How long does it take to become a pilot?

If you’re thinking about becoming a pilot, you’re probably wondering how long does it take to become a pilot and when will you get your license. After all, you’re going to want to know what you’re committing to before you start.

There are many answers to this question, depending on your goals and how you plan to use your license. Whether you choose to simply fly for fun or get paid to fly, if you’re like most people, you’ll start your journey to becoming a pilot by getting your private pilot license.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the government agency that licenses pilots, student pilots need to complete a minimum of forty hours of flight training before taking a checkride with an examiner. The national average is much higher, between 60–80 hours, depending who you ask.

Why does it take so long?

There are many factors that affect how long people take to earn their private pilot license. They include:

How often you fly

People who fly two or more times a week will retain their skills and earn their license in fewer hours, saving them time and money in the long run.

What kind of aircraft you fly

Many newer aircraft are equipped with sophisticated computerized “glass” cockpits rivaling those on airliners and which take time to master.

How old the aircraft you fly are

Airplanes are expensive. Unlike cars, most schools choose to keep costs down by flying older aircraft. But, like cars, older aircraft often need to spend more time being maintained to make sure they are safe and reliable.

Your natural ability

Some people have a good feeling for the controls of an aircraft, while others struggle to figure out how to maneuver in three dimensions. Needless to say, everything gets more difficult as we age.

Your flight school

The FAA views most flight schools as a unrelated group of instructors teaching people to fly. Regulated under Part 61 or the Federal Aviation Regulations, they are different from the Part 141 flight schools that offer a more structured approach to training.

Your instructor

An instructor puts their license on the line every time they sign your logbook and submit a student for a checkride. Instructors need to trust that the student not only knows how to fly the airplane but can also make good decisions.

Your location

Believe it or not, where you are located will make a difference in the time it takes for you to become a pilot. Schools in states with consistently good weather are able to fly more frequently throughout the year with fewer delays caused by winds, fog, clouds, rain and snow.

How to get your license more quickly

So what can you do to become a pilot more quickly? Fortunately there are several things you can do to shorten the time it takes to get your license.

Fly more frequently

The most important thing you can do is fly more frequently. A lot of learning to fly includes being able to consistently perform maneuvers to a high standard. Just like an athlete regularly practices drills, you will become better and more proficient if you fly two or three times a week. Organizations like AOPA offer lines of credit to help manage the cost of flying more frequently.

Choose the right aircraft for you

If you’re planning a career as a pilot, it makes sense to start flying the “glass” cockpit equipment and procedures you’ll be using as a professional. But if you are starting out flying for fun, simpler is often better.

Examiners and the FAA expect pilots to be able to use all of the available equipment in their aircraft, which means you’ll need to be able to demonstrate proficiency using all kinds of things you may not plan to use after the checkride. Once you are comfortable flying an airplane with a simple instrument panel and a radio, you can take the time to transition into something more complicated if you need it.

But …

Like cars, most new aircraft are fitted with the latest equipment. Which means if you find a traditionally equipped aircraft it is likely to be older. Schools with more aircraft or ones that do their own maintenance are more likely to be able to seamlessly manage schedules when an aircraft is unable for maintenance.

Choose the right school for you

Most flight schools operate under Part 61 of the FAA regulations. Because they are less structured than their Part 141 counterparts, they can offer a more flexible syllabus that might work better for your schedule. But if you are flying several times a week, working towards a career in the airlines, you may find the Part 141 school more suited to your goals.

Choose the right instructor for you

Having a good working relationship with your instructor is perhaps the most important decision you can make. You’ll be spending the best part of eighty hours sitting next to them, often in deliberately stressful situations. It’s important that both of you can trust each other so that you can grow and learn. Don’t be shy about meeting with several instructors, and perhaps even sitting down over a coffee to see if you click.

Be prepared

Your instructor won’t sign you off for your checkride with an examiner until they are sure you are prepared to pass the exam. So the best thing you can do for your training is to make sure you are prepared and ready for each lesson.

One of the best ways to do this is by practicing all of your maneuvers by visualizing them while sitting in a chair at home. Working through your checklists, and physically moving your hands and feet in response to the controls is a great way to build muscle memory so that it becomes second nature in the cockpit. The best part is, flying a chair at home is free, which means you get more value for each dollar you spend flying a real airplane.

Fly a simulator

Schools that offer a simulator usually find that students benefit from flying it and complete their training in less time. Some of the reasons include being able to practice maneuvers repeatedly without having to spend time taking off and flying out to the practice area and back, making them efficient teaching tools. Simulators can often be rented more cheaply than real aircraft too, which means they are an invaluable tool for becoming a pilot more quickly.

Choose the right ground school

Textbook material forms a big part of your training. Everybody learns in different ways, which means what’s best for some people won’t work for others. Perhaps you benefit from a classroom environment with questions and comments from other students. Or maybe you work better one on one with an individual instructor. The most cost-effective way to complete your ground school is using one of the many courses available online. If you want self-paced training you can perform in your own time, online ground school is the best choice for you.

Learning to fly is a rewarding endeavor and a dream for many students. By choosing the right school, aircraft, and instructor, you can reach that goal quicker and get more value for your training dollar.