How Long it Takes to Become a Pilot

The first step in starting a career, or even switching careers for some, is research and taking the time to thoroughly understand the career that you’re looking at getting into.

Becoming a pilot can be a really exciting new adventure, and one of the more common questions that comes up during someone’s research is understanding how long does it take to become a pilot and what does that process look like?

Well, that answer can vary depending on what type of pilot is being asked about. There are many types of pilots and stages of a career that a pilot goes through. The time it takes for each of those is different depending on the pilot career path they choose to take or even the type of flight school. We’ll cover the pilot positions most commonly asked about.

How Long it Takes to Become a Private Pilot

Becoming a private pilot is the first step in a student’s pilot journey. Assuming a student has no previous experience, a student can become a private pilot in as little as 4-6 months.

The time will vary depending on each student’s aptitudes and determination, and whether they participate in full-time accelerated flight training or part-time flexible flight training.

Even though a student may not have their certificate for 6 months, they’ll feel like a pilot right away as they take the controls with their instructor within the first week of training, and take their first solo flight around month 2.

A student’s private pilot license curriculum will vary depending on their flight school and whether or not they do part 61 or part 141 private pilot license requirements, but all in all they should expect to have the PPL done in about 6 months.

How Long it Takes to Become a Commercial Pilot

For those interested in pursuing flying as a career, after obtaining their Private Pilot License they will move onto the next steps of obtaining their instrument rating and then their Commercial Pilot License.

This is a process that may take approximately 3 – 4 months after their PPL is completed, bringing the total time to 7-10 months, depending on the path that they take.

However, be warned of the differences between a Commercial Pilot vs an Airline Pilot – they do not mean the same thing. While airline pilots are a type of commercial pilot, being a commercial pilot means you now have a CPL certificate from the FAA and can be hired and paid to fly.

An Airline Pilot will not only need this Commercial Pilot License, they’ll also need an instrument rating and between 1000-1500 hours of flight experience.

How Long it Takes to Become an Airline Transport Pilot

Most of the time when someone is asking “how long does it take to become a pilot?” they really mean an airline transport pilot working for the airlines flying passengers around the country.

To become an airline transport pilot, pilots will need their commercial pilot license and instrument rating, along with 1500 hours of flight time experience before they are eligible to gain their ATP certificate. The hour requirement can be reduced to 1,250 or even 1,000 hours depending on if someone has an appropriate college degree.

Starting from 0 experience and moving through PPL, IR, and ultimately that Commercial License can take 7-10 months, and gaining the 1500 hours needed after that can take anywhere from 1 – 3 years depending on the job chosen for building flight experience.

At AeroGuard, our Pilot Pathway Program is designed to navigate students through this path in 2 years from beginning to ATP eligibility.

The first 10-12 months is all about the training and getting the needed FAA certifications and ratings, including what’s needed to become a CFI at AeroGuard.

The order in which someone receives these certificates and ratings are usually private pilot, instrument, commercial pilot single engine, commercial pilot multi-engine, certified flight instructor, certified flight instructor instrument, and then multi-engine instructor.

Within the AeroGuard Pathway Program, students then have the opportunity to work at AeroGuard as a CFI, or Certificated Flight Instructor, training the next generation of students and gaining their 1500 hours of flight time necessary. CFI ratings themselves are not required to become an airline transport pilot, however, for many, this is a manageable path to gaining 1500 hours by instructing others.

Other ways of building flight experience to 1500 hours are also available to Commercial Pilots looking to work for the airlines, which may vary in the number of jobs, flight time, as well as pay available to them to meet their career goals.

How Long it Takes to Become a Pilot Captain at a Major Airline

The ultimate end goal for almost every student pilot out there is becoming a captain at a major airline like United, Delta, American, or Southwest.

Why? Well, the extremely lucrative pilot salary and outstanding benefits don’t hurt!

So, how long does it take to become a pilot captain at a major airline? Well, let’s take a look at what’s possible.

We mentioned it’ll take 2-3 years from 0 experience to become an airline transport pilot. This is when you’ll look at beginning your career at a regional airline like SkyWest. Every time you begin at an airline, you’ll start as a First Officer and have to work your way up, and how fast you do that will depend on pilot seniority.

Some first officers have upgraded to captain in around 2-3 years with their regional airline. Once they’ve worked at the regional airline as captain for an additional 2-5 years is generally when they will try to move over to the major airlines.

Again, once you move over to a major airline, you’re starting again as a First Officer and again, pilot seniority plays a huge role. Some first officers have waited decades to become a captain while others can upgrade in just a few years, but we’ll set an average range of 5-12 years from first officer to captain at a major airline. That means from 0 experience all the way to major airline captain, one can expect a timeline of 15+ years.

So what are you waiting for? The time to start is now.

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