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How to Become a Pilot: The Steps Explained

flight instructor with student in front of plane
January 22, 2021

How to Become a Pilot: The Steps Explained

Many people have dreamt of becoming a pilot. Goals are good to have but having an action plan to reach them is a best-case scenario. That’s where we come in, the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology team is here to help you make your training goals a reality.

 

The process behind training to become a pilot is straight-forward, but that doesn’t make it easy. It takes time, effort, and funding to go through all of the training, to get the required certifications, and to find work (if that’s your goal).

 

In this article, we will cover the steps you should follow to become a pilot. This will guide you through the process without fear of missing out on something or making the wrong decisions.

 

So when you’re ready to begin your journey to the sky, keep reading.

 

Learn About the Different Levels of Piloting

 

Aviation training has a progressive advancement system. For instance, becoming an airline pilot usually begins by becoming a commercial pilot, which begins by learning how to be a private pilot. 

 

Therefore, it’s important to understand the many differences between these several roles. With a certificate of a private pilot, you can operate aircraft for personal purposes, carry any number of passengers, and fly under 18,000 feet anywhere in the US. You cannot be paid for the services provided.

 

It takes about 40 hours of flight time to get this certificate, but most people actually need more than that to meet all of the criteria.

 

So, exactly how long does it take to get this certificate? 

 

Depending on where you train, the whole process can take anywhere from four to 18 months, depending on aircraft capacity, weather conditions, and more.

 

If you want to become a professional who gets paid for flying, you need a commercial certificate. With this, you can engage in rescue ops, offer air tours, crop dust, and take aerial photos. You need about 250 hours of flight time to qualify for this certificate. 

 

Even though there is a wide range of aviation jobs that can get you into the sky after proper career-training, airline pilots are the ones you see at the airport most often. They carry cargo and people over air routes. Some individuals come from the military, but most start as commercial pilots.

 

The criteria to become a pilot requires at least 1,500 flight time hours, and an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate unless they attend a Part 141 school, which qualifies you after only 1,250 hours of flight time.

 

When you complete Spartan’s program you earn five certifications. In as little as 17 months, you can complete your program earning your Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) as well as your Private Pilot, Instrument Rating, Commercial Pilot Multi-Engine and Single Engine certifications from our FAA Part 141 approved program at an ACCSC accredited college.

 

The Process of How to Become a Pilot

 

A higher degree is not necessary for becoming a commercial or private pilot. However, most folks do go through college for a degree, either as part of the training or before it.

 

To make the strongest case to combine with your training, the degree should be in any relevant program. Spartan College of Aeronautics & Technology not only has  flight training but we also offer a Bachelor’s of Science in Technology Management, which is designed for students who wish to strengthen their business and management acumen within technical industries.

 

Most airlines simply want to know that you have the habits and discipline to meet academic goals. A working pilot is continuously educated upon new procedures, systems, and technology, so it’s important that they can adapt quickly.

 

Flight Training

 

When it comes to actually learning how to operate an aircraft, you can enroll in a trade school or college program and flight school. Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology provides career-oriented, hands-on training across a portfolio of aviation flight and technology programs.

 

There are several types of schools for pilots, two common schools are known as Part 141 and Part 61 schools. This term refers to the Federal Aviation Regulation sections that the school operate under.

 

Part 141 schools are approved and evaluated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These schools are very structured and help students train to meet strict federal requirements. Spartan College is a Part 141 school. The curriculum is pre-set by the school administration, and the programs are constantly in motion. 

 

At Spartan College, we make it a priority to make sure students are well trained and well prepared. A private pilot certificate under Part 141 takes about 35 hours, with Spartan’s program our private pilots 58 hours. The same certificate under Part 61 takes about 40 hours. A commercial certification only requires 190 hours of training under Part 141 while if you go under Part 61 the requirement is 250 hours.

 

In any case, these are minimums and it’s very rare for a pilot to demonstrate their capabilities and skills in less than 60 hours, so this difference might not be that important. Part 141 school is fast paced.

 

Students work their certification training around the schedule and spend less or more time on certain parts of the training. This might be a great solution for those who want to get their certificate part-time. 

 

Some FAA-approved schools also offer training under Part 61. Learning with Part 61 provides ground school training via self-study courses online. This means you can prepare for the written FAA exams that must be completed by all pilots.

Student Pilot Certificate

 

Before you can start flying solo, you need to get your student pilot certificate. You typically don’t need it to start training, but some flight schools may require it before you can start training.

 

For eligibility, you should be at least 16 years of age and be fluent in English. You can start your application on the Integrated Airman Certification & Rating Application website. Once you have done that, you have to meet with a certified instructor so they can verify all of the information. 

 

Once they’ve done that, your application is sent to the FAA certification branch, you will receive your certificate within three weeks (if no issues arise). These certificates for students do not expire.

 

Medical Certificate

 

You also need a medical certificate to pilot a plane alone. This can be acquired from the Aviation Medical Examiner. These are medical doctors who understand the physiology of flying and that are FAA-approved.

 

During their exam, they will ask about your medical history, but also assess your coordination, eyesight, and hearing. They must certify your fitness for piloting an aircraft. That’s the whole point!

 

You can receive one of three medical certificates as a starting point. The first class is necessary for airline pilots. For those under 40 years of age, the certificate lasts a year. For those over 40, they have to get certified twice a year. This certificate has the most regulated criteria.

 

The second class is necessary for commercial pilots. It’s valid for a year. The requirements are pretty much the same as the first, but there is no EKG requirement. 

 

The third class is necessary for private and student pilots. It’s valid for 5 years for those under 40, and 2 years for those over 40. This is the easiest certificate to get since the eyesight criteria are not as strict.

 

Private Pilot Certificate

 

You can become a private pilot, starting at the age of 17 combined with English fluency. You should have the third-class medical certificate at the least, but you can apply for the second or first class too. So, you have options.

 

You will also need to complete ground training with a certified instructor. After which, you will pass a written exam to test your knowledge, you will need a grade of at least 70%.

 

After this, you can start to log your flying hours. You will need at least 40 hours under Part 61 and only 35 hours under Part 141. After accruing your hours, you will pass a check ride that is conducted by the FAA-approved evaluator.

 

Once you get your certificate, you will be able to operate single-engine planes with visual flight regulations. This means you can only fly under clear weather and in the daytime.

 

Multi-Engine Rating

 

A multi-engine rating can be acquired by training with a multi-engine aircraft in your private training, but it’s not necessary. Your multi-engine rating can be acquired as an add-on. Since most commercial planes have several engines, getting this rating is critical to building your training as a pilot.

 

No exams are needed to get this rating and you don’t need a special number of logged hours. As long as you have a private pilot certificate, you need to get an endorsement from your instructor for flight and ground training to begin your check ride.

 

You will have to understand multi-engine procedures, aerodynamics, emergencies, and maneuvers. Most pilots will need about 10 hours to prepare for the check ride. This rating can be acquired within weeks.

 

Instrument Rating

 

Operating a plane in zero visibility is not easy and it requires training. If you wish to fly through fog, rain, and clouds, you need to learn how to use the cockpit instruments for navigation. 

 

To get an instrument rating, you need to pass ground training with an approved flight instructor.

 

Once again, you will pass a written exam with a score of at least 70%. You will need at least 40 hours in a simulator or plane, demonstrating skills in air traffic clearances, navigation systems, instrument methodologies, and emergency circumstances. You will also need 50 hours as a command pilot for cross-country flights.

 

Beyond that, you need at least one cross-country flight that goes over 250 nautical miles and makes use of at least three different instrument methodologies. After endorsement by an instructor, you are able to attempt to pass your check ride. 

 

After getting your instrument rating, you will be free to fly in all weather conditions.

 

Commercial Pilot Certificate

 

To become a commercial pilot, you need to be at least 18 years of age, have your private pilot certificate, and have a second-class medical certificate. And last but not least, have your instrument rating.

 

However, to actually get the certificate, you need to complete ground training and pass a written test with a grade of 70% or more. After this, you will start to log your minimum of 250 hours in an aircraft – 100 hours as a command pilot, 50 hours in cross-country operation, 10 hours of instrument practice, one cross-country in nighttime VFR, and another in daytime VFR. Also, one cross-country flight of over 300 nautical miles with a single line of at least 250 miles. 

 

After an endorsement by your instructor, you will be ready to take the FAA Practical Test which is referred to as a check ride in the industry.

 

Airline Transport Pilot Certificate

 

To become an airline pilot, you need to earn your Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification, which is the upper-most scale of certification. To qualify, you should be at least 23 years of age, have a commercial certificate, first-class medical certificate, and a full-fledged instrument rating. But that’s not all, you also need 1,500 hours of total logged time, or 1,250 logged flight hours at a Part 141 school, which Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology is however, ATP certification is not part of the Spartan program.

 

This consists of cross-country flights for 500 hours, 75 hours of instrument navigation, 100 hours of night-time flying, and the rest is in regular hours. Most pilots become instructors to get their hours up quickly.

 

Next, you move toward completing your training program for your ATP certification (not currently offered at Spartan College). It consists of 10 hours in the simulator, 30 hours of ground training, and other FAA-approved practices. 

 

From there, you will take a written exam for ATP Multi-Engine Airplanes, aiming for a score of at least 70%. You will have four hours to respond to 125 questions.

 

After completing your test, you will begin your check ride. After this, hopefully, you will be granted the ATP certificate. 

 

ATP Exceptions

 

Keep in mind you can get an ATP at a younger age of 21. In this case, you can earn a restricted certificate that prevents you from being captain, but you can still be a first officer. In some cases, you can get this restricted certificate with less than 1,500 logged hours. 

 

These are the exceptions:

 

  • Military personnel only need 750 logged hours.
  • Graduates with associate degrees in approved two-year colleges need 1,250 hours logged, only if they have 30 hours of aviation courses and have their commercial certificate with Part 141.
  • Graduates with bachelor’s degrees from approved four-year universities only need 1,000 hours, only if they have 60 hours of aviation courses and have a commercial certificate with Part 141.

 

Once you meet the 1,500 logged hours and age requirement, you can remove the restriction and enjoy all of the privileges of being an ATP-certified pilot. Many pilots, once working for regional airlines, will spend several years as first officers before getting a captain promotion. 

 

After several years with a regional airline, one can apply for work at a major international company.

 

And that’s how to become a pilot.

 

The Best Part 141 Aviation Program for You

 

Now that you have discovered the total process behind how to become a pilot, you are well on your way to begin your journey towards the sky. It might not be easy, and it will definitely take an extended period of time from Spartan’s program to when you’re flying — but it is worth it. 

 

The knowledge and skills that you will gain, the assistance to others you will provide, the experiences that you will have are all worth your time. 

 

If you’re looking for an approved Part 141 program, get in touch with us and we will happily accommodate your needs.


Take a look at our admissions page to learn more about what Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology has to offer and what our admissions requirements are.

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If you would like to learn more about Spartan College and our program offerings, fill out the form below to request information, and we will have one of our admissions representatives contact you.

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