How to get a pilot's license

There are several types of pilot licenses available, and the eligibility, training and experience required for each varies. Find a training program that fulfils the specific requirements for your license. Here are some tips:

Decide what type of aircraft you want to fly. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, you must have a license to legally fly an aeroplane, gyroplane, helicopter, glider or balloon. The only aircraft that does not require a pilot's license is an ultralight.

A private pilot's license is the most popular because it allows you to fly cross country, at night, with passengers, to any type of airport. A recreational pilot's license is more restricted, allowing daytime flying only, to regulated airports, within a 50-mile radius of your home airport, carrying only one passenger. Other license types are student, sport and commercial.

Consider the costs. Part-time lessons at a local airport may cost anywhere from £1,950 to £3,900, depending on location and availability. Look for places that offer discounts or free lessons when you buy in bulk.

Find an aviation school or a private instructor in your area. Small airports often offer private training, but you may also find programs by searching online through the FAA database. Ground instruction hours must be logged from an authorised instructor.

Depending on your license type, you will be required to log a set amount of flight hours. Training hours are split between flying with an instructor and flying solo. Some licenses require cross-country and nighttime flight hours. The average number of hours for basic certification is between 40 and 60.

Get an FAA third-class medical certificate. This basic medical exam must be taken before you fly solo. The medical exam must be performed by an FAA-approved pathologist. To find a doctor, ask for a directory at any FAA Flight Standards District Office, air traffic control facility, flight service station or online.

Before you take your written and in-flight exams, you must have proof of satisfactory completion from an FAA-accredited flight school.

Study for the FAA Pilot Airmen Knowledge written test and flight exam. After receiving your official certificate of completion, you are eligible to take your exams. Your flight instructor can identify the materials included in a written test, but you may also use an at-home study course to help prepare. The test for a recreational pilot license is based on material from section 61.97 of the FAA's rules, while the test for a private pilot license is based on materials from section 61.105.

Take the written test and flight exam. To find a testing centre, visit the testing centre link at the FAA's website.


The requirements for being issued a private pilot license are governed by the FAA. You must be 17 years of age to apply for a pilot's license. The Airmen Knowledge test must be completed every two years.

Things You'll Need

  • Computer
  • Internet
  • Medical exam
  • Flight school
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About the Author

Based in New York, Jillian Downer has been writing travel, fashion, and active lifestyle articles since 2004. Her work has appeared in "Travel + Leisure," "Outside Magazine," "Women's Health," "Footwear News," and "US News & World Report." Downer holds a Master of Arts in comparative literature from New York University.