How long it takes to get a private pilot’s license largely comes down to two things: ground school and flight school.
Both take roughly the same amount of time and are necessary to pass the written knowledge test and practical test (checkride) before you can be issued with a private pilot license.
However, there are also a few other requirements that you must meet that can take some time.
4 Factors That Influence How Long It Takes to Get a PPL
Student Pilot License
While you don’t need a student pilot license to get behind the cockpit and take flying lessons, you do need one if you want to fly solo and progress up the pilot license chain.
All that is required is completing an application on the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website or FAA form 8710-1 and mailing it in.
This doesn’t take long at all to fill in, but you’ll be waiting some time to receive your student pilot certificate.
Time: 1-3 weeks
You must pass an FAA medical exam administered by an aviation medical examiner before you are eligible to fly solo.
Flying solo is kind of a big deal because it is one of the most important aspects that is required to obtain a private pilot license.
If something comes up that requires further checks and documentation before you can be issued with a medical certificate, you can expect this to be investigated and have to wait longer.
A private pilot license falls under a third-class medical certificate, and arranging and having the medical won’t take long at all.
Time: 30-minute medical exam
Ground school is where you learn all the theory required to pass the knowledge test that is required to get your PPL.
You can expect to study for 40 hours before you are ready to take the written knowledge test. Learning material covers navigation, meteorology, and aerodynamics along with some other aviation-related topics, in the form of books, videos, and practice tests.
The good news is that there are some wonderful courses out there that ensure you know everything you need to know. Any book or course by Rod Machado, which is our pick as the best online ground school for private pilots, is our recommendation, as he has helped thousands of students pass first time (70% is required).
Time: 40 hours
Flight school is all about hands-on learning, and where the fun really begins.
You have the choice of either enrolling in a Part 61 or Part 141 flight school. The hourly requirements to be eligible for a private pilot license vary between the two, with a Part 141 school taking 35-hours, and a Part 61 school taking 40 hours.
In our opinion, a Part 141 school is the better choice, not only due to the lower hourly requirements but also due to its more structured training environment.
If you can only work towards your PPL on a part-time basis, a Part 61 school might be the better choice due to its more flexible training environment.
Of the 35-40 flight hours that need to be logged, 20 will be flight training, 10 hours will be dedicated to solo flight (of which 5 must cover cross-country), and a solo flight that covers 150 nautical miles is also required.
Once you reach the 40-hour mark, you will be eligible to take the check ride, which is the practical test.
Note that there is also an Instrument Rating (IR) that can be added onto your private pilot license. This is necessary if you want to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). This is definitely a good thing to have otherwise your flying will be restricted by weather conditions and altitude.
- 35-40 hours minimum (depending on whether enrolled in a Part 61 or Part 41 school)
- 40 hours minimum (Online Instrument Rating Course) –
Average Time to Get Your Private Pilot License
It takes a minimum of 40 flight hours, and roughly 40 hours of ground school to get a PPL. It’s not always quite that simple, though, as reaching the minimum number of hours doesn’t mean you’re ready to pass your checkride.
If we assume an average of 2-3 flights per week that last an average of 2-3 hours each, you can expect it to take 3-4 months to get your PPL. If you can only study and fly on a part-time basis, expect it to take 5-6 months to earn your license.
The Fastest Way to Get Your PPL
There’s actually a much faster way to get your private pilot license, though the fastest way isn’t necessarily the best way.
Some flight schools offer an accelerated private pilot training program that enables you to get your private pilot license in two weeks.
Generally, these programs require you to already have a student pilot certificate and have passed the written knowledge test. This is for good reason because, as mentioned, ground school can take 40 hours before you’re ready to take and pass the FAA written knowledge exam.
While a two week accelerated course can sound like a good idea – and for some, it can be – most people should go the normal route for several reasons.
- Cramming everything you need to learn to pass the checkride can mean that you aren’t able to properly absorb all the knowledge you learned
- Think of your passengers. Would you get in a plane with someone who has only been flying for two weeks?
- You will have only learned to fly a plane in one season. How will you cope under different weather conditions?
- Getting your private pilot license in two weeks can be stressful. Learning to fly should be an enjoyable experience, which such a fast-paced course might not allow for
4 Factors That Affect How Fast You Can Get Your PPL
Spending the necessary time studying and training to get your private pilot license is the biggest factor in how long it will take you to become a private pilot.
It’s, therefore, a good idea to set a specific time-frame to earn your PPL. This way you will stay committed, and won’t get sidetracked and tempted by other things that could take your attention and focus away.
Some people just seem to take to flying more naturally than others. While there isn’t necessarily much you can do about this, just remember that hard work always pays off in the end. So don’t be discouraged if things don’t come as naturally to you as others.
Aircraft and Instructor Availability
Despite the best intentions, aircraft and instructor availability isn’t always guaranteed. The larger the flight school, the more aircraft and instructors they will probably have, so this might be something to keep in mind.
There’s no external factor greater than the weather that can affect how long it can take to get your private pilot license – not to mention more frustrating.
If you live in sunny California, Florida, Arizona, or anywhere else with a similar climate, count yourself as one of the lucky ones.
For this reason, it might be a good idea to work towards your PPL in late spring, summer, or early autumn. Keep in mind that other students will likely have had the same idea, so then it comes back to aircraft and instructor availability.
Can You Make Money With a Private Pilot License?
You are unable to make money with a private pilot license. To be financially compensated for flying through carrying persons or cargo, you need a commercial pilot license.
However, you can split the cost of gas, aircraft rental fees, and any other flight expenses with your passengers.
Is It Worth Getting a Private Pilot License?
If you’re just flying recreationally, it is still definitely worth the time and cost it takes to earn your license. There’s a lot you can do with a private pilot license that you can’t with a sport or recreational license.
For one, while solo flight can bring a great amount of joy, being able to fly your friends and family domestically and internationally bring even greater joy and excitement – something that you need a PPL for.
Without a PPL, you will be limited by other restrictions, including the type of aircraft you are able to fly.