How Long Does It Take To Become a Pilot? (FAA Requirements)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 21, 2022 | Published November 23, 2020

Updated July 21, 2022

Published November 23, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

two pilots sit in a cockpit of an airplane

Pilots have challenging roles that require a lot of training, so the amount of time it takes to become one will vary based on what kind of pilot you want to become.

In this article, we explore how long it takes to become a pilot and the core requirements for each type of pilot license, as well as an explanation of the most common types of pilot certifications for those considering careers in aviation.

How long does it take to become a pilot?

It takes only three weeks of training to get a student pilot license, but it can take considerably longer to meet the requirements for flying commercial, private or multi-engine aircraft. What and how you want to fly will determine how long you’ll spend training.

If your goal is to fly a passenger plane on a commercial airline, you’ll need to train, practice and certify as regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which will take at least two years.

Related: How To Write a Pilot Resume

Consult the table below to determine how long it takes for each type of pilot license approved by the FAA:

Type of pilot license Required by FAA? Will take at least Usually takes about Required flight hours
Student Pilot License (SPL) Required for learning 20-25 hours Three weeks N/A
Private Pilot License (PPL) Required for flying
any aircraft solo
Three months Six to 12 months 40
Commercial Pilot License (CPL) Minimum requirement
to fly professionally
12 weeks Six to 24 months 250
Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Optional (only required
of instructors)
Three weeks Two to three months None
Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Minimum requirement to
fly as pilot in command
for an airline
At least two years Three to five years 1,500 (or less with some degrees or military standings)
Multi-Engine rating Required to fly as pilot in
command for routes involving aircraft with multiple engines
10-15 hours About two weeks None

Types of FAA-approved program certificates

Here are the most common types of pilot certifications for those considering careers in aviation, although the list is not exhaustive:

Student pilot certificate

Training takes about three weeks and prepares you for the next steps toward your pilot career.

Related: How Much Does It Cost To Get a Pilot's License?

Private Pilot (PPL)

Training typically takes six to 12 months with a minimum of 40 logged flying hours. You must get certified as a private pilot before getting your commercial pilot certificate. Private pilots learn to maneuver a single-engine airplane without assistance from a copilot. This is not a professional certification.

Related: 15 In-Demand Pilot Jobs (Plus Duties and Salaries)

Commercial Pilot (CPL)

While training can technically be accelerated enough to complete within 12 weeks, the additional training it takes for this license is more likely to take six to nine months and must include 250 hours of logged flying hours.

After getting your commercial pilot certificate, you can fly professionally, though you will still not be qualified to fly large aircraft transporting passengers on a major airline. With a CPL you could work teaching skydiving, providing flight instruction, crop dusting, banner towing, operating flying tours or in a number of on-the-ground positions related to flying.

Read more: How To Become a Commercial Pilot: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Certified Flight Instructor (CFI)

This certificate is only required if you want to instruct, rate and/or endorse student pilots on their own paths toward flight certification. It is not uncommon to become a flight instructor while on the longer path toward higher certification, which allows you to earn an income while also earning your required flight hours.

Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)

Training time varies though some schools offer programs as short as nine months. In addition to schooling, you must log 1,500 flight hours, although the flight requirement can be reduced for military pilots or those holding associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in aviation. This certification is the bare minimum requirement to work as a pilot for an airline.

Read more: How To Become an Airline Pilot: Steps and Requirements

Multi-Engine rating (ME)

This additional rating takes just a few weeks and is a minimum requirement to work as a pilot in command for any airline.

In addition to schooling and flight hours, you’ll need to allow time for registering for and passing your exams and meeting the other requirements.

Related: FAQ: Do You Need a College Degree To Be a Pilot?

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements

Before pilots can be certified, they need to be able to meet FAA requirements. The FAA is the organization through which the US Department of Transportation monitors all flights in the United States and surrounding international skies, including space. The FAA requires that eligible pilots:

1. Meet the age requirements

Age requirements vary depending upon where you are in your journey toward a pilot’s career as follows:

  • No age requirement to operate a plane with a certified plane instructor

  • 16 years of age to operate a plane solo

  • 17 years old to earn a private pilot certificate

  • 18 years old to operate

  • 23 years old to qualify for an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate

Related: How To Become a Pilot: Flight School Requirements

2. Obtain a medical certificate

There are three classes of medical certificates you can obtain to become a pilot depending on the certificate you are pursuing. Each certification documents that you have passable health related to your vision, hearing, equilibrium, mental health and neurological and cardiovascular functioning.

First-class medical certificate

This is the highest class available and has the strictest standards, lasting either six or 12 months depending upon your age. If you’re considering ATP certification to acquire a high-ranking, pilot-in-command title or are a commercial pilot over 60 years old, you will need this distinction. The first-class designation has more rigid requirements, such as passing an electrocardiogram (EKG) to measure cardiovascular functioning.

Second-class medical certificate

Any pilot exercising the privileges of a commercial pilot will need this certification annually. Although less intensive than first class, this certificate still has very high standards for vision.

Third-class medical certificate

Third-class medical certification is required for private use pilots and lasts for 24-60 months depending upon your age. Third class checks vision, hearing, equilibrium, mental health and neurological and cardiovascular functioning to a less extensive degree than the higher qualifications.

Related: Pre-Employment Physicals: What They Are and What To Expect

3. Be proficient in English

Communication is especially crucial to safe air travel. You must be able to communicate with other flight personnel in both spoken and written English to operate US aircraft around the world.

4. Complete testing and get endorsements

All pilots must register for and complete airman knowledge and practical testing, the full requirements of which varying by license. There are many titles available to professional pilots, each having specific requirements, with captain being the highest rank.

Related: How To Become a First Officer: A Step-by-Step Guide

5. Obtain vision and/or instrument rating

All aircraft operate under either IFR or Visual Flight Rules (VFR). An instrument rating allows a pilot to fly in all weather conditions, including clouds, rain and other weather conditions that might reduce visibility and takes about 50 hours to earn with 20 hours of in-aircraft training.

While you don’t need to obtain an instrument rating for your student or private pilot license, career pilots will need to get an instrument rating. Instrument rating gives you the option to operate in Class A airspace or airspace that is above 18,000 feet.

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