How to Become a Pilot

Want to take your first steps in aviation and become a pilot?

Wheter you want to become a glider pilot, fly a commercial airliner or fly helicopters, we've got you covered!

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Whether you want to get your private pilot license, fly commercially or experience the joy of engineless flight, finding the right information can be difficult. We bundled all the information you need about learning to fly and becoming a pilot.

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Why do you want to fly?

First of all, it's important to think about why you want to fly. Do you just want to take your family and friends for a sunny flight to another airfield for lunch, or do you want to fly commercially and get paid to fly?

The answer to this question will determine which way you should go in your flight training.

In general, you have two options: either you fly just for fun, or you go on to becoming a commercial pilot. The major difference lays in whether you can receive compensation for your flying. This will also determine which training you need to follow and which licenses you will need to fly.

There are quite a few different types of licenses, depending on the country and ruling aviation authorities. We'll focus here on the licenses issued in the United States by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and in the EU by EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency).

The licenses for private pilots (PPL), commercial pilots (CPL) and airline pilots (ATPL) are very similar in the US and EU. The biggest differences are usually some of the (medical) requirements and the licenses for sport and recreational pilots. Below, you will find the most common licenses in the US and EU, with their advantages, disadvantes, estimate cost and duration. Keep in mind these are just general guidelines and estimations. Always make sure to consult your local flight school and aviation authorities for more accurate and up-to-date information before deciding which way to go.

(Click on your region)

In the United States, there are 5 common licenses issued by the FAA.

  • Sport Pilot License - SPL

    First of all, there's the Sport Pilot License, this is the easiest and least restrictive certificate a student can obtain. The Student Pilot License is meant for those pilots who wish to fly in light aircraft (LSA, Light Sport Aircraft) only, at low altitudes and in their local area. Sport pilot certificates can be earned in one of multiple categories: Airplane, powered parachute, glider, rotorcraft (gyrocopters) and lighter-than-air (balloons and airships).

    The major restrictions are that Sport pilots are limited to carying just one passenger, and are prohibited from flying at night, above 10,000 feet, or in Class B, C or D airspace. However, these limits also come with a few upsides.

    The advantage to a sport pilot certificate is that it only requires 20 hours of logged training time, and most applicants are not required to obtain an FAA medical certificate. As we discuss other types licenses, you'll notice this certificate offers a lot of advantages and can be a great option.

    How much does it cost? ∼$3,000         How long will it take?* 3 months

    Read our guide on how to become an glider pilot  

  • Recreational Pilot License - RPL

    The introduction of the sport pilot certificate makes the recreational pilot certificate much less common of a choice than the sport pilot or private pilot certificate, but it can be a good option for those pilots who want to fly heavier aircraft, but who don’t necessarily want to move on to more advanced training.

    The recreational pilot certificate requires at least 30 hours of logged flight time, including 15 hours of dual instruction. Recreational pilots are limited to flights less than 50 nautical miles from their departure airport, can only fly during the day and must stay out of controlled airports (class B, C and D airspace).

    Make sure to look thorough at the up- and downsides of the RPL and the SPL to decide which one's better for you. Some pilots might find the RPL more attractive, but the SPL is usually an easier option and requires less training time.

    How much does it cost? ∼$4,000         How long will it take?* 4 months
  • Private Pilot License - PPL

    The Private Pilot License will allow you to act as pilot in command (PIC) of airplanes or helicopter PPL. You are certified to fly any aircraft in the category you are rated for, in non-commercial operations, so you can not be compensated for your flying services.

    You have the choice to get your license for fixed wing aircraft - normal airplanes, PPL(A) - or helicopters - PPL(H).

    How much does it cost? ∼$7,000         How long will it take?* 4 months
  • Commercial Pilot License - CPL

    If you aspire a career as a pilot and get paid to fly (by accident, I wrote play instead of fly, it would acually even make sense), you will need a commercial license, CPL. The medical requirements are usually stricter, just like the amount of required flight time, theoretical courses and tests. The big advantage of this license is the ability to get compensated for your flying.

    How much does it cost? ∼$20,000         How long will it take?* 8 months
  • Airline Transport Pilot License - ATPL

    The airline transport pilot (ATP) is the most advanced pilot certificate one can obtain, and it’s necessary for those who want to fly commercial airliners for a living. All commercial airlines now require a pilot applicant to have an ATP certificate. To become eligible for an ATPL, a pilot must have logged at least 1,500 hours and be at least 23 years old. When you finish your ATPL flight training, you will have a restricted ATP, which allows you to act as seoond in command (first officer, co-pilot), on commercial airliners.

    The cost and duration for a ATPL varies greatly, depending on wheter you start from scratch or not, if an airline pays for (part of) it, if you're in some sort of career-track flight training at an airline, etc. It can be anywhere from $0 all the way up to over $100,000, taking 6 months to 2 years or more.

*Flying 2-3 times a week

In Europe, aviation is governed by EASA, which issues the following licenses.

  • Light Aircraft Pilot License - LAPL

    The most basic pilot license in the EU is the Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL), which is only valid in Europe. For airplanes, this license is limited to single engine piston up to 2,000kg carrying up to 4 persons on board (including yourself – the pilot). You can also only fly in good weather conditions (VFR, visual flight rules). Getting this license requires the least strict medical certificate, the LAPL medical, 100 hours of theory and 25 hours of flight instruction. You can use this licence as credit towards getting the more advanced Private Pilot License.

    The LAPL can be used to fly motorized airplanes LAPL(A), helicopters LAPL(H), gliders LAPL(S) or balloons LAPL(B).

    The cost and duration depends on the type of license you want. Getting your LAPL for gliders can take longer, depending on how often you fly and other factors like the weather. It can cost anywhere from €2,000 up to €7,000, and take between 6 months and 2 years.
  • Sailplane Pilot License - SPL

    An SPL, not to be confused with the FAA Sport Pilot License, will allow you to act as pilot in command on sailplanes (gliders) and powered sailplanes. After you have met certain flying time requirements it will also allow you to carry passengers, or even fly commercially under strict additional conditions.

    How much does it cost? ∼€2,000         How long will it take?* 12 months

    Read our guide on how to become a glider pilot  

  • Balloon Pilot License - BPL

    A BPL will allow you to act as PIC on balloons and hot-air ships, and on receipt of additional privileges it will enable you to be paid for conducting certain training and examination work.

    How much does it cost? ∼€4,000         How long will it take?* 8-12 months
  • Private Pilot License - PPL

    The Private Pilot License will allow you to act as pilot in command (PIC) of airplanes or helicopters. You are certified to fly any aircraft in the category you are rated for, in non-commercial operations, so you can not be compensated for your flying services. A PPL(A) will also allow you to fly touring motor gliders (TMG).

    You have the choice to get your license for fixed wing aircraft - normal airplanes, PPL(A) - or helicopters - PPL(H). There are also a few other options like the PPL(As) and PPL(B), which will allow you to fly airships and balloons.

    How much does it cost? ∼€10,000 (airplane) ∼€20,000 (helicopter)         How long will it take?* 6-12 months
  • Commercial Pilot License - CPL

    If you aspire a career as a pilot and get paid to play, you will need a commercial licenses. Instead of a Private Pilot License or PPL, you will now need a Commercial Pilot License or CPL. The medical requirements are usually stricter, just like the amount of required flight time, theoretical courses and tests.

    How much does it cost? ∼€20,000         How long will it take?* 8 months
  • Airline Transport Pilot License - ATPL

    The airline transport pilot (ATP) is the most advanced pilot certificate one can obtain, and it’s necessary for those who want to fly commercial airliners for a living. All commercial airlines now require a pilot applicant to have an ATP certificate. To become eligible for an ATPL, a pilot must have logged at least 1,500 hours and be at least 23 years old. When you finish your ATPL flight training, you will have a restricted or so-called frozen ATPL, which allows you to act as seoond in command, co-pilot, on airliners.

    The cost and duration for a ATPL varies greatly, depending on wheter you start from scratch or not, if an airline pays for (part of) it, if you're in some sort of career-track flight training at an airline, etc. It can be anywhere from €65,000 all the way up to over €100,000, taking 6 months to 2 years or more.

*Flying 2-3 times a week

Details about the different types of EASA licenses, the training requirements, theoretical courses and more can be found in the EASA Part-FCL guide.

What do you want to fly?

You decided why you want to fly, and you probably already have an idea what you want to fly as well. From flying drones and paragliders, to helicopters and commercial jets, it will all take some sort of certification.

It's not always easy to find the exact information you need and to get answers to the many questions you probably have about learning to fly and becoming a pilot. What does it take to become a pilot? Can I do it too? How much does it cost? And how long does it take before I can take to the skies all by myself?

We created extensive guides with everything you need to get started as a student pilot. You can find those guides below.

Additional ratings and endorsements

Besides inital licenses, you can also add some additional ratings and endorsements to your license. Again, these ratings and endorsements are different in the US and EU, so we'll discuss both.

(Click on your region)

  • Instrument rating

  • Multi-engine rating

  • Additional class ratings rating

  • Flight Instructor - CFI

    Do you want to instill the aviation passion in other people and educate the next generation of pilots? As a certified flight instructor, you can act as an instructor on the type and category of aircraft you are certified for and get paid for your services. You can become a ground instructor, flight instructor and even flight examiner.

    A lot of pilots start instructing before pursuing a career in as a commercial pilot.

  • Tailwheel airplane endorsement

  • Complex airplane endorsement

  • High performance endorsement

  • Instrument rating

  • Hight altitude endorsement

  • Glider launch endorsements

How-to-guides

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