How to Become a Private Pilot
Out of all the pilot licenses available, the private pilot license remains the most sought after license for several reasons. For some people, it is a leisure pursuit, and they get it because they enjoy flying, while others use it as a preferred means of travel, rather than booking flights.
Many private pilots own or rent planes solely to attend to their business and other official events. Even more, people see it as a way to practice or prepare for a career in flying.
Whatever your reason for becoming a private pilot is, the license gives you the freedom to navigate your local airspace and gain flying experience. The process of getting a private pilot license is rigorous, although not as rigorous as that of an airline pilot.
It involves a lot of training in basic techniques you need to fly, and there are many requirements you need to meet.
STEPS TO BECOMING A PRIVATE PILOT
MEET THE ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS
You can’t get your private pilot license if you don’t meet the requirements in the first place. The requirements for the license are basically the same across several other categories.
It covers age requirements, compensation setups, and restrictions. If you don’t meet the minimum requirements, you won’t be able to apply.
Typically, the training required to become a private pilot is more rigorous than other types of pilot licenses, except the commercial license, so it takes quite a bit of practice.
Below are some of the requirements you need to be able to get a private pilot license. For a more detailed list, check them out here.
- Age: You have to be 17 years old or older; 16 for a glider or balloon rating
- Proficiency in the English language
- Pass a computerized test
- Have a 3rd class Aviation medical certificate
- A minimum number of flight time hours, including solo flights and hours
- Pass the practical test and the flight test
GET A STUDENT PILOT CERTIFICATE
Once you’ve ensured that you meet the requirements, the first step you should take is getting a student pilot certificate. A student pilot certificate is not the same as a pilot license as it only authorizes you to be able to fly the plane solo.
You can only get this certificate after going through a mandated medical check and getting a medical certificate.
These medical certificates have different ratings depending on the class of pilot license you want.
Still, for your private pilot license, you need a minimum of the 3rd class medical certificate to qualify for a student license.
A student pilot certificate is only valid for two years, so you are advised to act quickly and get your pilot license within that time frame. It also has a set of rules that you have to obey while using it.
For example, you cannot carry any passengers on board with only a student certificate, you can’t fly at night without the proper approval, and you can’t fly more than 25 nautical miles away from your home airport(without the proper approval).
How to Get a Student Pilot Certificate
There are three common ways to get a student pilot certificate.
- The most common method is to get it at the same time as your medical certificate. When you go in to meet the aviation medical examiner that conducts the medical exam, the examiner gives you the document that holds both your medical certificate and your student certificate. Many students prefer this method because it is the fastest, and you need a medical certificate before you can use your student certificate.
- You can also apply to any of the FAA Flight Standards District Offices near you for a student pilot certificate. This method takes about three weeks to arrive by mail.
- The last option is to submit your application to an FAA examiner, airman certification representative, or your flight instructor. Any of these persons can see to and submit your application to the Airmen Certification Branch, where it will be reviewed and then mailed to you.
GET AN FAA-ISSUED AVIATION MEDICAL CERTIFICATE
In most cases, the aviation medical certificate and the student pilot certificate are one document, but due to recent changes, you need to get them separately. You get the aviation medical certificate from an FAA aviation medical examiner in your area by booking an appointment with them.
You can find them here, or you can get some information from your flight instructor or any pilot at your local airport.
Take note that not every medical examiner is qualified to issue first-class medical certificates, so if you want one, you need to confirm that first.
How to Get an Aviation Medical Certificate
When you find the medical examiner you want for your certificate, the next thing you should do is ask about what documents you should carry along for the test.
The medical certificate you want determines how invasive the test would be. First-class certificates are the most invasive of all, and they follow stricter standards with a focus on your cardiovascular and general health.
They also require you to have an EKG exam. Second class certificates are less invasive than that, but they follow stricter standards than a third-class certificate.
For a private pilot license, you only need a third-class certificate to get one, so you don’t have to get a first or second class certificate; unless you plan on getting higher licenses or making flying a career.
The third-class medical exam is more of a general check-up with some hearing and vision exams, and a test to see that your ears can pop to reduce pressure.
This exam costs about $75 to $150, which is about $100 less than the cost of a first-class certificate. If you have any extraordinary medical conditions, you may need to pay more for other exams.
A third-class medical certificate is valid for five years if you’re under 40, and 2 years if you aren’t under 40. Second-class certificates have the same validity, but they are only valid for two years for a commercial pilot.
First-class certificates, on the other hand, are only valid for five years or two years if the holder is a recreational or private pilot or a flight instructor. Otherwise, they are only valid for two years for commercial pilots, and one year or six months for ATPs under and over age 40, respectively.
GET A FLIGHT SCHOOL OR INSTRUCTOR
You need a certified flight instructor or a flight school to put you through the training required to become a private pilot.
Finding a perfect flight school or instructor is an essential part of your training, and it is something you should take seriously because your flight school or instructor plays a role in how your training goes.
You need to find a setting that works well for you and your schedule so you can cover the required work in record time.
The best way to make the right choice is to ask around and gather reviews on your shortlist of schools around you.
Things to Look Out for a Flight School
The location of your flight school is crucial because you don’t want one that is too far for you to meet up training. Sometimes, if the school you prefer is located out of town, you might have to move.
If you live in a big city, a flight school outside might cost less, especially when it isn’t located in a big town. You also need to consider how busy the town’s airspace may be.
You don’t want to spend a considerable chunk of your training, finding your way around the airspace instead of learning the ropes.
You need a place that has a good reputation but is still close enough that you won’t have to disrupt your life to attend.
Flight training should be your priority because your aim should be to finish your training at once, rather than missing or extending some classes. If you take too much time in between classes, you may not develop enough muscle memory.
Syllabus and schedule
If you’re registering with a flight school, you will most likely have to follow a fixed syllabus for training and exercises, and if you lead a busy life, it may clash with some of your activities.
So, you have to go through their syllabus to make sure you find one that aligns with your lifestyle. Different flight schools have different feels, so if you need one that seems more professional, you should have several options.
A Part 61 flight school is a good option if you need a flexible learning plan because they offer training according to how you want to learn.
Meanwhile, a Part 141 school is a more structured school that offers FAA-approved courses on a stricter schedule. Any of them can be a great choice, depending on what you want.
On the other hand, a flight instructor is a more flexible alternative, especially if they are willing to adapt the syllabus to suit you.
Although you may find that you’re not the only student in their class because some instructors like to put several students together to save time.
Cost of the program
The cost of the program can vary due to different factors like the location, type of planes used, number of students, and so on. If you end up spending more time on a program, you will most likely pay more.
You can ask around and find a school around you that has a loan program or scholarship options. When making your budget, always add the cost of moving to a new town, if necessary, to your final figure.
Type of aircraft
Older aircraft tend to have the old round-dial style of cockpit while the more modern ones have a glass cockpit. The newer styles will typically cost more to learn with, so the choice is up to you.
If you plan on going further in flying after getting your private pilot license, then you should go with the newer models because they help to boost your experience, and they are better for instrument training.
WRITE THE FAA WRITTEN EXAM
The FAA written tests take place in testing centers certified by the FAA, and you can only take one when you meet the requirements for the test.
For the private pilot license, you are required to show proof of having passed a certified flight school/course. Although, some schools may request that you pass the written exam before you’re allowed onto a plane.
There is a list of documents you need to present at the testing center before you can take the test, and you can find them all here.
You write the written test first, which is actually taken on a computer, and then the practical test is taken with an FAA-assigned examiner.
For the written test, you get 60 questions and 2 ½ hours to finish. The FAA website has a lot of mock questions for you to practice with. You need a score of 70 to pass this test, and it is valid for two years.
GAIN FLIGHT EXPERIENCE
Before taking the practical exam, you should get enough flight experience that will help you pass the test.
There is a required number of hours you need to log before you can take the test, but getting more than the required number is also advised. You should aim to get comfortable in a cockpit even after passing the practical test.
You need to practice and master basic flying techniques, instrument usage, and navigation maneuvers. You also need to learn emergency maneuvers in case of a crisis. This flight experience you gain will help you develop muscle memory that will help you not only in passing your checkride but in generally mastering the act of flying.
PASS THE FAA PRACTICAL EXAM
The FAA practical exam, aka, the checkride, is booked after the written test. You don’t have to take this exam immediately after, but you should take it soon after while your background knowledge is still fresh.
If you fail to take it within the designated period, you will have to take the written test again. You need to log at least 40 flight hours; 20 with your instructor, and ten solo flight hours.
You also need to have 3 hours of cross country experience, which involves one long-distance flight with over 100 nautical miles, three-night flying hours, 3 hours basic instrument training, and ten landings and takeoffs.
Your solo flight hours should include one long cross-country flight longer than 150 nautical miles with three different airport landings, and 5 hours on a cross-country flight.
In this practical exam, you go up with the examiner, who has a checklist of things you should be familiar with as a pilot, and they check them off as you perform them. These tasks can include takeoff, crisis, and course-plotting techniques during the flight, as well as other practical techniques which may be answered orally if you can’t use them in the flight.
A typical fee for this test is about $100, but when you factor in the cost of aircraft hire and examiner’s fees, you may end up paying over $1000. Add in the costs of flight training and certificates, and you spend thousands of dollars in getting a private pilot license.
PAY FOR YOUR LICENSE
When you get a satisfactory score on your checkride, the next step is to pay for your license.
The forms are available online, and your FAA-assigned examiner will help you to fill them out.
The fee you pay for the license varies, so you should confirm them ahead of time.
While you wait for your official license to be mailed to you, you will be handed a temporary certificate.
WHAT CAN I DO WITH A PRIVATE PILOT LICENSE?
You have worked hard and put in hours, and you finally have your private pilot’s license – yay you!
The next thing on your mind is, “what can I do with this license?”
Well, what you do with your license is up to you, really because there are so many options to choose from.
- You can fly off to a secluded place and have some time alone with a great view. Solitude is so underrated because a lot of times, humans need some time alone to think or just enjoy their own company.
- Night flights can be your new thing. There is something special about flying at night, and your private pilot license allows you to enjoy it
- Share your love for flying with family and friends. Even though you can’t carry passengers for hire, you can have fun in the air with your loved ones
- Go for a commercial pilot license
- Get a seaplane rating
- Fly yourself to business meetings
- Donate your services to charity
Getting a private pilot’s certificate is not cheap. In fact, it costs a lot if you cannot get funding assistance in your flight school. But, the time and money are definitely worth it.
With your license, you can get enough flying experience to apply for a commercial license if you want to make a career out of flying.
Still, it can also open you up to new experiences if you just want the freedom of flying yourself anywhere.
Regardless of your reason, becoming a private pilot is a rewarding experience, and it is worth every penny.
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