Becoming a pilot doesn’t happen overnight, but it might not take as long as you think either. There are very defined steps to getting your pilot’s license. So, how long does it take to become a pilot? The amount of time it takes to learn to fly depends on what kind of pilot’s license you’re seeking, and how much time you can commit to the process. Having access to flight hours and certified instruction is a big part of passing exams and requirements. In this article, we’ll break down the types of pilot licenses you can get, and how long each one takes to get.

Types of Pilot Licenses

There are several types of pilot licenses you can go for:

  • Student Pilot
  • Sport Pilot
  • Recreational Pilot
  • Private Pilot
  • Commercial Pilot
  • Airline Transport Pilot

How Long Does it Take to Get Your Pilot License?

Starting off right is critical to speeding up the process of getting a pilot license. Taking shortcuts or attending subpar flight schools can lead to bad habits and delay the process. Ideally, becoming a pilot should only take 3 to 4 years, the same amount of time it takes to get a Bachelor of Scient in Professional Flight.

Student Pilot Certificate

To become a student pilot, you have to get instruction from a certified instructor and pass the FAA Student Pilot knowledge tests. The amount of time it will take depends on the program. You will need to meet the following requirements:

  • 16+ years old
  • Third-class FAA Medical Certificate
  • English fluency
  • A valid driver’s license
  • Pass the FAA knowledge tests for student pilots
  • Approval by an FAA-Designated Pilot Examiner or FAA Inspector
  • Acknowledgement that you cannot take passengers with a student certificate

How long it takes to get your student pilot certificate is not a set number of hours. Your instructor will give you an endorsement that allows you to fly solo when you have mastered these basic maneuvers:

  • Safe takeoffs
  • Safe landings
  • Maintaining positive control of your aircraft
  • Consistent demonstration of good judgment and safety

Sport Pilot Certificate

You have to first have your student pilot certificate and log 20 hours of flight time before you can be certified as a sport pilot. This certification allows you to fly an aircraft this is:

  • Light Sport Aircraft (LSA)
  • 51 mph max landing configuration
  • 138 mph max straight and level flying
  • No more than 2 seats
  • Fixed pitch or ground adjustable propeller
  • Fixed landing gear

Additionally, sports pilots cannot fly: 

  • After dark
  • In controlled airspace
  • Outside the US without permission 
  • Above 10,000 feet
  • With passengers
  • In visibility less than 3 miles
  • In an LSA that goes more than 100mph without training
  • Property for pay

Recreational Pilot Certificate

A recreational pilot certificate has more restrictions than a private pilot certificate. You have to be at least 17 years old and have a sport or student certificate. In addition, you’ll need to log 30 hours of flight time. 15 of those hours must be training.

Unlike a private pilot certification, a recreational pilot cannot: 

  • Fly further than 50 nautical miles from the airport where their training occurred
  • Fly in any airspace where communication with air traffic control is required
  • Fly at night
  • Have no more than 4 seats in the plane
  • Earn money from flying
  • Fly more than 1 passenger

Private Pilot Certificate

A private pilot certificate requires that you first complete your student pilot certificate. Once you have that, a private pilot license only requires:

  • Valid driver’ license
  • Minimum of 35 varied flight hours, including night training
  • Passing FAA knowledge and practical tests
  • Third class FAA Medical Certificate

A private pilot license allows you to fly passengers and most airplanes. However, you cannot be hired or paid for flights.

Commercial Pilot Certificate

A commercial pilot, as you might guess, requires a much higher standard of knowledge and training. Commercial pilots are able to fly professionally.

The standards for a commercial pilot certificate are rigorous. You must:

  • Be 18+ years old
  • Have a second-class FAA Medical Certificate
  • Have a private pilot certificate
  • Be a fluent English speaker
  • Pass the training and log hours for single-/multi-engine land class rating requirements
  • 150 to 250 hours of piloting time
  • Pass an aeronautics written test of 100 questions
  • Pass FAA oral and flight tests by FAA Inspector, FAA-designated examiner, or authorized check instructor

While you can be paid for flying, this license does not let you fly passengers for hire. You can fly for crop dusting, cargo, aerial photography, or other vocations.

Airline Transport Pilot Certificate

This is the certificate most people who imagine being a pilot aim for. Airline Transport Pilots (ATP’s) are allowed to fly people in commercial airlines and other aircraft professionally.

ATP Requirements in addition to the commercial pilot certificate:

  • 1500+ hours of flight time, including 100 night flight hours and 500 hours cross-country
  • 23+ years old
  • Instrument rating
  • Good moral character
  • Extensive written test

Find out more about becoming a top-tier professional pilot with the most comprehensive knowledge and an incredible edge in training and getting in the air.

Ready to Get Started in Aviation?

Thinking about getting a pilot certificate or starting a career in aviation? The demand for pilots is high, and the rewards are big. Book your discovery flight today and find out how CTI can get you started in aviation.

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