Answering the question how hard is it to become a pilot very much depends on the type of pilot you want to become.

Even if you only have your heart set on becoming an airline pilot, you need to first earn a private and commercial pilot license before you are eligible to become an airline pilot.

Therefore, in this article we will cover how hard it is to become a private, commercial, and airline pilot.

We will also touch on how hard it is to become a pilot in the Air Force and other military branches.

Private Pilot

Before you can earn your private pilot license and become a qualified private pilot, there are a couple of requirements you must meet.

You must first apply and be issued with a student pilot certificate, and pass an FAA medical exam to be issued with a third-class certificate.

The student pilot certificate requires nothing more than a simple application. Provided you do not suffer from a disqualifying medical condition, and can meet the necessary vision and hearing requirements, being issued a medical certificate will also be a simple process.

With both of these in your possession, you are eligible to log solo flight time, which is necessary to earn a private pilot license.

It takes a minimum of 35-40 flight hours before you can be issued with a private pilot license, including 10 hours of solo flight time, of which 5 must be cross-country, as well as a solo flight that covers 150 nautical miles.

The number of hours varies depending on whether you enroll in a Part 61 or Part 141 school. The latter follows a more structured path of flight training and has lower hourly requirements.

However, due to the more structured and scheduled training, it can be hard for some students to keep up due to prior commitments.

There’s also the possibility of enrolling in a 2 week accelerated private pilot training program. As you can imagine, learning everything you need to know to pass the practical portion of a PPL in two weeks can be very challenging and stressful.

You must also pass a written knowledge test, which won’t be hard provided you put the necessary hours in to study. Expect to spend about 40 hours learning the material to reach the minimum pass mark of 70%.

Commercial Pilot

Many pilots never go beyond a private pilot license because they are happy to fly for fun, either alone or with their friends and family.

Anyone who wants to get paid for flying, though, must work towards earning a commercial pilot license.

You can expect the practical and knowledge test to be tougher, and there are a couple of other requirements too.

One thing that you will definitely want to do is add an Instrument Rating (IR) to your private pilot license. This is because an IR allows you to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), lifting certain restrictions like flying in any type of weather conditions and at any altitude. Without an IR you would be very limited, especially when it comes to paid flying roles.

Earning your Instrument Rating is quite the step-up, as flying will now be determined by an aircraft’s instruments instead of the outside visual references.

You can expect it to take a minimum of 40 hours to get your IR. Additionally, time will also need to be spent studying for the written exam. Many pilots choose to enroll in an online instrument rating course as it makes learning everything you need substantially easier.

To be eligible for a commercial pilot license, 190-250 flight hours must be logged. Again, this varies depending on whether you enroll in Part 61 or Part 141 flight school, with the latter requiring fewer hours.

You must log 10 hours of solo flight, or 10 hours performing the duties of pilot in command. This includes one solo cross country flight that covers 300 nautical miles.

The written and practical test for a commercial pilot license differs from a private pilot license, requiring knowledge of more advanced topics, and more precise control and handling of the aircraft.

A second-class medical certificate is also required. Vision requirements get a little tougher to meet, and older pilots require a couple of other tests too. But this is unlikely to pose any problems if you passed the FAA medical exam for your third-class medical certificate.

Airline Pilot

The journey from commercial pilot to airline pilot can be a long one due to the FAA instigating something called the “1,500-hour rule”.

This means that every pilot who wants to earn their airline transport pilot license and become an airline pilot must log a minimum of 1,500 flight hours.

As it can take a long time to get to 1,500 flight hours, many commercial pilots earn their flight instructor certification – which is something that you will definitely want to do.

Becoming a certified flight instructor enables you to efficiently accrue the hours necessary to become an airline pilot while also getting paid. There are other job roles you can take on, but the flight instructor route is one the majority of pilots who want to fly for an airline go down.

Flight instructor certification takes a minimum of 25 hours to earn. The hardest part of becoming a flight instructor is passing the CFI checkride, which has a lower pass rate of 65-70%.

At this point on your journey to becoming an airline pilot, you have probably only flown single-engine aircraft. As commercial airliners are multi-engine aircraft, you also need to earn a multi-engine rating, which will take a minimum of 25 hours.

How Hard Are the Educational Qualifications to Become a Pilot?

No advanced educational qualifications are required for any pilot license, from student all the way up to airline transport pilot license. You just need to pass the written and practical tests associated with each license.

Getting hired as a pilot could be a different story, though.


There is no minimum GPA to become a pilot.

If you want to work for a regional airline, your GPA is unlikely to matter much at all. Major airlines do take your college GPA into consideration, though compared to other factors they look at, it won’t be one of the most important.

Your high school GPA is likely to matter very little, regardless if you want to work for a major airline or not.


While no degree is required to become a pilot and take on paid flying roles if you want to work as an airline pilot, it’s a good idea to get a college degree.

While there is no law that requires airline pilots to have a college degree, many airlines expect you to have one, especially as competition for airline pilot roles is high.

Typically, regional airlines expect applicants to have an associate’s degree at a minimum. Major airlines expect applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.

In both instances, the degree can be in any field – i.e. you do not need an aviation-related degree.

How Hard is Flight School?

Flight school can be as hard or easy as you want it to be – to an extent.

While there is knowledge to learn and motor skills to develop if you are motivated, dedicated, and willing to put the work in, you will find that even becoming even an airline pilot is more than attainable.

For many, learning to fly a plane isn’t actually the hardest part of flight school or becoming a pilot. It is more developing the knowledge and skills until everything becomes second nature. There”s no two ways about it – developing this knowledge and the skills take time.

As a rule, expect both checkrides and written knowledge tests to get harder as you progress from license to license. For the knowledge test,  pilots either enroll in an in-person or online ground school to learn everything they need to know.

Is Becoming a Pilot Worth It?

As becoming a pilot can require a lot of hard work, time, and money, you might be wondering if it’s even worth it.

First of all, a pilot’s salary can be very high if they work for a major airline, which is the goal of many pilots. Therefore, from a financial sense, it’s definitely worth it.

A career in aviation also isn’t usually something that people pick on a whim. They usually have a love for aviation from a young age, and have always dreamed of becoming a pilot. If this describes you, what can be more rewarding than getting paid for something you love day in day out?

How Long Will it Take to Become a Pilot

Roughly speaking, you can obtain your private pilot license in 6 months, and commercial pilot license in 1 year.

The step-up to airline pilot can be substantial, taking an additional 3-4 years to accrue the necessary hours to qualify for an airline transport pilot license and become an airline pilot.

How Hard is it to Become a Pilot in the Air Force and Military?

Air Force

Becoming a pilot in the Air Force requires both physical and educational standards to be met.

These can be hard to meet – and sometimes impossible in the case of age and physical standards.

To become an Air Force pilot, you must at a minimum hold a bachelor’s degree and have a high GPA (above 3.4). Aviation related degrees like aerospace engineering or physics are preferred, as are candidates who already have some form of flight training.

Before you can start Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), you must first meet with a selection board prior to turning 29 years old. If the board approves you, you must then enroll in UPT before you are 33 years old. Waivers can also be issued up to the age of 35.

You will need to pass the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test, and meet a variety of physical, psychological, and background tests.

After this, there’s the small matter of flight school that involves two stages. Introductory flight training contains 25 hours of practical, and 25 hours of classroom instruction. Specialized undergraduate pilot training is a year-long program that involves classroom instruction, simulated and actual flight.

In short, meeting all the requirements to become an Air Force pilot can be hard. As you might expect, it is the hardest military branch to become a pilot in.


To become an army helicopter pilot, you must meet the military selection board before you are 33 years old. Waivers up to 34 can also be issued.

You must also take a variety of aptitude tests, including scoring at least 90 on the Flight Aptitude Selection Test, and at least 110 on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

The Army’s height and weight standards must also be met, in addition to passing two physicals. This includes a military entrance processing station (MEPS) test, as well as a Flight Class I physical.

If accepted, you will undergo basic combat training and warrant officer candidate school, before finally proceeding to flight school. In flight school, you will undergo classroom instruction, and simulated and actual flight of the helicopter you will be flying.

Becoming an Army helicopter pilot may not necessarily be easy, but there is no higher education that is required.


To become a Navy pilot, you must be commissioned as an officer before turning 28 and hold a bachelor’s degree. While applicants usually have a degree in any of the STEM fields, this is not a prerequisite.

You then go to Officer Candidate School, which is an intensive 12-week course that includes intensive physical conditioning and classroom instruction.

You must also take the Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB), as well as a variety of physical, psychological, and background tests. As this is the Navy we’re talking about, you must be a good swimmer and will undergo underwater tests.

After this, you are eligible to enroll in flight school. If you have already completed a solo cross-country flight, or at a minimum hold a recreational pilot license or private pilot license, you can skip introductory flight screening.

The next step is to undergo Aviation Pre-Indoctrination, which lasts six weeks, and Primary Flight Training.

Whether you want to become a private, commercial, airline, Air Force, Army, or Navy pilot, you now know just how hard it is and what it takes.

We can’t promise you becoming a pilot won’t be hard (depending on the type of pilot you want to become), but we can guarantee that it will be a highly rewarding journey, and there is nothing quite like it.

John Myers - Flight Instructor

John is a Certified Flight Instructor who teaches students of all ages how to fly and takes enormous pride and satisfaction seeing his students become licensed pilots.