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How Can I Earn an Airplane Pilot's License?

Learn about the different types of airplane pilot's licenses and how to earn them. Get detailed information about the requirements for pilot licensure.

Airplane Pilot's License Defined

An airplane pilot's license, also known as a pilot's certificate, allows the holder to fly an aircraft. There are different types of pilot's licenses; each type restricts the craft and conditions you are allowed to fly in. A private pilot license will allow you to fly privately, while a commercial pilot license will let you fly for paid work. The latter license requires you to possess the former.

Important Facts About Being A Pilot

Average Salary (2021) $202,180 (for all airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers)
Job Outlook (2021-2031) 6% (for all airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers)
Key SkillsCommunication Skills
Observational Skills
Problem-Solving Skills
Quick Reaction Time
Work EnvironmentPrimarily in an aircraft; travel required; potential job hazards, such as weather and fatigue
Continuing Education Periodic flight exams and physical tests required to maintain credentials

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Ways to Earn an Airplane Pilot's License

You will want to pursue a certificate or an associate's degree in a professional piloting program to begin your training in the field. These are often available at flight schools along with some community colleges or 4-year universities. If you plan on working for a commercial airline, you will want to look into obtaining a bachelor's degree.

By successfully completing one of those programs, you can earn acknowledgments like private and commercial pilot certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. Before getting flight experience, you will learn about the inner workings of the plane along with how the instruments work. The coursework you will be expected to complete covers topics like commercial pilot flight, advanced aircraft systems, aviation safety, instrument pilot flight and survey of air traffic control.


To become licensed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), you have to be at least 18 years old. You will need to pass a physical examination to ensure you can safely operate a plane, and you must have 20/20 vision with or without corrective lenses. Good hearing is a recommendation, although there are special circumstances in which the hearing impaired can obtain a pilot's license.

When you are flying, you must follow all of the FAA's regulations at all times. There are additional requirements depending on what pilot's license you possess as well as other conditions. For example, you have to be rated to fly during times of low visibility. This comes from having enough instrument flying experience and completing an examination covering the regulations on flying by instruments only.

If you are planning on being an airline pilot, you must obtain an air transport pilot's license and meet other requirements. For this license, you will need to be 23 years or older along with having over 1,500 hours of flight experience (although a restricted privileges certificate is offered for those with less than 1,500 hours of flight time that enables individuals to serve as co-pilots until they meet flight experience requirements). This flight experience has to include time spent flying by actual or simulated instruments as well as night and cross country flight time.

With each pilot's license that you pursue, you will need to complete a written examination. These examinations ensure that you are qualified to fly that aircraft. The topics covered on this examination include navigation techniques, flight safety, aircraft systems, aerodynamics, weather, regulations and aircraft operations.