For many people that have always dreamed of learning to fly, earning a private pilot license is the ultimate goal. It’s considered to be the driver’s license of the sky and for good reason. Compared to the other license types that many hobbyists pursue, the private pilot license allows a pilot to fly with very few restrictions. This is because the private pilot license requires more skill, experience, and training than other amateur pilot licenses.
If you’ve ever thought about taking the plunge and starting to work towards earning yours, you’ve come to the right place. This is our complete guide to earning your private pilot license. This walks you through all the major steps you need to take from now until you’re ready to take that check ride (but more on that later).
The motivation behind starting this website was putting together a resource like this that I wish I had found when I was first interested in earning my private pilot license. I hope this is a great help to you and inspires you to discover your love of flying airplanes.
The private pilot license is the license that most people set as their goal when they first start learning to fly. It allows you to fly in day and night, with passengers, far distances, and with all kinds of aircraft. Compared to many of the other hobbyist licenses, this one let’s you do quite a bit.
Because of the amount of freedom the license gives you while flying, there are several steps you have to take to earn your private pilot license. These include:
- Meeting basic qualifications to begin training and to be eligible to be licensed
- Getting a FAA Medical Certificate
- Taking at least 40 hours of flight training (40 hours is the minimum, for most people it’s closer to 60-70)
- Taking an instructional course
- Passing a written knowledge test
- Passing an oral exam
- Taking a flight test (Check Ride)
Although this might all seem daunting at first, it’s very manageable if you take it step by step and are willing to invest the time into the process. This is a skill that you’ll have for the rest of your life, so take it easy and focus on learning instead of just doing the minimum to complete the course.
Before you start training for your private pilot license you should make sure you meet the requirements to qualify for the license. These are minimum requirements set by the FAA so you should prevent any surprises down the road by making sure you meet these upfront.
In order to be eligible for a private pilot license, you must meet the following requirements:
- Age: You must be at least 17 years old to take the test and earn your private pilot license. If you are at least 16 years old you can get a head start by starting to take flying lessons, you’ll just have to wait a little bit longer until you can complete the test and be a pilot.
- Read, write, and speak fluent English: The FAA requires pilots be fluent in English. This is to make sure there is standardized communication between pilots, airports, ground crew, etc.
- Medical Certificate: For a private pilot license, you are required to get a 3rd class medical certificate. This will require you to provide some background info on your medical history to the FAA in addition to passing a physical exam. The FAA has this requirement in place to make sure you and your future passengers are safe with you as their pilot.
As mentioned above, you’ll also have to get an FAA Medical Certificate in order to have a private pilot license.
This process will include you having to provide the FAA with information on your medical history, medication you currently take, past surgeries and more. In addition, you’ll have to get a physical exam from an FAA approved medical examiner.
The goal here is to make sure you are healthy enough to take on the task of piloting an aircraft. There are certain medical situations where you may not be approved for a medical certificate. In many of those cases, you can appeal the decision to the FAA. In some cases, you might still be able to earn your medical certificate by meeting other requirements they set out for you.
I would make a point of being honest and going through the process as soon as you can. This will allow you to work through any issues and hopefully get your medical certificate even if there are bumps along the way.
If you want to know more specifics on this test and what is included, read our FAA Medical Exam Guide.
Private Pilot License Cost
A major concern for many prospective pilots is the financial cost of earning their private pilot license. This is not a cheap endeavor, but it’s also not a waste of money. Learning to fly can be expensive and challenging yet is very rewarding for the people that stick with it and become pilots.
The total cost of earning your private pilot license will be in the range of $10,000. Let’s take a look at a quick breakdown of these costs.
- Airplane rental fees ($100+ per hour)
- Instructor’s hourly fee ($45-60/hour)
- Supplies and equipment ($200-$500)
- Books and study guides ($200)
- Ground school course ($250)
- Testing fees ($500+)
Most flight schools as you to pay for the services you receive (flight instruction, plaice rental, etc) as you use them, but some offer discounts to pay upfront and other financing options. Make sure to talk about this topic with your flight school when you are beginning the process. For more information on these costs make sure to visit our page on private pilot license costs.
Choosing a Flight School
When it comes time to choose a flight school, you should make sure to do your homework. You are going to want to pick a flight school that not only can teach you to fly safely, but that is a good fit for you based on your needs and expectations.
You should start this process by finding flight schools in your area and giving them a call to schedule a time to stop in and meet with them. I would recommend doing this in person so you can meet the staff and see the facility. Treat this like you would treat choosing a college or making any other very large purchase. Doing your due diligence up front can save you a lot of headaches in the future.
Some things to consider include:
- Location: Make sure you are choosing a flight school you feel confident you can make it to on a regular basis. If it’s too far from you, the long commute might make your training a challenge and makes you less likely to complete your training.
- Scheduling: You are going to have to take many hours of training both in the air and on the ground. Discuss their schedule with them as well as what would and wouldn’t work for you.
- Cost: You want to get a very clear picture of what the total cost of earning your private pilot license will be at your flight school. Go beyond the “advertised” price an ask detailed questions. Also, keep in mind that although 40 hours is the requirement set by the FAA, most students end up with closer to 60 hours of flight time before taking the test and completing the program.
- Financing: Some flight schools might offer financing (usually through a partner bank or other similar program) since this process can be so expensive. There are also financial aid and scholarship packages out there depending on what your goals are.
- Type of Instruction: Although this guide is for people wanting to earn their private pilot license, make sure that the flight school you pick offers instruction that specifically covers what you want to learn. If there is additional training you want in addition to what you need for the license, I would ask about it upfront.
- Meet the Instructors: Like any other class you’ll ever take in life, having an instructor you can work well with and learn from will make a world of difference. Make sure you get a good feeling about the people you are about to spend dozens of hours with.
- Other requirements: You should also ask the flight school for other information you might not have thought to ask about. They likely see a lot of students like you, so they might be able to anticipate questions you have before you even think of them.
How Long Will it take?
Earning your private pilot license requires that you take at least 40 hours of flight training as well as a ground course and pass specific tests (written, oral, and flight). Depending on how much free time you have and your flight schools schedule, this can all be done in as little as several weeks to as long as over a year.
The main factor in how long it will take you to finish your training will come down to how often you can devote time to your flight training. As mentioned in other places in this article, the FAA requirement is 40 hours of flight time, but almost nobody completes their training and becomes a pilot with that bare minimum.
It typically takes students 60+ hours to complete training and meet all the requirements.
Flight Training Requirements
Since the flight training is the most time consuming of the process, here is a list of the requirements you have to meet before being able to earn your private pilot license according to the FAA:
Before actually earning your pilot license, you’ll have to meet the following flight time requirements:
- 40 total hours of flight instruction: This includes both flying with an instructor and solo flying time.
- At least 20 hours of flight time with an instructor
- At least 10 hours of solo flight time
The 20 hours of flight time with your instructor must include:
- 3 hours of cross country flight
- 3 hours of night flying which includes at least 1 cross country flight of over 100 nm and 10 take offs and landings to a full stop at an airport
- 3 hours of instrument training
- 3 hours of flight training within the 60 days prior to the practical test
The 10 hours of solo flight time must include:
- 5 hours of cross country flights
- 1 solo cross country flight of at least 150 nm total distance with full stop landings at 3 points and one segment of at least 50 nm between T/O and landings
- Three solo takeoffs and landings to a full stop at an airport with an operating control tower
Once you have taken the ground course and completed all of the listed required training, you’ll be ready to take the necessary tests to earn your private pilot license.
These will include:
- Written knowledge check: This is an FAA test to make sure you know the process, policies, and practices of being a pilot. Make sure to take your ground instructions seriously, pay attention, and ask questions.
- Oral Test: Before you take off for your test flight, the flight instructor will quiz you on the knowledge you need to fly. This is also a requirement of becoming licensed.
- Test Flight (Check Ride): This is the equivalent of the road test you took as a teenager to earn your driver’s license. A FAA qualified flight instructor will take you on a flight to make sure you have the necessary skills as a pilot to become licensed.
Congratulations! Upon completing all of this training and testing, you are now a private pilot!
What Can You Do With Your New Private Pilot License?
Now that you have earned your private pilot license, the skies are yours! Some of the exciting things you’re allowed to do include:
- Flying with passengers
- Flying at night
- Flying most types of aircraft
- Fly far distances (other states, etc)
- Fly up to 18,000 feet
As you can see, this opens the door to a lot of fun and exciting experiences. You can take your spouse/significant other on a flight to vacation somewhere. You can take your family to visit others in another state. You can even fly outside of the country as long as you meet the requirements of that country.
Although a private pilot license opens the door to most types of flying, there are still certain things you are not allowed to do. Some of these include:
- Being compensated as a pilot: Remember, the private pilot license does not make you a professional or commercial pilot, so you cannon take on paid flying jobs.
- You can’t fly in some types of weather (thick fog, for example) without additional training
- You cannot fly in the clouds without having earned an instrument rating for that
A you can see, earning your private pilot license requires a lot of time, dedication, and hard work.
I hope this guide was helpful to you and gets you one step closer to achieving your dream of becoming a pilot