How to Become a Pilot in the USA in 2021

Hi there, future Pilot! Your interest in becoming a pilot must have brought you to this page.  You might be wondering how to become a Pilot in the USA after 12th Grade? Is becoming a Pilot your dream or are you simply just curious about how to become a Pilot in the USA? If you answer yes to one of these, then this “How to become a Pilot in the USA in 2021” Guide is for you!

You probably have a multitude of questions when it comes to qualifications, duration, and requirements necessary for pilot training in the USA. Fret not, as we, at Aviationfly, have compiled the most basic things you need to know when planning to take your pilot course/program in the United States of America.

The country has a huge number of flight schools, some of which are the oldest and/or best flight training centers in the world. Given this, Americans need not go abroad to do their pilot training. In fact, the United States of America is where most foreign nationalities do their pilot training.

Aviationfly has helped many aspiring pilots just like you become a pilot with this “How to become a Pilot in the USA in 2021” Guide. On this page, we will walk you through all the steps that you need to take into consideration when pursuing your dream of becoming either a private pilot, commercial pilot, or airline transport pilot.

Step 1. Do research on the available flight training options in the USA

You need to know what pilot training programs are being offered in the country and which among those is the most suitable for you. This is where you should take into account what is your aviation goal. Do you want to obtain a Private Pilot License (PPL) or a Commercial Pilot License (CPL)? Are you seeking to work for an airline? If yes, then an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) is for you. Do you aim to attain a college degree at the same time too? Or do you see yourself joining the military, particularly the Air Force?

Did we lose you? Don’t panic! If you’re not familiar with the terms or can’t choose which license is right for you, you can send in your questions and our team will be happy to help you out.

Here are your options:

  • Flight School

There are approximately 490 flight schools in the United States of America that offer different pilot training programs that you can choose from. It is important that you create a list of your preferred flight school/s so you can compare which is fitting for you. Each school has its own procedures, enrollment requirements, and depending on which pilot training courses you decide to take, the tuition fee also varies.

  • Aviation-related college degree program

However, if you’re interested in obtaining a college degree accompanied with flight training, you should consider aviation-related college degree programs. These programs allow students to combine a college degree with flight training. With this kind of program, you will earn a college degree together with a pilot license such as Commercial Pilot License (CPL) in most cases. This will give you the opportunity to have the best of both worlds.

  • Airline cadet pilot program

Meanwhile, if your greatest childhood dream is to become an airline pilot, you should consider airline cadet pilot programs. Airlines often sponsor these programs and students are guaranteed employment upon course completion. In this pilot program, you will obtain an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL). You can reach out to us to get an insight on the options currently available.

  • Join the military

Finally, if you’re interested in serving your country, you can join the U.S. Air Force. The Government will sponsor your flight training but you will have to stay with the military for around 12 years after completion before you can apply to commercial airlines.

Step 2. Look up the Basic Requirements

  • What is the minimum age to become a pilot in the USA?

You need to be at least 17 years old to start your pilot training in the USA.

  • What do I need to start pilot training in the USA?

In order to start your pilot training, you will need to secure a medical certificate. The best way to do this is to speak with the flight school you would like to enroll in and they will help arrange it for you.

  • What are the minimum educational requirements to become a pilot in the USA?

Potential students must be at least a high school graduate.

  • What level of English do I need to become a pilot in the USA?

Since the language of aviation internationally is English, it is recommended to have at least a level 4 English standard before receiving your pilot license. If you are looking to improve your English, you can send us a message and we will give you tips on what courses to take.

  • What is the maximum age for airline pilots in the USA?

The retirement age for airline pilots is 65 years old.

Step 3. Decide on which training stages you will have to undergo

In general, there are six (6) different pilot training stages in which students need to complete depending on what their goal is. The stages of pilot training are as follows:

  • Student Pilot License (SPL)

    The first pilot license you will need to obtain is a student pilot license. This license allows you to start your flight training.  This is the first stage on how to become a Pilot in the USA. For you to get a Student Pilot License, you must be at least 16 years old; holds a current FAA medical certificate, and; be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language.

  • Private Pilot License (PPL)

    The private pilot license will allow you to fly solo, passengers, or cargo but without monetary compensation.  For you to get a Private Pilot License, you must be at least 17 years old; holds a current FAA medical certificate; holds a Student Pilot Certificate; be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language; and

A. For an airplane single-engine rating, must log at least 40 hours of flight time that includes at least 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours of solo flight training and the training must include at least:

(1) 3 hours of cross-country flight training in a single-engine airplane;

(2) 3 hours of night flight training in a single-engine airplane that includes:

(i) One cross-country flight of over 100 nautical miles total distance; and

(ii) 10 takeoffs and 10 landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport.

(3) 3 hours of flight training in a single-engine airplane on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments, including straight and level flight, constant airspeed climbs and descents, turns to a heading, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, radio communications, and the use of navigation systems/facilities and radar services appropriate to instrument flight;

(4) 3 hours of flight training with an authorized instructor in a single-engine airplane in preparation for the practical test, which must have been performed within the preceding 2 calendar months from the month of the test; and

(5) 10 hours of solo flight time in a single-engine airplane, consisting of at least:

(i) 5 hours of solo cross-country time;

(ii) One solo cross country flight of 150 nautical miles total distance, with full-stop landings at three points, and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles between the takeoff and landing locations; and

(iii) Three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.

B. For an airplane multiengine rating, must log at least 40 hours of flight time that includes at least 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours of solo flight training and the training must include at least:

(1) 3 hours of cross-country flight training in a multiengine airplane;

(2) 3 hours of night flight training in a multiengine airplane that includes:

(i) One cross-country flight of over 100 nautical miles total distance; and

(ii) 10 takeoffs and 10 landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport.

(3) 3 hours of flight training in a multiengine airplane on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments, including straight and level flight, constant airspeed climbs and descents, turns to a heading, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, radio communications, and the use of navigation systems/facilities and radar services appropriate to instrument flight;

(4) 3 hours of flight training with an authorized instructor in a multiengine airplane in preparation for the practical test, which must have been performed within the preceding 2 calendar months from the month of the test; and

(5) 10 hours of solo flight time in an airplane consisting of at least—

(i) 5 hours of solo cross-country time;

(ii) One solo cross country flight of 150 nautical miles total distance, with full-stop landings at three points, and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles between the takeoff and landing locations; and

(iii) Three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.

  • Commercial Pilot License (CPL)

    To start earning from flying, you will need to obtain a commercial pilot license. This license allows you to become a paid professional pilot. For you to get a Commercial Pilot License, you must be at least 18 years old; holds a current FAA medical certificate; holds a Private Pilot Certificate; be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language; and

(A) For an airplane single-engine rating, must log at least at least 250 hours of flight time as a pilot that consists of at least:

(1) 100 hours in powered aircraft, of which 50 hours must be in airplanes.

(2) 100 hours of pilot-in-command flight time, which includes at least:

(i) 50 hours in airplanes; and

(ii) 50 hours in cross-country flight of which at least 10 hours must be in airplanes.

(3) 20 hours of training on the areas of operation that includes at least:

(i) Ten hours of instrument training using a view-limiting device including attitude instrument flying, partial panel skills, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, and intercepting and tracking navigational systems. Five hours of the 10 hours required on instrument training must be in a single engine airplane;

(ii) 10 hours of training in a complex airplane, a turbine-powered airplane, or a technically advanced airplane (TAA) that meets the requirements or any combination thereof. The airplane must be appropriate to land or sea for the rating sought;

(iii) One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine airplane in daytime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure;

(iv) One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine airplane in nighttime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure; and

(v) Three hours in a single-engine airplane with an authorized instructor in preparation for the practical test within the preceding 2 calendar months from the month of the test.

(4) Ten hours of solo flight time in a single engine airplane or 10 hours of flight time performing the duties of pilot in command in a single engine airplane with an authorized instructor on board (either of which may be credited towards the flight time requirement, on the areas of operation that include:

(i) One cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance, with landings at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles from the original departure point. However, if this requirement is being met in Hawaii, the longest segment need only have a straight-line distance of at least 150 nautical miles; and

(ii) 5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.

(B) For an airplane multiengine rating, must log at least 250 hours of flight time as a pilot that consists of at least:

(1) 100 hours in powered aircraft, of which 50 hours must be in airplanes;

(2) 100 hours of pilot-in-command flight time, which includes at least:

(i) 50 hours in airplanes; and

(ii) 50 hours in cross-country flight of which at least 10 hours must be in airplanes.

(3) 20 hours of training on the areas of operation that includes at least:

(i) Ten hours of instrument training using a view-limiting device including attitude instrument flying, partial panel skills, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, and intercepting and tracking navigational systems. Five hours of the 10 hours required on instrument training must be in a multiengine airplane;

(ii) 10 hours of training in a multiengine complex or turbine-powered airplane; or for an applicant seeking a multiengine seaplane rating, 10 hours of training in a multiengine seaplane that has flaps and a controllable pitch propeller, including seaplanes equipped with an engine control system consisting of a digital computer and associated accessories for controlling the engine and propeller, such as a full authority digital engine control;

(iii) One 2-hour cross country flight in a multiengine airplane in daytime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure;

(iv) One 2-hour cross country flight in a multiengine airplane in nighttime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure; and

(v) Three hours in a multiengine airplane with an authorized instructor in preparation for the practical test within the preceding 2 calendar months from the month of the test.

(4) 10 hours of solo flight time in a multiengine airplane or 10 hours of flight time performing the duties of pilot in command in a multiengine airplane with an authorized instructor (either of which may be credited towards the flight time requirement, on the areas of operation that includes at least:

(i) One cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance with landings at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles from the original departure point. However, if this requirement is being met in Hawaii, the longest segment need only have a straight-line distance of at least 150 nautical miles; and

(ii) 5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight with a traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.

Both 4 and 5 are add-ons to your pilot license.

  • Instrument Rating (IR)

    Being instrument-rated means that you can fly the aircraft in any weather condition (for example low or zero visibility) using just the instruments. Flight schools offer Instrument Rating along with their commercial pilot training. But this can also be obtained separately.

  • Multi-Engine Rating (MER)

    The multi-engine rating will allow you to fly multi-engine aircraft. Flight schools offer Multi-Engine Rating along with their private pilot training and commercial pilot training. But this can also be obtained separately.
    If you have any questions so far, feel free to use the chat messenger to send us a message. 

  • Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)

Is the highest level of Aircraft Pilot Certificate that allows you to act as pilot in command on scheduled air carriers. For you to get an Airline Transport Pilot License, you must be at least 21 years old; holds a current FAA medical certificate; holds a Commercial Pilot Certificate; be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language; and must log at least 1,500 hours of total time as a pilot that includes at least:

(1) 500 hours of cross-country flight time.

(2) 100 hours of night flight time.

(3) 50 hours of flight time in the class of airplane for the rating sought. A maximum of 25 hours of training in a full flight simulator representing the class of airplane for the rating sought may be credited toward the flight time requirement of this paragraph if the training was accomplished as part of an approved training course. A flight training device or aviation training device may not be used to satisfy this requirement.

(4) 75 hours of instrument flight time, in actual or simulated instrument conditions, subject to the following:

(i) An applicant may not receive credit for more than a total of 25 hours of simulated instrument time in a full flight simulator or flight training device.

(ii) A maximum of 50 hours of training in a full flight simulator or flight training device may be credited toward the instrument flight time requirements if the training was accomplished in a course conducted by a certified training center.

(iii) Training in a full flight simulator or flight training device must be accomplished in a full flight simulator or flight training device, representing an airplane.

(5) 250 hours of flight time in an airplane as a pilot in command, or when serving as a required second in command flightcrew member performing the duties of pilot in command while under the supervision of a pilot in command, or any combination thereof, which includes at least:

(i) 100 hours of cross-country flight time; and

(ii) 25 hours of night flight time.

(6) Not more than 100 hours of the total aeronautical experience requirements may be obtained in a full flight simulator or flight training device provided the device represents an airplane and the aeronautical experience was accomplished as part of an approved training course.

Step 4. Choose a flight school

After doing your research on the type of license you would like to obtain, the next step is to choose which flight school is the most suitable for your budget.

So, how much does pilot training cost?

It is important to note that becoming a pilot requires a certain budget. Your flight training cost depends on the country you do your training, the flight school you pick, and a number of other factors.

If you decide to do your flight training within the country, there are approximately 490 pilot schools in the USA for you to choose from. You can find a list of flight training institutes in the USA by registering with us on Aviationfly.com. Our flight school directory has a list of all the latest active flight schools in the USA including their brief background, pilot training courses being offered, the school’s fleet details, what they can offer to you, and other information.

On the other hand, if you decide to do your flight training abroad, you must note is that after your training you will have to convert your license to the Federal Aviation Administration.

As mentioned above, another alternative is to enroll in an airline pilot program. Once you have successfully passed your pilot training, you will be employed by the airlines that have set up the program.

Step 5. Consider your Career Options

Many aspiring pilots have a defined career path they would like to pursue, while others don’t.

Below is a list of options for what you can potentially do with a pilot license.

  • Airline pilot for large airlines or smaller regional ones
  • Corporate or business aviation pilot
  • Cargo pilot
  • Charter / Air taxi pilot
  • Flight instructor
  • Medical/ Air ambulance pilots
  • Agricultural pilot and many more options

A frequently asked question with our How to become a Pilot in the USA in 2021 Guide is: How much does an Airline Captain in the USA make? The short answer is around US$14,400 per month plus benefits*!

*This/these number/numbers is/are based on available data and research conducted in the year 2019. There is no guarantee that the number/s provided is/are accurate. Please read our Disclaimer.

Tips for Picking a Flight School

Tip 1. Decide on your pilot goals
Firstly, ask yourself – what are your long-term aspirations in aviation? Do you want to become a pilot in your free time (Private Pilot License)? Or do you want to fly in General Aviation (Commercial Pilot License)? Do you want to become an airline pilot through an airline pilot cadet program? Additionally, which airlines are currently hiring? What type of aircraft will be utilized by airlines in the next few years? Which flight schools do the airlines usually hire from? Best to ask flight schools if they have partnerships with airlines. These are critical questions you should list and get answers to when asking yourself “how will I become a Pilot”.

Tip 2. Determine how much you can afford to spend
Secondly, different flight schools have different costs (due to location, number of students, aircraft type and several other factors), find out the reasons for the price difference. Moreover, do these programs have financial assistance/loan programs? Might a part-time program work for you?

Tip 3. Determine how much free time you have
Each flight training school has its own training schedules with some offering flexibility while others want the cadets to train full time and on campus. Note that delaying flight training usually increases your training costs.

Tip 4. Find out what type of aircraft the flight school uses and information about its aircraft maintenance center
This is important from a training point of view, but even more importantly, from a safety aspect. Furthermore, you should also take into consideration the equipment preference of airlines. Aircraft age does not always relate to safety, this is dependent on the aircraft maintenance – ask the flight school in detail about their aircraft maintenance department and safety features of the aircraft.

Tip 5. Visit your shortlist of flight schools
Finally, when possible, speak to the instructors and flight school management teams to learn about the training, safety policies, history, and graduates of the flight school.

Do you still have questions? Send us a message!

You can also check out How to become a Pilot in other countries by navigating on our platform or simply just reach out to our team through chat.

Good luck, future Pilot!