Pilot Training Programs and Requirements

Individuals interested in becoming a pilot can choose from a variety of certification programs. FAA-approved flight schools usually entail more flight hours and a higher quality program.

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Essential Information

A pilot is professionally trained and licensed to operate aircrafts. Just as there are different types of planes to fly, there is also an array of training programs from which to choose. Many schools and aircraft companies allow students to take a 30-60 minute discovery flight, which introduces them to flying. After completing a certification program, all pilots must be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. In order to be licensed by the FAA, applicants must provide proof of citizenship, proof of flight school completion, and flight logbook.

Program levels for pilots include recreational (30 hours), private (35), or commercial (250) certification. Prerequisites for these programs include minimum age (17 for recreational and private pilots, 18 for commercial), a bachelor's degree in related field, recreational certification for entry into private certification program, private certification for entry into commercial certification program, a criminal background check, a medical exam, and a drug test. Students typically must pass written and oral exams as well as a flight test to graduate.

Recreational Pilot Certification

Prior to beginning the recreational pilot certification program students must obtain a medical certificate from an FAA-approved medical examiner. After completing the program, students must pass a final written exam. Completion of the program authorizes graduates to fly one passenger at a time during daylight hours in a single-engine aircraft with no more than 4 seats. Typical coursework may include the following:

  • Basic aviation terminology
  • Instrument controls
  • Engine systems
  • Air regulations and aerodynamics
  • Safety

Private Pilot Certification

After achieving a recreational pilot certification, students may pursue a private pilot certification. This program prepares candidates to fly any type of private aircraft at any time of day. There is no limit to the number of passengers they may take on. Private pilot certification requires at least 40 hours of training in an FAA-approved school or 35 for most non-approved schools. Students must also pass both a written and an oral exam. Coursework may include the following topics:

  • Pre- and post-flight inspections
  • FAA regulations
  • Radio communications
  • Engine malfunctions
  • Flying in turbulence

Commercial Pilot Certification

Graduates of a private pilot certification program may go on to complete a commercial pilot training course which allows them to fly for a commercial airline. The course requires between 100 and 250 hours of flight training, depending on whether the school is FAA-approved. Both a written and oral exam is required, as well as a flight test. A medical certificate issued by an FAA medical examiner is also required for commercial pilots. Training typically focuses on the following topics:

  • Technical makeup of an aircraft
  • Navigation
  • Meteorology monitoring
  • Leadership
  • Aviation business

Additional Professional Development

As an alternative to an on-site pilot school, there are DVDs and home-study courses for those who want to become a pilot. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, (www.faa.gov), the home-study course materials must be reviewed by an FAA inspector to make sure they are comparable to traditional training materials. Individuals may also consider volunteering at a flying club to gain more aviation experience.

Aspiring pilots can look into certification programs offering training at the recreational level before continuing to private and commercial certification. These courses go over various aspects of flight safety and control, with home-study courses sometimes possible as alternate programming provided they've been approved by an FAA inspector.

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