How Long Does It Take to Become a Pilot

Once you discover your passion and purpose in life, it is exciting. Anything that stands between you and your goal is an obstacle that you want to plow through – often as quickly as possible.

Does this sound like you? Are you imagining what it will be like to sit in that cockpit, your hands on the controls? Good. You have a vision for your life – that is step 1. Now step 2 is putting a plan in place to make your vision a reality.

Maybe you are just starting out and haven’t even signed up for your first flight lesson yet. You may not even know what type of pilot’s license you need to get. Good – you’re in the right place.

Already have your private pilot’s license and want to become an airline pilot? We’ve got you covered too.

Together we will sift through the requirements, cost, timeline and options for achieving your dreams.

Ready to take that first step?

Let’s go!

A twin engine aircraft parked on the tarmac - Pilot MallHow Many Hours of Training Do I Need to Get My Pilot’s License?

Naturally to earn more advanced licenses, you will have to log more flight time. You will also need to pass an FAA aeronautical knowledge test, a practical test (except for at the initial level) and a medical exam.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pilot?

Your end flight goals are what will determine the type of pilot’s license you need to work towards.

The FAA issues 7 different levels of pilot licenses ranging from a student pilot certificate up to an airline transport pilot. Let’s review each so you can decide which you will need to earn.

open door of a piper aircraft - Pilot Mall

1. Student Pilot Certificate

Think of this as the equivalent to a learner’s permit for driving a car. Every pilot will need to obtain this certificate first in order to take flight lessons.

2. Sport Pilot Certificate

Earn this certificate if your end goal is to be able to fly light-sport aircraft (LSA) like the Icon A5.

(NOTE: Try our step-by-step guide to become a Sport Pilot.)

  • Complete 20 hours of flight time (15 with instructor and 5 solo)

3. Recreational Pilot Certificate

The recreational pilot certificate was introduced in 2014 as a hybrid between a sport pilot certificate and a private pilot’s license.

A recreational license lets you fly light, single engine-aircraft with certain restrictions. Recreational pilots can fly in the daytime, within 50 nautical miles of their originating airport. They must avoid controlled airspace and towered airports.

  • Must be at least 17 years old (16 for gliders or balloons)
  • Must have either a student pilot certificate or a sport pilot certificate
  • Complete 30 hours of flight time (Must have 15 with instructor, 3 solo, 2 cross-country flight – greater than 25 NM)

4. Private Pilot Certificate

Most pilots go from their student pilot certificate to earning a private pilot certificate. This is like a standard driver’s license on land. With this certificate, you can fly most airplanes as long as you aren’t being paid for your piloting.

  • Must be at least 17 years old
  • Complete 40 hours of flight time in a single-engine airplane (Including a minimum of 20 hours with instructor on specific areas of operations and 10 hours of solo time also on specific areas of operations)

5. Commercial Pilot Certificate

If you want to get paid to fly, the commercial pilot certificate is the place to start. With this license, you can be paid to freight planes, fly charters and tow banners.

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Must already have a private pilot license
  • Must have logged at least 250 hours of flight time (including 100 in powered aircraft and 100 pilot-in-command training)

6. Flight Instructor Certificate

A flight instructor certificate is a good option for those who enjoy teaching and earning money while adding to their flight hours.

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Must already have either a commercial pilot certificate or an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate
  • Pass FAA Certified Flight Instructor Knowledge exam
  • Must hold an instrument rating in desired category and class of plane

7.      Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (ATP)

The most advanced pilot certificate available is for airline transport. If your dream is to be an airline pilot, this is the certificate you will need.

  • Must be at least 23 years old
  • Must already have a commercial pilot certificate
  • Must have logged at least 1,500 total hours of flight time (including 250 hours as pilot-in-command)

military pilot at the cockpit - Pilot Mall

How Much Will It Cost to Get my Pilot’s License?

Now that you know which certification you need and what it will take to earn it, the next question is, “How much will it cost?”

Of course, there is no precise answer because it depends on variables like:

  • Whether you choose to go the civilian or military training route
  • Whether you attend a college, university, professional flight school or local flight school
  • The cost of flight time and aircraft rentals in your location
  • How you are financing your tuition and if you are paying interest

That said, here are some high-level estimates* to get you started:

  • Sport: $3,000-$5,000
  • Recreational: $6,000-$7,700
  • Private: $6,500-$15,000
  • Commercial: $3,000 add-on to existing private rating
  • Flight Instructor: $8,000-$12,000+, additional $5,000+ for instrument rating
  • Airline Transport: $30,000 (private + instrument + commercial + airline transport)


a commercial pilot in the cockpit - Pilot Mall

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pilot?

If you are in a hurry to become a pilot, you may be wondering exactly how long it is going to take. Here’s the thing – the timing is flexible based on your choice of schooling.

The fastest way to become an airline pilot is to enroll in an accelerated training program. A well-known example of this type of training model is the Airline Career Pilot Program through ATP Flight School.

For a flat rate of $81,000, dedicated students can go through the training program in as little as 9 months.

When you graduate, you will have earned your private and commercial pilots licenses along with your certified flight instructor (CFI) and multi-engine ratings.

You will still need to build up your total flight time to meet airline minimums, and you can do that by taking a guaranteed 18-month long CFI position with ATP. You may also qualify for airline sponsored tuition reimbursement programs.

If you’ve been doing the math, you will realize that if you choose to, you can go from never having set foot in a cockpit to flying as an airline pilot in just over 2 years.

Do you already have your private pilot license? Great – that means that you can shave 3 months and about $17,000 off your total costs.

Expect the schooling process to take 4 years if you go the university route. When you graduate, you will have a college degree, although you will probably still need to log more flight time to meet minimums.

If time is less important than cost, you can chip away at the requirements a little at a time at a local flight school and earn your ATP certification in about 3-7 years.

Wondering if there are any ways to work and build hours towards your ATP? Read our suggestions here: 8 Low Time Pilot Jobs for Pilots With Less Than 500 Hours

How Do I Get Hired as an Airline Pilot?

You have all the training, you’ve logged the hours and now you are ready to land that first pilot job. Where do you begin? The job market is competitive, so be prepared. Follow some proven strategies for getting hired.

Do everything you can to stand out. This means networking and developing contacts who can help you get your foot in the door.

When you are just out of school, you will have low flight hours, so your best bet is to start out applying for regional airlines. You will need to work your way up.

Remember: Seniority is everything, so the sooner you get hired, the better.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much will it cost to get my Pilot’s License?

    Learning to fly can be an exciting, but expensive as well. The price of a private pilot's license (PPL) can vary between $8,000 to $20,000, while a commercial pilot's license (CPL) may range from $30,000 to $80,000 or more.

  • How to get hired as an Airline Pilot?

    Becoming an airline pilot involves meeting the requirements for an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification. This involves getting your Private Pilot certificate, your Commercial Pilot certificate, your IFR rating, your Multi-Engine rating, and meeting the 1500-hour rule.

  • Where do I begin on getting a Pilot License?

    Look for a reputable flight school or flight club and ask for a discovery flight to see if flying is right for you.

  • Is it very hard to become a pilot?

    Becoming a pilot can be challenging, but rewarding as well. It is a big financial and time commitment to become a pilot. it involves studying for written exams along with proving proficiency through practical exams. You will have to learn a range of topics that involve math, meteorology, and memorization of regulations.

  • How long does it take to become a pilot with no experience?

    A student dedicated to their studies and flying regularly can earn a private pilot license with 40 hours of flight training in approximately 3-6 months. Advancing to a commercial pilot license, which requires 250 hours of flight training, usually takes an extra 6-12 months or longer, depending on the student's pace and schedule for training.

Where Do I Start?

Before we wrap this up, let’s break down your next steps. Here’s a checklist to walk you through the process:

  • Figure out which type of pilot license you want to earn
  • Decide if you want to go the military or civilian training route
  • If you opt for civilian training, put together a plan for how you will pay for your flight training
  • Decide which type of training program to enroll in
  • Research training programs and choose your top programs
  • Apply for training
  • Secure financing
  • Ace your training
  • Log your flight hours
  • Apply for your dream job

Learn How to Earn Pilot Licenses(Certificates) or Fly Different Aircraft

Our guides are designed to help student pilots become professional pilots and for private pilots to improve their knowledge and skills.

Did you find this article helpful?

Do you think we missed anything important? Let us know in the comments below!

EducationProfessional pilot

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Featured products

Gleim 2024 Commercial Pilot FAA Knowledge Test
🔥 Hurry Only 1 left!
Gleim 2024 Commercial Pilot FAA Knowledge Test
Sale price$35.99 USD Regular price$39.95 USD
In stock
Gleim 2024 Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test
Gleim 2024 Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test
Sale price$25.99 USD Regular price$29.95 USD
In stock
ASA Standard Pilot Logbook (Navy)
🔥 Hurry Only 1 left!
ASA Standard Pilot Logbook (Navy)
Sale price$10.99 USD Regular price$14.95 USD
In stock

Latest Blog Posts

View all
Why the Bose A20 is the #1 Selling Aviation Headset

Why the Bose A20 is the #1 Selling Aviation Headset


The Bose A20 Aviation Headset has earned a widespread fan base among pilots for its amazing sound quality and durable design. Despite newer options being available on the market, like the Bose A30, the A20 headset retains its popularity within the aviation community.

In this review, we'll explore the factors that contribute to its enduring appeal and why it continues to be a top choice for pilots of all skill levels.

Flying in Thunderstorms (What to Do & What Not to Do)

Flying in Thunderstorms (What to Do & What Not to Do)

Visually stunning and filled with deadly power, thunderstorms are one of the most fascinating and dangerous weather phenomena you are likely to encounter as a pilot. An estimated 40,000 thunderstorms pop up around the globe on a daily basis, so your odds of having to deal with one are reasonably high.

How to Acquire a Helicopter License (Step by Step)

How to Acquire a Helicopter License (Step by Step)


So, you want to earn a helicopter license but you’re not quite sure how to go about it? Maybe you have a fixed-wing license and want to branch out into rotor, or you are just starting out and are interested in eventually pursuing a career as a helicopter pilot. Either way, we’ve got you covered. Today we will walk you through the process and what to expect as you acquire a helicopter license.