How to Become a Pilot

Abigail Eun
Abigail Eun

Abigail Eun is a freelance writer and personal finance expert. Through diligent research and continuous learning, she has honed her knowledge in budgeting, saving, investing, and debt management. Abigail is passionate about helping people get their finances in order. She believes that everyone should have access to the information they need to make sound financial decisions. Her goal is to provide clear and concise information that is easy to understand.

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Daniel Kahn
Daniel Kahn
Daniel is the co-founder and COO at Sparrow. Daniel is responsible for the day-to-day operations of a company, working closely with other members of the executive team to develop and implement strategies to support the growth and success of the company.
Daniel was a 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 lister in the Education category.  Daniel was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from Duke University in 2020.
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Camden Ford
Camden Ford

Camden leads Sparrow’s business operations – everything from product management to business analytics. After graduating Cum Laude from Duke University where he studied Civil Engineering, Camden worked as a Consultant for A.T. Kearney where he worked in their Strategic Operations practice. With a strong background in analytics, Camden strives to deliver data-driven conclusions and insights.

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March 8, 2024

Do you love to fly, see the world, and travel for free? If yes, being a pilot might be the job for you, and it might be the perfect time to become one.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for pilots is promising. Commercial pilot jobs and airline employment expect a 13% job growth rate through 2030, which is higher than average. Plus, in 2021, the median pay for airline and commercial pilots was $134,630.

Typically, you will need a bachelor’s degree, certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration, flight training, as well as flight experience and hours to become a certified airline or commercial pilot.

In this article, we’ll tell you how to become a pilot and fund your career.

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How to Become A Pilot in Six Steps

As with any other job, you will need to put in work, time, and money to become a pilot. It is possible to work as a commercial pilot or a regional airline pilot without a four-year undergraduate degree. However, most major airlines require their pilots to have four-year degrees, preferably in aviation, aeronautical science, or aerospace engineering.

After pursuing your bachelor’s degree, here are six simplified steps to become a pilot.

Step One: Pick a Flight School

There are 1,000+ pilot schools in the United States that you can pick from. Before beginning your search, determine your aviation goals and plans.

Do you want to become a pilot, or fly for leisure? What is your budget, and how much time do you have?

After having an idea for your aviation plan, begin looking into flight schools. You’ll want to ask the following questions when choosing a flight school:

  • How is the cost of flight school structured? Does the school offer any financial aid?
  • Have former students of the flight school established successful careers as pilots? Where are they now?
  • What kind of training, mentoring, and career support services does the flight school provide?
  • Does the flight school have a good reputation? Is it accredited?
  • Is it a Part 61 (flexible, customized, often pricier flight school) or a Part 141 (rigid, structured, cost-effective flight school)? Does it align with your goals and wants?
  • Is the flight school far or close to home? Does location matter?

Step Two: Apply for the Necessary FAA Certificates

To become a pilot, you must apply and be approved for certificates offered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Medical Certificate

You must meet basic health requirements to become a pilot. You’ll need to undergo a physical examination by a certified doctor and submit the documentation to the Federal Aviation Administration.

There are three types of medical examinations that you can undergo: the first-class medical examination, the second-class medical examination, and the third-class medical examination.

First-class medical examination

For future airline pilots; the highest level of examination available that ensures all medical requirements are met as a pilot.

Second-class medical examination

For commercial pilots.

Third-class medical examination

For students who want to obtain a student pilot license.

Student Pilot Certificate

After obtaining your medical certificate, you’ll be able to apply for your student pilot certificate through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application.

You will need this certification in order to fly by yourself during your training, and it’s a step towards obtaining full licensure as a pilot.

Step Three: Start Flight Training

Start taking flight training lessons at the pilot school of your choice. You need a minimum of 250 hours of flying to earn your license, and your flight hours can be logged through your flight school, flight instructor, etc.

Step Four: Pass the FAA Private Pilot Knowledge Test

Now that you’ve begun your pilot training lessons, you will have to take the Federal Aviation Administration Private Pilot Knowledge Test. This exam will be administered by an FAA-certified instructor either in-person or online.

To be able to take the Private Pilot Knowledge Exam, you will need an endorsement from your instructor that proves you’ve had the appropriate training and study to take the exam.

Step Five: Pass the Private Pilot Practical Exam

The private pilot practical exam, also known as the “check ride,” is the final evaluation that you must pass to receive your licensure as a private pilot.

The exam consists of two parts: an oral exam and a flight evaluation. Once you pass the check ride, you will receive your license as a private pilot.

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FAQs About Becoming a Pilot

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pilot?

It takes anywhere from two to three months to earn your private pilot license and become a pilot.

However, it will take you longer to become a commercial or airline pilot. You’ll have many flight hours to fulfill, tests to take, and certifications to receive beyond your basic training.

After earning a student license and private license, you’ll have to obtain your instrument rating, commercial pilot license, flight instructor license, multi-engine rating, and airline transport pilot license (ATPL). To qualify for an airline transport pilot license, you must be a minimum of 23 years old, have at least 1,500 flying hours, have a first-class medical certificate, and fulfill other requirements.

How Much Do Pilots Earn?

In 2022, the average salary for an airline pilot was $144,101, but it can range anywhere from $56,000 to $700,000 in the United States. Much of a pilot’s salary depends on years of experience, location, employer, and other factors.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Pilot?

According to the ATP Flight School, it costs $91,995 to become a pilot without any previous experience. For individuals with a private pilot certificate, becoming a pilot costs around $71,995.

For private pilot schools, the cost of tuition usually ranges from $60,000-$80,000. However, the cost of pilot school differs from program to program, so be sure to thoroughly do your research so that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

How to Pay for Pilot Education Programs

To cover the cost of pilot education programs, many aspiring pilots turn to private student lenders rather than paying out of pocket.

As a student attending a non-traditional program, you will need a lender that works with career training schools, including pilot schools. Consider the following lenders, all of which work with career training schools:

Arkansas Student Loan Authority

Closing Thoughts From the Nest

Becoming a pilot requires a significant investment in time, money, and effort. At Sparrow, we want to help you find the best option available for you to afford the cost of pilot school. If you submit a free form with Sparrow, you can compare private lenders that work with career training programs to find the best student loan for you.

Sparrow’s goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances. Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. While we make an effort to include the best deals available to the general public, we make no warranty that such information represents all available products.

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