Frequently Asked Questions
- How can I find a flight school?
- How and where can I get a student pilot certificate?
- For how long is a student pilot certificate valid?
- What are the vision, hearing, and general medical health requirements that must be met in order to be a pilot?
- Do I need a medical certificate to become a sport pilot?
- How much does it cost to learn to fly and get a pilot certificate?
- How long does it take to learn to fly and get a pilot certificate?
- How old do I have to be before I can start taking flying lessons?
- How old is too old to begin flying lessons?
There are more than 3,000 flight schools nationwide, so chances are there’s one at your local airport. Click here to search our online database.
An aviation medical examiner (AME) typically gives you a student pilot certificate to fill out as part of the third class medical exam. Your flight instructor will likely refer you to a local AME, or you can find an examiner online using AOPA's database of AMEs, searchable by city and state. A student pilot certificate is valid for the duration of your third class medical - 60 months for student pilots under age 40, and 24 months for student pilots age 40 or older.
A student pilot certificate is issued as a combination student pilot certificate and third-class medical and is valid for the duration of your third-class medical certificate.
Your vision must be at least 20/40 for near and distant vision with or without corrective lenses, and you must be able to perceive those colors necessary for the safe pilot performance. For general health and medical-related questions, refer to AOPA's medical subject reports Web page prior to visiting your AME.
A medical is not required, but you will need to have a valid U.S. driver’s license. You must comply with each restriction and limitation imposed by that U.S. driver’s license and any judicial or administrative order applying to the operation of a motor vehicle. You must also meet the requirements of Federal Aviation Regulation 61.23(c)(2): You must have been found eligible for the issuance of at least a third class airman medical certificate at the time of your most recent application (if you have applied for a medical certificate); you must not have had your most recently issued medical certificate (if you have held a medical certificate) suspended or revoked or most recent authorization for a special issuance of a medical certificate withdrawn; and you must not have any medical condition that would make you unable to operate a light sport aircraft in a safe manner.
There are a lot of variables that affect the cost of learning to fly, including the frequency of flight lessons, weather conditions, the kind of aircraft in which you are training and its availability for scheduling, and individual aptitude. A rough estimate would range between $5,000 and $9,000, depending on the certificate being sought.
The same variables that affect the cost of learning to fly will affect the time it takes to earn your certificate. The FAA has established the minimum number of flight hours needed to obtain a certificate. Under Part 61 of the federal aviation regulations, the minimums are 20 hours for a sport pilot certificate, 30 hours for a recreational certificate, and 40 hours for a private pilot certificate. Some schools operate under an alternate regulation, Part 141, which provides more FAA oversight, more rigid schedules, and more paperwork. The added requirements allow them to reduce the minimum hours of private pilot training to 35 hours. However, many schools believe that a true average flight training time for a private pilot is between 50 and 60 hours, whether the school operates under Part 61 or Part 141. Others believe that 68 to 70 hours is the more likely average. These flight hours can be spread over a time span of several months to a year or more.
Part 141 schools have more FAA oversight, more rigid schedules, and more paperwork. For the added requirements, they are allowed to reduce the minimum required hours of private pilot training to 35 hours, rather than the 40-hour minimum required when training at a Part 61 flight school. The Part 61 school, on the other hand, is able to be more flexible with training schedules and has the ability to tailor the curriculum to meet individual students’ training needs. Either school must train you to pass the very same practical test.
You don’t have to be a particular age before you can begin to take flying lessons. That said, however, you do have to be at least 16 years old before you can solo an airplane (14 years old for operation of a balloon or glider), and 17 before you can be issued a pilot certificate. Therefore, it may not be particularly efficient from the standpoint of cost and flight hours to begin lessons too early.
Say “student pilot,” and most people think of a youngster chasing a dream. In reality, today’s fledgling is likely a middle-aged adult who’s not only chasing, but actually fulfilling, a lifelong ambition to be a pilot. The average student pilot today is in his 30s, and the typical average active pilot is a decade older. In addition, more than 25 percent of all U.S. pilots with current medical certificates are in their 50s. And some pilots learn to fly after they retire.