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How to Become a Pilot: 7 Essential Steps to Take

Posted by Michael Valente on


Have you always dreamed of flying but don't know where to start? Do you think getting your pilot's license will be too expensive to even try? 

We're here to provide information and dispel myths about learning to fly with the 7 essential steps to take to become a pilot

Step 1 - Research what type of pilot's license you want to earn.

There are several different types of FAA licenses issued for pilots, each with different requirements and privileges. Civilian pilots fly aircraft of all types for pleasure, charity, or in pursuance of a business, or commercially for non-scheduled (charter) and scheduled passenger and cargo air carriers (airlines), corporate aviation, agriculture, forest fire control, law enforcement, and more. Here's a quick breakdown:

Sport Pilot's License - A Sport Pilot's License allows a pilot to fly light sport aircraft (aircraft certified and limited to 1,320 lbs of weight and no more than two seats) without the need for an FAA medical.

There are several restrictions with this license; a sport pilot is not allowed to fly at night or in some of the busiest airspace in the U.S. This pilot's license is a good fit for recreational flyers or those who are just starting out. 

Private Pilot's LicenseThe Private Pilot's License is the most common license issued by the FAA and the license most commercial pilot's start with. It carries many more privileges than the Sport License. The holder of a Private Pilot's License has no restrictions to the size of aircraft they fly (with specific training exceptions), how far they fly, or the time of day they fly. However, the holder of a Private Pilot's License may not be paid to fly.

Here are the basic requirements to get your Private Pilot's License:

  • Be at least 17 years of age (you can hold a student pilot's certificate at 16)
  • Acquire at least a third class FAA medical 
  • Pass a written exam
  • Log a a minimum of 40 hours of flight time
  • Pass a practical test (check ride)

The average cost to earn a Private Pilot's License is around $10,000.


Commercial Pilot's License - The Commercial Pilot's License allows pilots to fly  for compensation or hire. There are restrictions to type of operations a commercial pilot can fly. For instance, a Commercial Pilot License holder cannot fly for an airline. 

Here are the requirements for a Commercial Pilot's License:

  • Must already posses a Private Pilot's license
  • Hold at least a 2nd class FAA medical
  • Log 250 hours of flight time
  • Pass a written test
  • Pass a practical test (check ride)


Airline Transport Pilot Certificate - This certificate, commonly called an ATP, is the highest certificate the FAA issues. It allows pilots to fly for airlines and other flight operations that require an ATP.

The requirements for an ATP vary depending on the type of flight training you have logged, your education background, and military service. 




Step 2 - Find a local airport that offers flight training.

For some reason, this is a big hold-up for people exploring the possibility of flight training. They may think flight lessons aren't offered near them or the cost of training is too high. 

In reality, there are 2212 airports in the United States, most of those are smaller, county airports that serve local communities. Most of these airports offer flight training and are happy to take on prospective students. Even large cities will have smaller airports that are more accessible for smaller planes. 




Step 3 - Schedule an introductory flight.

An introductory flight is usually a relatively short flight (about an hour or less) that lets you take the controls and get a taste of flying. That's right - you'll actually be able to fly on your first flight! (With supervision, of course).

The introductory flight is an important first step because you want to know if flying is something you'll enjoy before investing a lot of time and money.

Step 4 - Enroll in a ground school course.

Depending on the type of flight instruction you'll be receiving (Part 61 vs Part 141), there may be different requirements regarding your flight training. In Part 141 flight programs (highly structured and FAA approved training courses), you will most likely be required to complete ground school before flying.

Be sure to learn as much as you can in ground school - it will save you time and money on your flight lessons. No, really!

Step 5 - Acquire an FAA Medical.

In order to exercise the privileges of a pilot's license in the United States (except for sport licenses), pilots must have an FAA medical issued to them. These medicals are given from FAA certified doctors - a quick google search should find several around your area. 

To fly as a private pilot, you need at least a 3rd class medical, but if you plan on being a commercial or airline pilot someday it may be smart to get a 1st class medical to make sure you are medically qualified before investing thousands of dollars. 




Step 6 - Start your flight training.

This is the fun part! It's best to do your homework and show up prepared for your flights. The more you can study and learn on your own, the more you'll get out of your training and the more money you will save!

Remember to relax and have fun, that's the whole reason we fly in the first place!

Step 7 - Take your check ride. 

The check ride is the practical test you will take with an FAA-certified examiner. This test involves a ground portion, where the examiner will ask you questions across many different subject areas, and a flight portion where you'll go through all the maneuvers you've done during training.

Upon completion of your check ride, you will have officially earned your pilot's license and officially become a pilot!

Did you find this guide useful? Do you have more questions that haven't been answered. Let us know in the comments. We'd love to hear from you.


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