Right off the bat, we will tell you that if you don’t currently hold a pilot license, have never taken flying lessons, and dream of becoming an airline pilot at 50, you need to keep your expectations in check.
It’s not impossible, and there are stories out there of pilots who were 50 years old and started from scratch who have successfully become airline pilots, but you will face an uphill battle.
However, the good news is that you can obtain a commercial pilot license and work as a paid pilot in other roles much more easily.
There’s also a good possibility of obtaining an airline transport pilot license and flying for the Regionals instead of Majors.
If you just want to fly for fun, or with your friends and family domestically or internationally, then there will be very little standing in your way.
Your main challenge will be passing a medical exam, which has a couple more components to it than younger pilots. But if you’re in good health, you should be okay.
Whether you want to fly recreationally or professionally, let’s take a look at what is required.
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How to Become a Pilot at 50
You might have a few more gray hairs and more life experience than your fellow students, but you have to start just like everyone else – at the bottom.
Student Pilot License & Medical Certificate
It all begins with a student pilot license.
Before you are able to log solo flight time and progress towards higher licenses, you need to obtain a student pilot license and pass a medical exam.
The requirements for a third-class medical certificate, which a student pilot license (and private pilot license) fall under, aren’t quite as strict as a first-class and second-class medical certificate, but an aviation medical examiner will need to test several things to see if you qualify.
Your near and distant vision must be correctable to 20/40. Color vision must also be normal, though there are a couple of exceptions.
Your hearing, blood pressure (maximum of 155/95), and whether you have a disqualifying condition, like coronary heart disease or a permanent cardiac pacemaker, all need to be tested too.
Private Pilot License
Next up is a Private Pilot License.
Becoming a private pilot at 50 is definitely a more attainable goal than becoming a commercial pilot.
With this license, you can fly your friends and family domestically and even internationally.
Obtaining a PPL requires a student pilot license, logging 35-40 hours of flight hours, and passing a written knowledge and practical test, which is technically possible in just two weeks.
A third-class medical certificate is also required. Instrument ratings that will lift certain restrictions can be added too.
As an aside, there is also a Sport Pilot License and Recreational Pilot License.
A sport pilot license lets you fly light sport aircraft, and comes with certain restrictions like only being able to fly during the daytime and carry one passenger.
A recreational pilot license allows you to fly some bigger and more powerful aircraft.
Restrictions like night time flying can also be lifted with extra training and endorsement.
Related: Best Instrument Rating Course
Commercial Pilot License
If you want to be paid for flying then a Commercial Pilot License is necessary.
This requires logging 190-250 flight hours, depending on whether you are enrolled in a Part 141 or Part 61 school.
As before, a written knowledge and practical test must also be passed.
Medical requirements start to get stricter here too.
A second-class medical certificate is required, which now requires near vision to be correctable to 20/20 in each eye. As you are 50 or older, intermediate vision also needs to checked and must be correctable to 20/40.
With a commercial pilot license, you can start to take on paid flying roles, like aerial work and banner towing. With additional certification, you can also work as a flight instructor.
If you want to become a commercial airline pilot, the final step in your journey is acquiring an Airline Transport Pilot License.
An ATPL requires a commercial pilot license with instrument and multi-engine time, a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time, passing a knowledge and practical test, and obtaining a first-class medical certificate.
A first-class medical certificate is largely the same as a second-class certificate, but an annual ECG is required for anyone 40 or older too.
There is also a Restricted Airline Transport Pilot License, which requires 1,000 hours of flight time, completion of an ATP Certification Training Program, and enables you to work as a co-pilot of a commercial airliner.
Is There a Maximum Age Limit to Become a Pilot?
Regardless of how old you are, you can get into the cockpit and enjoy flying lessons. So, there is no maximum age limit for pilot training.
When it comes to pilot licenses, though, there is a maximum age restriction.
By law, the age limit for airline pilots is 65, which triggers mandatory retirement, and means any pilot this age or older will be unable to be issued or renew an airport transport pilot license.
There is no maximum age for any other pilot license.
Is it Worth Becoming a Pilot at 50?
Deciding whether it’s worth becoming a pilot at 50 or older depends on your goals.
If you’re looking for a career change, it is possible but harder to achieve than someone who is younger and looking for a career change.
As mentioned at the beginning, flying for one of the Majors can be very challenging. Think of it from their point of view.
Choosing between a 25-30-year-old who has the same experience as a 50-55-year-old is an easy choice to make – and this also applies to becoming a pilot at 40, too.
One reason is that pilots don’t switch airlines as often as people do companies in other careers. Airline pilots are also required to retire at 65.
However, there are still many job roles and companies that hire pilots aged 50 and older. Just realize that the pay won’t be very high when starting out, and you’re likely going to have to take a pay cut.
There’s also your health to consider. Are you currently in good health and expect to remain so, or is there a chance that you will have trouble passing a medical exam now or in the near future?
In one sense, it might actually be easier to become a pilot at 50 compared to people a decade or two younger. This is because you are more likely to be financially secure.
You might have already paid off your mortgage, your kids are older, and you can afford to spend the time and money on flying lessons and working towards your pilot license.
If you want to become a pilot at 50, we definitely encourage you to do so. Whether you’re looking to be financially compensated or not for flying, there is nothing quite like it.
The joy of flight is open to all ages.
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.