How to get a Private Pilot’s License

This basic license allows you to fly single-engine aircraft and carry passengers; it is the foundation for more advanced instrument, commercial and professional pilot licenses. Many people do not know all the steps or realize that that they have options to fit many different approaches, learning styles and goals.

You must be at least 17 years old and read, speak and understand English. Meet these criteria, and you´re ready to start.

Beyond that, follow these 10 easy steps to a Private Pilot License:


1. Set a goal for yourself. Maybe you want to finish during a long vacation. Maybe you want to spread your training and the costs out over a few months, a year or longer. Either way, it is important to be honest with yourself. Investigate alternatives. You can work with an instructor privately, with clubs that offer training, or with a formal flight school. Since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates all of these alternatives, you can feel comfortable that each meets the same high standards. Most advertisements you see will be for formal flight schools. If you are in a hurry, can meet their schedules, and cost is not a concern, these may be your best option. If not, find a program with policies, costs and instructors that can meet your specific needs.

2. Most importantly, find an instructor you will like working with. Check with your local general aviation airports for information about flight schools, clubs and instructors in your area. Also, the AOPA keeps a database of flight instructors on its website. Share your goals and needs with the instructor and ask if they can work to meet them. When you find one you think you like, take a “discovery flight” with him/her. During this flight you´ll actually get to fly the aircraft and get comfortable with the instructor. The cost should be less than $50 and can usually be applied to license training if you move forward.

3. Start training. Most instructors will start training flights immediately. Many student pilots try to finish ground school first — don´t. You´ll be more motivated to learn what you need to know if you are actually using the knowledge while flying. The FAA Airplane Flying Handbook is the definitive guide on how to fly airplanes. Instructors can give you prep work from it to prepare for practice flights.

4. Obtain a medical certificate from a qualified doctor of aviation medicine. Your flight program can usually recommend a doctor in your area or ask your family doctor. The medical certificate is also your student pilot´s license and allows you to, among other things, solo an airplane and register with AOPA.

5. Study for the FAA written computerized test. Many student pilots take a formal ground school, but it is not a requirement. If you need structure and formal guidance to learn well, they may be good for you. But they can be costly and inconvenient. Only passing the FAA computerized test is required. You can study on your own or with guidance from your instructor as alternatives. The FAA Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge covers all the information that will be on the test.

6. Take the FAA computerized test when you feel ready. The test consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and can be taken at FAA testing centers or other licensed test providers. Many online sources provide practice testing. Do well on this test and your oral review will likely be easier.

8. Complete your “solo” – a flight without an instructor on board. Many students will solo after only 10 to 15 hours of flight.

7. Complete about 40 hours of flight time and learn to demonstrate all the skills you need for your final FAA check ride. Most of your flight time will be with an instructor who will get you ready, but try to get in as much solo time as possible. While 40 is the minimum number of hours for a Private Pilot certification, the average is closer to 65, so don´t be disappointed if you go over. Sport or Recreation certifications come with limitations, but allow you to start carrying passengers more quickly.

9. Complete your final FAA exam check ride. An FAA-certified examiner will ask questions and accompany you on a flight in order to assess your knowledge and abilities. Pass this test and you´ll be awarded your private pilot’s license with a visual flight rating. This allows you to pilot a single-engine aircraft day or night in weather with good visibility.

10. Get out and fly. Go places, see the world. Keep your training current and improve skills with more complex aircraft, more advanced ratings and other certifications. The normal sequence is Private, Instrument, Commercial, Multi-Engine, then Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificates. You can also investigate rotorcraft certifications, complex aircraft endorsements, and seaplane ratings. You´ll also have to stay current and keep your pilot regulations and charts up to date to fly safely and continue carrying passengers.

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