Education and Training Requirements

High School

All prospective pilots must complete high school. A college preparatory curriculum is recommended because of the need for pilots to have at least some college education. Science and mathematics are two important subjects and you should also take advantage of any computer courses offered. You can start pursuing your pilot's license while in high school.

Postsecondary Training

Most companies that employ pilots require at least two years of college training; many require applicants to be college graduates. Courses in engineering, meteorology, physics, and mathematics are helpful in preparing for a pilot's career. Flying can be learned in either military or civilian flying schools. There are approximately 600 civilian flying schools certified by the FAA, including some colleges and universities that offer degree credit for pilot training. Pilots leaving the military are in great demand.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

To become a pilot, certain rigid training requirements must be met. Although obtaining a private pilot's license is not difficult, it may be quite difficult to obtain a commercial license. While there is no specific age limit on when you can begin flying instruction, you must be at least 16 to fly solo. Flying instruction consists of classroom education and flight training from a FAA-certified flight instructor.

Before you make your first solo flight, you must get a medical certificate (certifying that you are in good health) and an instructor-endorsed student pilot certificate. To get the student pilot certificate, you must pass a test given by the flight instructor. This test will have questions about FAA rules as well as questions about the model and make of the aircraft you will fly. If you pass the test and the instructor feels you are prepared to make a solo flight, the instructor will sign—or endorse—your pilot certificate and logbook.

To apply for a private pilot's license, you must take a written examination. To qualify for it, you must be at least 17 years of age, successfully fulfill a solo flying requirement of 20 hours or more, and meet instrument flying and cross-country flying requirements.

All pilots and copilots must be licensed by the FAA before they can do any type of commercial flying. An applicant who is 18 years old and has 250 hours of flying time can apply for a commercial airplane pilot's license. In applying for this license, you must pass a rigid physical examination and a written test given by the FAA covering safe flight operations, federal aviation regulations, navigation principles, radio operation, and meteorology. You also must submit proof that the minimum flight-time requirements have been completed and, in a practical test, demonstrate flying skill and technical competence to a check pilot. Before you receive an FAA license, you must also receive a rating for the kind of plane you can fly (single-engine, multi-engine, or seaplane) and for the specific type of plane, such as Boeing 707 or 747.

An instrument rating by the FAA and a restricted radio telephone operator's permit by the Federal Communications Commission are required. All airline captains must have an air transport pilot license. Applicants for this license must be at least 23 years old and have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time, including night flying and instrument time. All pilots are subject to two-year flight reviews, regular six-month FAA flight checks, simulator tests, and medical exams. The FAA also makes unannounced spot-check inspections of all pilots.

Jet pilots, helicopter pilots, and agricultural pilots all have special training in their respective fields.

Other Requirements

Physical health is critical to a pilot. You must have 20/20 vision with or without glasses, good hearing, normal heart rate and blood pressure, and no physical handicaps that could hinder performance.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Pilots gain experience while in flight school. Most pilots have thousands of hours of flying time before they are hired.

Emotional stability is necessary because the safety of other people depends upon a pilot remaining calm and levelheaded, no matter how trying the situation. Pilots must communicate well with the copilot and cabin crew.