There is no single universal answer to how old you have to be to be a pilot.
It depends on several things, including whether you want to be a commercial pilot and be financially compensated for flying or even work as captain for an airline.
There are other roles to consider too, like being a pilot in the Air Force or other military branches. Maybe you just want to fly recreationally for fun or be able to fly your friends and family across the country and internationally.
To give you the full picture, in this article, we will inform you of how old you need to be to get a specific pilot license – and what you can do with it – along with answering some of the most frequently asked, age-related questions on one’s journey to becoming a pilot.
What is the minimum age to become a pilot?
Depending on the type of pilot you want to become, there are minimum age requirements that you have to meet.
There are 6 pilot licenses to consider.
Student Pilot License
Anyone who hopes of becoming a pilot must start with a student pilot license. This is because it enables the person to fly solo, which is necessary to obtain any license that is beyond a student pilot license.
You must be at least 16 years old, or 14 for gliders and balloons, to be eligible for a student pilot license.
Sport Pilot License
A sport pilot license allows you to fly light sport aircraft, including small airplanes, gliders, powered parachutes, balloons, and airships.
You must be at least 17 years old to be eligible for a sport pilot license, and 16 if flying gliders or balloons.
Recreational Pilot License
A recreational pilot license is a step-up from a sport pilot license in that it allows you to fly bigger and more powerful aircraft.
You must also be at least 17 years old to qualify for a recreational pilot license.
Private Pilot License
A private pilot license is where things start to get serious if you want to fly with few restrictions and/or envision a career as a pilot.
A PPL lets you command any aircraft (subject to appropriate ratings), and allows you to carry more than one passenger, whether that be within the USA or internationally. As you might have guessed by its name, with this license you’re not quite at the stage of being able to be financially compensated for flying.
You must be at least 17 years old to be eligible for a private pilot license and become a private pilot, and 16 if flying gliders or balloons.
Commercial Pilot License
With a commercial pilot license, you can be financially compensated for flying. This includes roles like carrying persons or cargo, commercial air tours, and aerial work like crop dusting and fire fighting.
You must be at least 18 years old to qualify for a commercial pilot license.
Related: Commercial Pilot Vision Requirements
Airline Transport Pilot License
Becoming an airline captain for a commercial airline isn’t necessarily a dream shared by all pilots, but it is for many. Naturally, it requires the highest level of demonstrated piloting ability.
To qualify for an airline transport pilot license, you must be at least 23 years old.
There is also another license called a restricted airline transport pilot license (R-ATPL). This allows you to be a first-officer (co-pilot). The minimum age requirement for a restricted airline transport license is 21.
What is the maximum age to become a pilot?
There is no maximum age to acquire a pilot license and become a pilot, with the exception of an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL). As airlines have a mandatory retirement age of 65, a pilot would not be able to fly a commercial airliner or renew their ATPL once they reach that age.
However, pilots can still be financially compensated for many other pilot roles, including flying for a charter, corporate or private operator, or being a flight instructor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a minimum or maximum age restriction to fly a plane?
You can be 14, 13, or even younger and still be legally allowed to fly a plane. There is no minimum age you have to be to get behind the cockpit.
Of course, this doesn’t mean someone so young can fly solo, as the minimum age to obtain a student pilot certificate that will allow this is 16 years old.
There is also no maximum age limit to fly a plane either.
How old do you have to be to take flying lessons?
According to FAA regulations, there is no minimum or maximum age restriction to take flying lessons and fly a plane with an instructor. Men, women, boys, and girls from as young as 10 and old as 80 have all taken and enjoyed flying lessons for the first time.
However, considering that you have to be at least 16 years old to obtain a student pilot license (14 for gliders and balloons), which allows you to fly solo and is a prerequisite for other types of pilot licenses, many parents hold off letting their child get flying lessons until closer to this age.
This makes sense from a financial point of view, especially as we all know that kids can get very excited about something but quickly move onto the next thing.
How old do you have to be to be a helicopter pilot?
Hopefully, we’ve established by now that flying an aircraft and becoming a pilot are two very different things. So, there is no age requirement to fly a helicopter or take flying lessons, but there is to become a helicopter pilot.
Even though helicopters fall under the category of rotorcraft, the same license types as above largely apply.
You must be at least 16 years old to be eligible for a student pilot certificate, 17 for a private pilot license, and 18 for a commercial pilot license.
Air Force and Military
How old you do have to be to be a pilot in the Air Force?
The minimum age to become a pilot in the Air Force is 18 years old, though it is exceptionally rare to achieve this feat. The average age to enter Air Force flight school is 23 years old alone.
You must meet a selection board before you are 29 years old, and enter Undergraduate Flying Training (UPT) before you are 33. Waivers up to the age of 35 are considered.
How old you have to be to be a pilot in the military?
To become a Navy or Marine Corps pilot, you must enter flight training at the earliest age of 19 and a maximum of 26.
To become an army pilot, you must be at least 18 years old to enlist and meet the military selection board before you are 33 years old. Waivers for those who are 33 or 34 years old at the time of meeting the board may be considered.