How to Become a Pilot (Hint: you’ll need some training!)

Pilots in Plane Getting Ready For Takeoff
December 15, 2020
How to Become a Pilot (Hint: you’ll need some training!)

If you have a passion for flight, earning your private pilot certificate can be the first step into the aviation world. The avocational private pilot certificate (commonly referred to as a license) is the simplest pilot license to acquire. But it can act as a springboard into a number of related connections, each of which allows you to learn more, expand your experience, and embrace exciting opportunities.

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What Is a Private Pilot?

private pilot certificate (FAA Part 61) is a license that allows you to fly for pleasure. It’s a step that allows you to get a feel for flight and helps you decide whether it is something that you want to further pursue. The qualifications to become a private pilot include a combination of instructional and flight time.

With a few minor exceptions discussed below, people who hold a Part 61 certification cannot fly individuals as a job. They are only allowed to fly for pleasure, or, at most, for equal trade. For instance, a private pilot who is flying with others can be reimbursed for costs that include rental fees, airport expenses, oil, and fuel.

One of the many advantages of a Part 61 license is that it often allows for flexible study, depending on your training. People who are attaining their Part 61 certificate can generally do this on their own schedule and balance it with other commitments. Additionally, once you have this license, you can use flight hours that you accrue after to qualify for other certificates, such as multi-engine endorsements or a commercial certification.


How to Become a Private Pilot

Your private pilot license allows you to act as pilot in command in most single-engine aircraft in fair weather conditions.

To start studying for a private pilot certificate, there are certain qualifications you must meet to begin at any institution. You must be at least 16 years of age, and then at least 17 at the time of your test. You must have an FAA student pilot certificate, which is usually offered by the school where you will take your private pilot training. You must be able to speak, write and understand English, and pass a medical examination.

During the course, you’ll spend around 25 hours in ground instruction and 40-60 hours in flight training (to fully master the skills), including 10 hours of solo flight. During your instruction, you’ll learn skills like:

• landings and go-arounds.

• basic instrument maneuvers.

• ground reference maneuvers.

• performance maneuvers.

• navigation.

• night operations.

• slow-flight and stalls.

• emergency operations.

• post flight maneuvers.

Flight hours are required to include mastering several specific tasks. According to FAA regulations, you will need to have 40 hours of flight time that include 20 hours of training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours flying on your own. 

Additionally, you’ll need experience that includes the following:

• three hours of cross-country flight training.

• three hours of night flight training that include 10 take offs and landings, as well as one cross country flight of at least 100 nautical miles.

• three hours of flight training on instrument control and maneuvering.


During your 10 solo hours, you’ll need to complete the following:

• five hours of solo cross-country flight time.

• three takeoffs and landings to a full stop at an airport that has an operating control tower.

• one solo cross-country fight of at least 150 nautical miles that has full stop landings at three points.

• one segment of flight with at least 50 miles between takeoff and landing locations.


During flight hours, you’ll use a logbook that must be endorsed by an authorized instructor. Once you have completed studies, you can take the FAA Private Pilot Airplane Single Engine Land Practical test and will receive a certificate of completion. Once you’ve attained that, you are eligible to take the FAA’s exam for your Private Pilot Certificate. Three hours of your flight training with an instructor must occur within the two calendar months before your test.

In general, it takes about three months to earn a private pilot certificate if you are participating in a high-paced course. If your circumstances require flying just occasionally, it can take up to a couple of years. The good news is that you can find ways to increase your hours economically to qualify for your certificate, then to qualify for higher credentials.

Once you’ve attained a private pilot certificate, you can start attaining flight hours to get to the next level, your commercial pilot certificate. The commercial pilot license allows you to fly for compensation. You’ll need at least 250 additional flight hours after your Part 61 in order to qualify. While renting time in an airplane to qualify can be prohibitively expensive, there are also opportunities to gain flight hours through options that include volunteering or even a few specific fields discussed below.


Paths for Private Pilots

Even if you eventually aspire to be an airline pilot, you’ll need to accrue flight hours to eventually be eligible. With just a private pilot certificate, you have a few options if you are looking to continue increasing your hours and making some money along the way. If your goal is to ultimately be a pilot for a living, you’ll need to work toward your flight hours to get your commercial. Luckily, there are several roles that those with a commercial license can use to get the hours they need and get paid doing it.


Airplane Sales

Love airplanes? Selling them to others who share your passion is a great job to consider applying for. It can help you stay in the air, earn a living, and continue accruing flight hours.

Once someone holds a private pilot certificate and has at least 200 flight hours, they may qualify to act as pilot in command when demonstrating an aircraft to a potential customer. You’ll need to be cleared for each airplane type. This is a way to build experience while moving up toward other career opportunities. Flights to demonstrate aircrafts to different customers can add up to thousands of logged air miles.

If you are passionate about small aircraft, your enthusiasm can help others get excited about them, too.


Glider Towing Pilots

Gliders and unpowered ultralight vehicles have no engines of their own. Instead, they rely on the power of an airplane to get them up to gliding height. The pilot hooks up to the glider while on the ground; then, the glider pilot disconnects themselves once they are in flight. This type of job can be held while building hours for your commercial rating. Under new FAA rules written between 2002 and 2004, private pilot certificate holders could tow gliders for pay, and could log their flight time. However, you will need credentials to fly somewhat larger aircraft, as you’ll need significant horsepower to pull the glider.

To qualify as a glider towing pilot, you’ll need at least a private pilot certification. You’ll need 100 hours as pilot in command of the same vehicle category you are flying, with a logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor. You’ll also need an endorsement from a pilot who already meets the requirements of 61.66 (c) and (d) and who has accompanied you on at least three flights.

Unfortunately, pay for glider towers is typically low and hours can be inconsistent. In some cases, pilots towing gliders will not be compensated at all, but rather will earn comped hours on their own gliders or ultralights. The biggest benefit comes from the ability to accrue hours to proceed in your training without having to pay out of pocket for flight or simulator time. You will also learn a lot about fuel management and quick problem solving.


Charity and Non-profit Flights

If you have the opportunity to fly for charity events, you could be reimbursed for expenses while increasing your flight hours. Examples include raffling off tour flights for charity or offering time in the air as donations for organizations like the Make a Wish foundation.

Plane in Flight behind blue sky

Next Steps: How to Advance through Commercial Flight Certifications


As a private pilot, you can begin gaining endorsements for different aircraft and work through the requirements for the next professional certifications, also sometimes called licenses. The next levels that you can attain are your commercial pilot certificate and your airline transport pilot certificate (Spartan College does not offer the ATP certificate). Each has different hour and skill requirements.


FAA Part 141


The Part 141 differs from Part 61 in that it has a structured and approved FAA training curriculum in a school setting. Conversely Part 61 allows you to work with a certified flight instructor with no regulated curriculum. Studying in a Part 141 program means that you can also get certain FAA certifications more quickly.


At Spartan, we offer an Associate of Applied Science degree that will allow you to attain multiple Part 141 certificates. Over a period of 17 months, you will get the instruction and the training needed. Once you’ve attained this license, you can work on to get your commercial certificate or apply to be a certified flight instructor.


Commercial Pilot Certificate


If you have studied under a Part 61 course or Part 141 program, you are likely well on your way to a commercial license. To raise to the next level, you’ll need to accrue the following:


250 hours of flight time (190 if you have a Part 141). Up to 50 of these hours can be in simulators. 100 must be in powered aircraft.


20 hours of training. This must include 10 on instruments, and 10 on technically advanced or complex aircraft. You’ll also need some additional hours in practical test preparation and cross-country training.


• 50 hours of cross-country flight

• 100 hours spent as pilot in command.

• 10 hours of solo flight training. Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (ATP)


Once a flight student has acquired a commercial flight certificate, they can now work toward their Airline Transport Pilot Certificate. Depending on where the pilot studies, qualifying to take the exam will require anywhere from 1000 to 1500 flying hours. Other requirements include:


• at least 23 years of age.

• of good moral character.

• a commercial pilot certificate and an instrument rating.

• meeting the minimum flight hours for Part 61.

• passing the ATP written and practical tests.


Opportunities with Your Commercial Certificate License


While the opportunities for those holding a private pilot certificate are limited, they may expand once you begin adding more flight hours and gaining higher certifications. The fields below are all viable options for people who have spent some time as a private pilot and are ready to expand into commercial flight. No school can guarantee job placement, but these are common options for those looking to build flight hours.


Certified Flight Instructor


Becoming a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) is a way to share your passion for flight and help others attain their dreams. You will also have great opportunities to expand your flight hours and qualify for new experiences.


You’ll need to get a certificate to become a qualified instructor. The requirements for that include:


• ability to read, write, speak, and understand English.

• either an airline transport license or a commercial pilot license.

• you must hold an instrument rating.

• you must pass a knowledge test and a practical test for the rating you are seeking.


In general, flight instructors are paid hourly. However, this will depend on the flight school where you work and how often you are booked for classes. When you first start as an instructor, you’ll likely be flying typical training aircraft for new pilots, such as the Cessna 172, the Diamond DA20 and the Piper Cherokee. However, as you become more experienced and gain more endorsements, you’ll get a chance to fly more advanced aircraft, as well as teach others to do the same.


Banner Towing


Aerial advertising, which involves flying large banners over public areas or events, is a straightforward way for pilots to build up a lot of hours over the course of their daily work. On average, each day flying banners will involve around eight hours in the air. Throughout the day, banner towers typically fly short circuits with different banners, usually about forty minutes for each message. These flights will take pilots overcrowded areas such as unique events, festivals, beaches, and sporting events.


Flying banners is a way to improve stick and rudder skills, as picking up and dropping off banners can be tricky. To qualify for this, you’ll need your FAA issued Single-Engine Land Pilot License and your Commercial Rating, as well as your tailwheel endorsement and satisfactory completion of your company’s banner tow training.


Pay for banner towing can range from $15 to $50 an hour, all depending on where the operation is located and the experience of the pilot. Most banner towing operations will not offer any sorts of benefits. Pilots also will not be able to work on days with poor weather or high winds, which can make income unpredictable. However, this is a very easy option for building up flight hours quickly.


Aerial Photography


Pilots who fly photographers or videographers assist those professionals in getting unique views. In some cases, aerial photography pilots will fly over festivals to capture the crowd, or in areas with a great deal of boat traffic to capture images of different watercraft. In the latter job, planes often also pull banners that will advertise the name of the company where subjects of the photos can get copies of their prints.


One interesting subspecialty is becoming a camera pilot for television or feature films. Pilots who do this may have responsibilities that include scouting locations, working out aerial action shots and even directing sequences. Often, the camera pilot will also perform logistical tasks that include finding aircrafts and crew for the feature.


In films that include a great deal of aerial photography or aerial action sequences, the camera pilot will begin working about two months before shooting begins. They’ll work daily throughout production to ensure that the shots needed for the final product can be acquired while keeping every participant safe.


Single-pilot Small Cargo Flights


While a lot of cargo is transported on large, commercial jets, it is also possible to get work on small cargo flights, instead. You’ll need your commercial pilot license, as well as endorsements for whatever plane you will be flying. Cargo pilots often fly at night. The job requires checking cargo lists and storage systems to make sure that everything being shipped meets transportation safety guidelines and signing paperwork when they receive and deliver goods.


Most cargo pilots fly a set schedule between airports on their employers’ routes. If you are looking for a dependable schedule, this could be a benefit for you. Depending on the size of the company, a cargo pilot may also be responsible for cleaning and maintenance between flights.


Aerial Survey Pilot


An aerial survey pilot uses photographic or mapping equipment to capture images and record data while in flight. Pilots will need good planning skills as they determine the best path to obtain the required information and images. They’ll also spend time communicating with air traffic control, trigger equipment and sensors over the designated areas and deploy remote controlled equipment.


To become a survey pilot, you’ll need a commercial pilot certificate and instrument ratings that allow you to fly in all conditions. Most employers require that pilots have at least 250 hours of flight time, but some will require at least 500 hours in fixed-wing, single-engine aircraft.


Agricultural Pilot


Colloquially known as crop dusters, agricultural pilots will engage in activities like spreading pesticides or seed. Pilots who work as crop dusters will need a commercial pilot license. They are required to pass a medical exam and will need at least 250 flight hours.


In general, this sort of flying requires the ability to fly well with a heavy load. These pilots need to have skill flying at low levels while avoiding obstacles like trees, fences, and power lines. The work is often done in the early morning or late evening to avoid high winds. Takeoffs may occur from nearby roads and open fields close to the area that is being treated.


Work in this niche is typically seasonal. How long you can work each year depends on your geographic region. In warm climates, an agricultural pilot may work up to nine months of the year; one in a cooler area may only have a couple of months of work.


Ferry Pilot


Ferry pilots transport airplanes between one location and another. In some cases, you will deliver aircraft from the manufacturer to their customer. In other, you’ll move empty planes from where they are currently located to where they’ll soon be needed. Ferry pilots need to be able to fly a wide range of aircraft. So, you’ll need hours and ratings in high performance, complex, multi-engine and more.


Some ferry flights are quick hops, while other are extended flights over paths that can run from coast to coast. Long ferry flights often mean flying aircraft that are outfitted with spare fuel tanks and having the ability to add oil to the engine while off the ground.


Most aircraft manufacturers will have requirements specific to their pilots, as well as general requirements. In order to fly as a ferry pilot, you will need a commercial certificate with an instrument and multi-engine rating. Pilots will need 1000 hours total fight time, as well as anywhere from 25 to 100 hours in each type of aircraft you’ll fly.


This is an opportunity to get experience on a wide range of craft. You may also get chances to add special qualifications like night hours. Pay is usually offered as a day rate and varies with the experience of the pilot.


Skydive Jump Pilot


This pilot job involves taking groups of passengers up to jump height throughout the day. Because jump planes take off and land several times per day, the job requires a thorough nature to perform pre-flight inspections before each time you take off. Operations you’ll get to use often include best rate climbs, slow flight, door operation and maintaining airspeed on your jump run and with your skydivers outside your plane. Some jump planes are single-engine, while others are multiengine planes. You’ll need a certificate for each type of airplane you use.


In a typical day, you will probably fly around eight to twelve hours, with sometimes as many as 30 takeoffs and landings throughout the day. You’ll need to be able to work in changing wind conditions, as well as adjust for different load sizes and fuel levels.

Spartan College Airworthiness Directives

Industry Tips for Private Pilots


Cultivate Your Soft Skills


A pilot doesn’t just have to understand instruments. He or she needs to work well with people, too. Learn how to be a good and active listener. Practice communicating clearly and succinctly, as it will be helpful whether you are giving students instructions as a flight instructor or whether you are talking to air traffic control.


Become an Effective Networker


Just like in other industries, most of the best jobs are never advertised. Work on building connections in the aeronautic industry to get access to jobs that are only offered by referral. Keep in touch with fellow students from flight school. Reach out to professionals in your industry online when you have questions. Send a note of thanks every time a mentor helps you learn something new or connect with a new opportunity.


People who do these things are remembered by their peers, and usually remembered fondly. When someone asks them if they know a qualified pilot, you are increasing your chances that your name comes up.


Be Realistic about Each Opportunity


Some jobs may provide decent income along with chances to build experience. Some will mostly be valuable for the chances you get to expand your flight hours and the types of aircraft you are qualified to fly. When assessing each job opportunity, make a list of what you will gain from it, as well as how you will be able to apply that experience in the future.


Search for New Work Regularly


Many private pilot jobs are only available on a contract or seasonal basis. Subscribe to job posting alerts with a number of pilot-specific job boards, as well as more general boards. You should also make contacts at local pilot staffing agencies and, whenever possible, go to job conferences for aeronautical professionals.


The same problem-solving skills that make you a good pilot can also be applied to finding jobs at each level of certification and experience. By exploring what is available and working constantly to increase your skills, you can cultivate the opportunities and continually expand your career horizons.


Spartan College Career Services


If you are a Spartan College graduate – get in touch with our Career Services team. Through continual contact with industry-related companies and business leaders, our Career Services department can cultivate employment opportunities. Spartan College’s Career Services Department is available to help students achieve their goals during and beyond their education. While no college can guarantee students a job when they graduate, our career services department provides multiple services to students and alumni including career placement assistance, resume & cover letter development, on-campus and virtual career fairs, interviewing skills, on-campus recruitment events, and building social media presence.


If you are looking to get started on your Commercial pilot training, you can find out more about Spartan’s programs at

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