There is no universal answer to the question of how many hours does it take to become a pilot because it depends on several factors.
The road to becoming a pilot can big long or short, depending on the pilot license you want to obtain, the flight school you enroll in, the aircraft you want to fly, how frequently you can fly, and more.
Let’s take a look at these factors, how you can achieve your goal of becoming a pilot faster, along with some of the most frequently asked questions aspiring pilots have.
How Many Hours it Takes to Get Each Pilot License
The type of pilot license you want to acquire is the biggest determining factor in how many hours it will take to become a pilot.
Flying recreationally takes a significantly shorter amount of time than obtaining your commercial pilot license and being able to take on paid flying roles. Then going from a commercial pilot license to an airline transport pilot license takes over an additional thousand hours.
Regardless if you only want to fly recreationally during the daytime, fly your friends and family, take on a paid flying role, or become an airline pilot, every single person must start with a student pilot license.
A student pilot license isn’t a requirement to take flying lessons and fly a plane, but it is necessary if you want to fly solo. This is because solo flight hours must be logged before you can earn higher certification.
To be eligible for a student pilot license, a third-class medical certificate must be issued.
So, the number of hours it takes to get a student pilot license is however long it takes you to arrange and pass an FAA medical exam, and receive your student certificate in the mail.
It typically takes new pilots anywhere between 10-40 hours before they are ready to fly solo, though.
Time: 2-3 weeks
While many people interested in aviation often dream of becoming an airline pilot, there are others who are happy to just fly for fun. For these individuals, a sport pilot license is just the ticket.
It lets you fly light sport aircraft, which covers small airplanes, gliders, balloons, and gyroplanes.
An SPL does have several restrictions attached to it, though, like only being able to fly during the daytime, not in controlled airspace or above 10,000 feet, and only carry one passenger, to name just a few.
You don’t even need a medical certificate to qualify for this license, though – just a valid U.S. driver’s license will do.
It takes a minimum of 20 hours of flight training to become a sport pilot.
Time: 20 hours (minimum)
After having enjoyed a sport pilot license for some time, many pilots look towards obtaining a recreational pilot license.
This license lets you operate bigger and more powerful aircraft. Some of the restrictions attached to a sport pilot license can also be lifted if you receive extra training and endorsement.
Again, a valid U.S. driver’s license is all that is required.
A minimum of 30 hours of flight training must be completed to become a recreational pilot.
Time: 30 hours (minimum)
A private pilot license is where things really start to get serious. This is because it lifts many restrictions of a sport pilot and recreational pilot license, and is a prerequisite to obtaining higher certifications.
The time it takes to earn a private pilot license depends on whether you enroll in a Part 61 or Part 141 school.
A Part 141 school is the more structured path to becoming a pilot, requiring a minimum of 35 hours of flight time. A Part 61 flight school requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time.
So it will take between 35-40 flight hours to become a private pilot
You’ll also need to pass an FAA medical exam, and be issued a third-class medical certificate to qualify for a private pilot license.
Time: 35-40 hours (depending on Part 61 or Part 141 enrollment)
A commercial pilot license is the next step up.
With this license you can finally take on paid pilot roles, such as aerial work, banner towing, and commercial air tours.
The number of hours it takes to get a commercial pilot license varies significantly. It can take 90-150 flight hours to become a commercial pilot.
If you enroll in a Part 141 school, just 190 hours are needed; compared to 250 hours from a Part 61 school.
A second-class medical certificate is also required for a CPL.
Time: 190-250 hours (depending on Part 61 or Part 141 enrollment)
The final step on many aspiring pilots’ journeys is to become an airline pilot.
This is no small feat.
Obtaining an airline transport pilot license and becoming an airline pilot takes a minimum of 1,500 flight hours.
Due to the substantial number of hours required, many pilots obtain certification to become a flight instructor.
Not only does this contribute towards the hours required for an airline transport license, but you can also be financially compensated in the process while also keeping your skills sharp.
A multi-engine rating is also required to fly multi-engine aircraft like commercial airliner aircraft.
One thing to note is that you can become a co-pilot before first captain. This requires a restricted airline transport pilot license, which takes a minimum of 1,000 flight hours to earn. However, the completion of an ATP Certification Training Program is also required.
1,500 flight hours (minimum)
1,000 flight hours (minimum to become a co-pilot)
25 hours (minimum) for flight instructor certification
25 hours (minimum) for multi-engine rating
Other Factors that Influence How Many Hours it Takes to Become a Pilot
This isn’t just the reputation of the flight school, but also whether you decide to enroll in a Part 141 or Part 61 flight school.
If you have no plans to go beyond a private pilot license, then the 5 hours difference ultimately doesn’t matter.
But if you want to obtain a commercial pilot license, the additional 60-hour difference in flight time makes a huge difference in how long it will take you to become a commercial pilot.
Are you happy to fly light sport aircraft, or will only multi-engine aircraft do? If you want to become an airline pilot then only the latter will do, and multi-engine time is required.
How about flying a glider or aerobatic aircraft? What about a helicopter?
This type of aircraft you want to fly is one of the most important factors to consider, and the hour requirements can vary substantially.
The more committed and dedicated you are to obtaining your pilot license, the faster you will be able to earn in.
If you are unable to treat getting a pilot license almost like a full-time job, usually because of lifestyle and work commitments get in the way, it can take much longer to get your license.
Like with sports, some people just seem to have a natural skill and task faster to flying than others.
There isn’t necessarily much you can do about this, but just remember that hard work and putting the hours in will make up for any perceived lack of natural aptitude.
How to Become a Pilot in Fewer Hours
Flying often will not only mean it takes you less time to meet the minimum hour requirements to obtain a certificate but also means that you will keep your skills sharp and muscle memory strong.
If you don’t take extended breaks from flying, then you won’t have to waste time trying to get back into the swing of things
Put the Hours In
To obtain a pilot license, you will have to take a written knowledge and practical test.
While no one likes to study, if you put the hours in away from the cockpit you can expect to cut your training time and pass any tests you take first time. This includes chair flying.
There are likely to be at least a few flight schools to choose from in your area. Do as much research as you can to see if the school is worth your time and money.
After all, becoming a pilot, especially if you want to be eligible for paid flying roles, will take a few years and tens of thousands of dollars.
If you can, speak to former students and see where they are now, especially if you want to progress beyond a private pilot license. Read up on everything you can find about the school. Speak to the flight instructors.
Ultimately, get a feel for the school and see if it is the right one for you.
Become a Flight Instructor
It’s very common for holders of commercial pilot licenses to go the extra mile and obtain flight instructor certification.
There’s nothing that will faster contribute to gaining experience and logging the necessary hours to become an airline pilot than teaching others.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it hard to become a pilot?
Flying a plane isn’t actually the hard part of becoming a pilot.
It is the combination of all the knowledge, skill, and experience that must ultimately become second nature, and is required to earn each pilot license.
The type of pilot license you want to obtain is the biggest determining factor in how hard it is to become a pilot
Am I too old to become a pilot?
With the exception of becoming an airline pilot, which has a forced retirement age of 65 years old, there is no age restriction to becoming a pilot.
There are plenty of 80 year olds out there who still hold their pilot license, and enjoy flying on a frequent basis.
However, a pilot must pass an FAA medical exam to be issued with a medical certificate, which can be harder to pass with age.