How long does it take to become a pilot?

how long does it take to become a pilot

I assume you want to become a pilot in the shortest time and work as a professional pilot to make a living.

Being a pilot doesn’t take long, and getting your first job as an airline pilot requires patience and dedication.

Each pilot license is a stepping stone to your aviation career. I describe all the stepping stones and how long it takes to become a pilot, from enrolling in a flight school to your first airline job.

The process will take years if you don’t follow the correct approach. Hence, I explained:

  • Step 1: Obtaining a private pilot license and how long does it take?;
  • Step 2: Getting a commercial pilot license and its duration;
  • Step 3: What are Instrument rating training and its duration?
  • Step 4: Time length to build 1500 hours for your airline job;
  • Step 5: Your first airline job and Type rating training duration in the airline.

From a trainee pilot to an airline pilot takes at least three years. For some individuals, it takes a decade. A dedicated student pilot graduates and start working as a commercial pilot quickly. Similarly, a lazy student pilot delays progress. Besides, some airlines hire fresh graduates; as a result, fortunate ones land their dream job soon.

Step 1: Obtaining a private pilot license and how long does it take?

A private pilot license is the first license anyone must get to become a pilot. A private pilot license lets you fly an aircraft from one destination to another and act as a PIC.

Typically, a student pilot needs roughly 55 hours for a private pilot license.

Flight schools promote that you’ll fly 40 hours for a private pilot license. However, a student rarely grasps all the skills to become a private pilot within 40 hours.

Hence, building 55 hours will take longer than 40 hours.

Similarly, at this stage, you must pass an FAA knowledge test.

The last obstacle to getting your private pilot license is to pass your practical exam or the checkride.

The entire process to get a private pilot license, passing the FAA knowledge test, and the checkride would take three months. It may take more than three months for a part-time student.

Three months is enough if you are a full-time student and enroll in a professional pilot program.

But with a private pilot license, you can only fly an aircraft to build hours.

Now, let’s talk about building hours for your commercial pilot license.

The commercial pilot license process comes after obtaining a private pilot license.

Step 2: Getting a commercial pilot license and its duration.

Now you’ve 55 hours and a private pilot license. You must build 165 hours to be eligible for a commercial pilot license.

This 165 hours total time required for obtaining a commercial pilot license changes depending on the local Civil Aviation Authority and the type of pilot training program.

For our example, we assume you enroll in Part 141 flight school. Hence, 165 hours is adequate to get your commercial pilot license.

You have 55 hours and must fly an additional 110 hours to get your commercial pilot license.

Flying another 110 hours will take somewhere between 5 to 6 months. I say four to six months because some students like to take it slow. The studies involved in obtaining a commercial pilot license are also complicated. So to become a competent commercial pilot, you need approximately another six months.

In these six months, you will learn new flying skills and acquire knowledge of commercial flying.

Finally, you must take the commercial pilot knowledge test and pass your checkride.

The entire process would take no more than six months. This duration length will change depending on many factors.

  • If a student doesn’t fly regularly;
  • A student takes more time to grasp knowledge;
  • A student may have a problem funding the course;
  • The weather may not always be perfect for flying.

Considering the factors mentioned above will increase the time spent on the course.

However, a full-time student can fly the additional 110 hours within six months.

So up until now, to get a commercial pilot license, you took three months + 6 months and, in total, nine months.

You are a proud commercial pilot licensee.

Now, this is not the end of your journey. For commercial flying, a pilot must know about weather flying.

To be prepared for adverse weather flying and flying relying on Aircraft instruments, you need an instrument rating.

Step 3: What are Instrument rating training and its duration?

Imagine you have a commercial flight at night, taking off in the dark. How will you guide yourself to the destination? An instrument rating is necessary to fly without outside reference.

At night you can’t see any landmarks outside. The same happens if you have a commercial flight on a foggy day.

Pilots rely on the aircraft’s instrument panel to fly without visual references outside. You can fly from one destination to another without looking out even once.

You must fly 35 hours in an instrument-rated aircraft for an Instrument rating.

Fly this 35 hours and complete ground training for instrument flying will take three months.

Instrument training includes simulator training and actual flight training at night. Naturally, to prepare for night flying, you have to study attentively.

Some pilots say instrument flight training is the most challenging part of training.

Becoming an instrument-rated pilot would take around three months.

Finally, you got a commercial pilot license with your instrument rating, and reaching this place would take 12 months.

  • Private pilot licensing = 3 months;
  • Commercial pilot license = 6 months;
  • Instrument rating = 3 months;
  • Total = 12 months / 1 year.

At this stage, you already have 200 actual flight hours in total. However, this is not the end. The next step is to build more flying hours.

Step 4: Time length to build 1500 hours for an airline job.

Do you think you are ready to apply for an airline job with 200 hours? Some lucky ones get a job with mere 200 hours, but not everyone is fortunate.

Airlines in the USA require pilots to have at least 1500 flying hours before applying for a job. But commonly, if you have 500 hours, you have opportunities to work Globally.

For this instance, let’s say you want to work in the USA. Therefore building 1500 hours is essential, but paying to build 1500 hours will be costly, and no one does that. Instead, you have to work as a charter pilot or, more commonly, as a certified flight instructor.

It would take another two years to get 1500 flying hours as a certified flight instructor.

So at this stage, you have spent three years in the aviation industry. One year to get all your pilot licenses and two years to build hours working as a CFI.

Often you can reach the 1500 hours stage quicker than that. If you focus on your goals and enjoy working as a certified flight instructor, the time will fly quickly, and you will be ready to get your ATPL.

Getting your ATPL requires having 1500 hours and passing the knowledge test. With an ATPL, you are now ready to apply for airline jobs.

Step 5: Your first airline job and Type rating training duration in the airline.

Once you have 1500 hours logged and have your ATPL, it is only a matter of time before you get your first airline job.

There are plenty of vacant first officer positions in US airlines. With 1500 flying hours and an ATPL, you are no longer obliged to only work in the USA. Now, you can look for opportunities around the globe.

As with any other profession, applying for an airline job takes patience and dedication. I believe it wouldn’t take more than six months to get your first job and start working as an airline pilot.

Type rating training teaches you to become proficient in flying a specific aircraft. Once you’re in the airline, you get type rating training. This training takes no more than three months. But during this time, you will get paid.

So, from 1500 hours to getting your first airline job may take another six months.


I described each step and the duration for anyone to become a pilot, from zero to 1500 hours, and the time to get their first airline job.

It takes one year to get all the licenses for a full-time student pilot. Another two years to work as a CFI and build 1500 hours. During this period, you must keep your goals straight. You can safely assume you will get paid to work as a CFI but not as much as an airline pilot.

So after you spent three years going from zero hours to 1500 hours, it would take another six months to get accepted by an airline as their first officer.

Thus, if you start today, you can become an airline pilot in the next four years. This duration is only applicable to a full-time student in the USA.

This duration will prolong if you become a pilot in Asian countries or delay your training for personal reasons.

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