To become a pilot at 40, you just need to enroll in flight school, log the necessary flight hours, pass a few tests, pass a medical, and you will have your license in no time.
Sounds simple, right?
In theory, it is. But there’s a lot more to becoming a pilot than that, especially if you’re looking to make this career change later in life.
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Is There a Maximum Age to Become a Pilot
There is no maximum age to become a pilot with the exception of working as an airline pilot. By law, airline pilots are required to retire at 65.
However, they can still work in other roles as a pilot, including for charter, private and corporate operators.
Anyone who is interested in becoming a pilot can take flying lessons, and obtain any FAA-issued pilot license at any age (except for an airline transport pilot license).
So while 40 isn’t too old to become a pilot, you might face a couple of issues along the way, including your health and current commitments.
The Average Age of a Starting Pilot
At 40, you’re not actually that far away from the average starting age of an airline pilot.
However, pilots who are in their mid-late thirties have usually built up a significant amount of experience over the years.
So talking about the average age can be a bit misleading, especially as it can take years to reach the bare minimum requirements to legally qualify as an airline pilot.
What You Need to Become a Pilot at 40
If you want to be financially compensated as a pilot, you will need to obtain either a first-class or second-class medical certificate.
This involves passing an FAA medical exam that is administered by an aviation medical examiner.
The medical examiner will test several things, including your distant vision (correctable to 20/20), near vision(correctable to 20/40), and whether you have normal color vision.
Once you reach 50 years old, your intermediate vision will also be tested (correctable to 20/40).
Your hearing will need to be tested, as will your blood pressure, and whether you suffer from a disqualifying condition.
Pilots over 40, if they want to be issued a first-class medical certificate, which is required to work as an airline pilot, must have an annual electrocardiogram (ECG) too.
If you fail any of these tests, you will not be able to get the license you require to be a paid pilot.
Depending on which tests were failed, you may still be eligible for a third-class medical certificate.
But if you’re looking to make a career as a pilot, this won’t be of much use.
Student Pilot License
To be financially compensated for flying, either a commercial pilot license or airline transport pilot license is required. However, you can’t just go from zero to a CPL or ATPL right away.
There are several steps in the process.
Anyone who wants to become a pilot in any capacity must start with a student pilot license
This is necessary to log solo flight time, which is required to work towards obtaining higher certification.
A third-class medical certificate must also be obtained by passing a medical exam.
Private Pilot License
The next step is to obtain a private pilot license.
You are required to hold a student pilot license, enroll in an online ground school, and pass a written knowledge and practical test, and log 35-40 hours of flight time to be issued with a PPL.
The hours differ depending on whether you are enrolled in a Part 61 or Part 141 school.
Instrument ratings can also be added to a private pilot license that will lift certain restrictions.
With a PPL, you are legally allowed to fly your friends and family within the United States and internationally. However, you still can’t be financially compensated and take on paid pilot roles.
Commercial Pilot License
To obtain a commercial pilot license, you must hold a private pilot license, pass a written knowledge and practical test, and log 190 hours (Part 141) or 250 hours (Part 61) of flight time.
A second-class medical certificate also needs to be issued.
With a commercial pilot license now in your hands, you will be able to be financially compensated for flying.
There are many roles available to you with this license.
You can be hired for banner towing, aerial work, and commercial air tours, to name a few.
With additional certification, you can become a flight instructor too.
Airline Transport Pilot License
If you have a dream of becoming an airline pilot, an airline transport pilot license is required.
There is no doubt it is a step-up and more challenging to obtain than the others.
In addition to having to pass a written knowledge and practical test, 1,500 flight hours have to be logged.
A commercial pilot license with instrument and multi-engine time is also a prerequisite.
A first-class medical certificate is required too.
There is also a license called an R-ATPL (restricted airline transport pilot license).
This will allow you to act as a co-pilot. Just 1,000 flight hours are required instead, as well as an ATP Certification Training Program.
Is it Worth Becoming a Pilot at 40?
Now you know that it is perfectly possible to become a pilot at 40, the next question to ask is, should you?
Being a pilot, whether it’s a commercial airline pilot or working in another role, has many benefits and can be hugely rewarding. But there are a few things you should consider.
If you’re 40 you probably have more commitments than someone who is younger. You might have a family and mortgage, meaning that financial security and stability is very important.
Do you have the necessary funds to give up your current career to go into one that is in aviation?
While this isn’t absolutely necessary, juggling a job, family, and finding the time to take flying lessons can be challenging.
After all, it takes a minimum of 190-250 flight hours to obtain a commercial pilot license, not to mention a whopping 1,500 flight hours to obtain an airline transport pilot license.
Do you know what the day-to-day life of a pilot consists of?
The life of an airline pilot can be very different to other roles. Will your family be okay with you being gone for days at a time?
Read up on the different kinds of pilot roles that are available to see what you can expect day to day.
Are you okay with waiting a few years to make good money?
Pilots can be very well compensated, but in the beginning you’re going to have to take low-paying jobs. Jobs that will likely pay less than your current career.
Can you afford to wait it out until you reach a higher pilot salary?
What is your health like?
As mentioned, a medical certificate is necessary to obtain a pilot license.
If you currently suffer from poor health or expect your health to deteriorate to such a degree that you might not qualify for a second-class or first-class medical certificate, you won’t be able to financially compensated for flying.
Also, consider that you’ll be competing against younger pilots for jobs. While to an extent this depends on the job role, if you want to work for an airline consider it from their point of view.
They will probably prefer a 30 year old pilot, who has the same amount of experience and might be with the airline for 35-40 years, than one who will be there for less.
This is because switching airlines is much rarer than switching companies in other careers.
So, if you want to become a pilot at 40, it is definitely possible – just be aware of the challenges that you might face along the way.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.