn to fly will ultimately depend on the type of license you are looking to obtain, of which there are several different types.

Just like learning to drive a forklift, or a big 18-wheeler is different from learning to drive a car, you are going to need to go through a specific course of training to qualify for your chosen pilot’s license.

Some of the common licenses you would expect to see being applied for are:

Within each category will be a different set of requirements that need to be filled, which we’ll explore now.

Private Pilot

Becoming a private pilot is your first step to getting a license. Private pilots are allowed to carry passengers for compensation and/or hire out their aircraft.

It is also possible for them to use their own equipment and hire out a crew to fly their plane.

They can fly planes up to 180 kg gross weight per person and over 120 nm but no more than 30 hours a month.

This license has one of the highest barriers to entry compared to all other licenses.

The minimum age requirement to apply for a private pilot license is 17 (although some states allow 16-year-olds).

If you are a student pilot and are starting from scratch, it can take anywhere from 4-6 months to become a private pilot.

Many students will be able to go on their first solo flight within 2 months, although some will take longer to build up their skills and confidence.

Commercial Pilot

For anybody that is interested in becoming a commercial pilot, and making this a career option, once they have obtained their private license, they should look to obtain their commercial license.

If a private license takes on average around 4-6 months to qualify for, a commercial license will take approximately 3-4 months on top of this time frame.

Depending on the path they take, this might end up being around 10-12 months.

However, one thing to note is that being a commercial pilot is not the same thing as being an airline pilot.

Obtaining commercial pilot status means you earn a CPL certificate, which means you can be paid to fly.

However an airline pilot will require this certificate, as well as an instrument rating and enough hours of light experience which can be anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 hours of flight behind their belts.

Airline Transport Pilot

What most people mean when they say “how long does it take to learn to fly?”, usually falls into this category.

If we factor in the 10-12 months it will take to obtain a private pilot license and the commercial pilot license, you still need that flight experience to qualify for airline transport pilot status.

With the 1,000 to 1,500 hours on top of the licenses, we can make a rough estimate that it can take anywhere from 2-3 years, which is the length of most college courses.

Some flight schools will aim for the lower end of this average, and some pilots will move through the training quicker based on several other factors.

What Are Some Of The Factors?

What Are Some Of The Factors?

Now we know that there are different types of pilots’ licenses, it’s time to define how long it will take you to be able to fly on your own or with a co-pilot.

Just like learning to drive is not a linear process, neither is learning to fly, and many of the factors that determine how long it will take to learn to drive and earn a license are similar to how long it takes to fly.

Practice And Confidence

One of the most common factors that determine how quickly you will be able to fly is how much time and practice you put into learning.

Whilst we appreciate that some are going to pick up the reins a lot quicker than others, time under tension is one of the most important factors that play into the speed of learning to fly.

Becoming accustomed to flying and repeating the process over and over significantly shortens your time to a license, so simply practicing is an element that cannot be overlooked.

This obviously doesn’t give a concrete answer, but the mindset of accepting that you need to put the reps and sets in will hopefully ease the pressure of needing to fly-in days.

As for some, it may take longer. A lot longer. What often comes accompanied by practice is how confident you feel.

Many beginner pilots will take a while to get used to the feeling of controlling an airplane or similar, and how relaxed and at ease you feel will change the barometer of time to license.

Instructor Level And Compatibility

An often-overlooked element of learning to fly is how competent and effective your instructor is.

No one instructor is built the same as another, and there are most certainly some instructors that are less qualified or skilled than others.

That’s why it’s important to consider how well-rated your flight school is, and whether the instructors come well recommended.

We recommend that before you commit to a particular flight school, you take the opportunity to research your chosen options, or perhaps create a shortlist, highlighting some of the features and benefits of each, and going through a process of trial and elimination.

Full-Time Or Part-Time?

As with practice will come how often you get that practice done.

40 hours spread over 20 weeks is going to take you a lot longer than the person who commits to an intensive course in half the time.

Choosing to either go through a full-time accelerated training program or a flexible part-time training program will come down to a lot of factors.

For example, you may want a full-time career in wanting to become a commercial pilot and have zero responsibilities, in which you can commit to a more intensive training program.

This will dramatically differ from the full-time worker with two kids and a partner that only wants to fly privately on the weekends.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the time spent is always going to depend upon the individual learner, as it should.

However, students must understand that whilst they may think they’re ready to start now, it’s better to wait until they are really ready to ensure that they do themselves justice when they finally do begin.

If you’ve already taken your Private Pilot Certificate, congratulations! You deserve to enjoy the rewards of being a pilot.

It won’t be easy without the support of your instructor, however, so make sure to find out who your instructor is beforehand.

Been flying for years? Do not worry about having to retrain due to changes in regulations. There are plenty of ways to keep your skills current.

From private lessons, ground school, and advanced programs to online courses, there is something for everyone.

Jacob Stern
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