Duration from Getting your 1st Pilot License to Your first airline job.

how long is pilot school

Do you want to enroll in a pilot school as a full-time student but don’t know how long a pilot training school is? Relocating for pilot training without knowing the schooling period and unaware of the costs of living there can genuinely hinder your entire activity and impact your future dreams.

Hence, the objective of this post is to describe the length of flight school to get a commercial pilot license or until you get your first job as a CFI.

Most of my readers desire to quickly get a commercial pilot license and become an airline pilot soon.

However, most of you may not know that completing pilot school is not the same as becoming an airline pilot.

A commercial pilot school aims to train you and aid you in obtaining a commercial pilot license. Yet, you won’t be ready to get your airline pilot job as a fresh graduate.

In a pilot school/flight school, you would spend most of your time learning fundamental theories and building experience in the air.

  • Stage 1: You will get a Student Pilot License;
  • Stage 2: Ground classes for private pilot, pass exams & checkride, and obtain a private pilot license;
  • Stage 3: Ground classes for the Instrument rating, pass exams & checkride, and get rated;
  • Stage 4: Finally, prepare for commercial pilot exams & checkride and get a commercial pilot license;
  • Stage 5: Get a Flight instructor license and choose the plain route to make a living.

However, understand that becoming a commercial pilot will only take you closer to becoming an airline pilot. I discussed becoming an airline pilot in a different article here: Duration to become a pilot for an airline from zero hours.

It helps to put in more effort and time until you reach your aviation goals. But the journey doesn’t end here.

Similarly, I broke down this post into several sections, describing:

  • How long is commercial pilot school?;
  • What circumstances can prevent you from prolonging your commercial pilot schooling period?;
  • Do you think you are ready to work after twelve months of training?

How long is commercial pilot school?

The commercial pilot school takes between 12 months to 18 months.

  • It takes four months to get a private pilot license;
  • Three months for an Instrument rating;
  • Six months to obtain a commercial pilot license.

For a full-time student, it takes 13 months to complete pilot school. Eighteen months is the maximum someone could squander in a pilot school until becoming a CFI.

Commercial pilot schools’ job is to train student pilots, instill aeronautical theories, and aid in building actual flying hours. The flight school also assists in taking FAA exams and the pilot checkride.

In a flight school’s professional pilot program, you’ll accumulate around 200 flying hours and a commercial pilot license with an instrument rating.

The structured course is also known as the PART 141 course by the FAA. Hence, I used the PART 141 course, flight school, and pilot school interchangeably in this post.

Stage 1: You will get a Student Pilot License.

After enrolling in a pilot school (PART 141 structured course), quickly complete the necessary assessments and get your medical certificate.

Once you’ve your medical certificate, the flight school will assist you in getting a Student pilot license.

The entire process won’t take more than a month. However, the period depends on how fast a flight school can process the paperwork. A reputable flight can do these tasks quickly as they have their liaison officers.

Stage 2: Ground classes for private pilot, pass exams & checkride, and obtain a private pilot license.

While waiting for your student pilot license, you can finish your private pilot ground school.

In PARt 141 flight schools, the ground instructors will take scheduled classes and knowledge tests to evaluate your theory knowledge.

In most PART 141 flight schools, you’ll take private pilot ground classes while waiting for your student pilot license. Passing your ground school tests before getting your student pilot license is best.

Once you’ve your student pilot license, you can begin flight training.

But it’s always best to complete your private pilot ground school and take the pilot knowledge test in FAA before flight training. Having passed the PPL knowledge test before beginning flight training, you can apply for a checkride once you meet the flight requirements.

You need 35 hours of flight training, including solo flights, to get a private pilot license.

However, most student pilots fly around 55 hours to meet the FAA requirement. As a result, it takes more time for some and less for others.

Once you meet the flight hour requirements, you can apply to schedule a PPL checkride. The checkride includes an oral and practical exam.

Consider one month to finish ground classes and take the PPL knowledge test while waiting for your student pilot license. You can build flight hours in the next three months to meet PPL requirements.

Thus, obtaining a private pilot license takes only 3 to 4 months.

However, it may take longer, depending on your progress.

Often, student pilots fail their FAA private pilot knowledge test. If you forget your private pilot knowledge test, you must wait months to retake the exam.

You won’t be eligible for a private pilot license without passing the pilot knowledge test.

Secondly, adverse weather can prevent you from building flight hours. If you begin training during the winter season and it often snows at your training location, it will take more than three months to make the required hours.

Hence, considering the climate at your flight school location is wise before enrolling.

But you can be confident that getting a private pilot license won’t take more than four months if you put effort into getting it quickly.

Stage 3: Ground classes for the Instrument rating, pass exams & checkride, and get rated.

You need forty hours of instrument flight experience to get an instrument rating per FAA requirements.

These forty hours of experience include experience in an instrument-rated aircraft and a simulator.

Taking separate ground classes for the instrument rating is essential as Instrument rating is one of the most challenging stages for a pilot.

Passing the IFR knowledge test and IFR ground class assessment may take some time.

If you are intelligent and bright, you may finish instrument rating ground classes and pass the FAA IFR knowledge test while building flight hours for your private pilot license.

It may be challenging for many students, but it’s one way to pace up your pilot training.

Nevertheless, regardless of how slow you take it, your instrument rating training, and passing the IFR theory, oral and practical exams won’t take more than four months.

Failing an exam is the only way you can jeopardize the duration here. Because once you fail an exam, you must wait months to retake it. Thus, be wary and devote time to studying to become a pilot during your pilot schooling days.

Stage 4: Finally, prepare for commercial pilot exams & checkride and get a license.

Assuming you spend eight months in a flight school and have your Private pilot license and instrument rating.

It’s time to get your commercial pilot license. Obtaining a commercial pilot license requires 200 flying hours per FAA requirement.

There is a bit of nuance to the 200-hour requirement. If you train in a PART 141 flight school, then 200 total hours is adequate. But if you enroll in a modular course in PART 61 flight school, you need 250 hours.

However, this post emphasizes enrolling in the PART 141 structured course, enabling you to accumulate 200 hours in the next six months.

So, let’s redo the math.

You spent four months getting your private pilot license. It takes another four months to obtain the instrument rating. Your logbook now has around 110 hours.

Thus, to reach that 200-hour threshold to meet the commercial pilot license requirement, you need to build an additional 90 hours.

It’s not only about building the additional ninety hours at this stage. To get a commercial pilot license, you must learn several advanced maneuvers and undergo uncompromising training.

Hence, you can expect to spend six months more in your pilot school to accumulate up to 200 hours, finish the commercial pilot ground school, pass the knowledge tests, and pass the checkride.

As I said, several factors must be considered to keep your pilot schooling duration compact.

Often, an aspiring pilot takes a break from flight training after getting a private pilot license and instrument rating. You’ll naturally extend your pilot school duration if you intend to do so.

Also, passing your checkride is crucial because if you fail your exams, you must wait several months before retaking.

Without any adverse factor affecting your flight training, and if you don’t take a vacation between your professional pilot course, it won’t take more than 14 months.

Even 14 months is quite a long time to finish pilot school for PART 141 students. This is the maximum amount a student should presume for their pilot training before budgeting for the pilot school and relocating elsewhere.

What circumstances can prolong your commercial pilot schooling period?

The above timeframe applies to students training in the Part 141 structured course. The timeframe to finish the Part 61 modular system course differs from a Part 141 course.

Commercial pilot schools in the USA have structured training courses for obtaining a commercial pilot license and advertise that a full-time student can graduate within 12 months.

Getting a commercial pilot license within 12 months is doable. However, multiple circumstances can alter your time on your commercial pilot training.

Your study progress in flight school.

Although you enroll in a commercial pilot school and expect to get your licenses in the next 12 to 18 months, your advancement will significantly affect how quickly or slowly you get your pilot licenses.

Understand this: Commercial pilot school’s structured courses are fast-paced. For new students, the entire training is overwhelming.

You learn aeronautics, aviation communication, navigation, operational procedures, and airplane systems quickly. Therefore, many students prefer to take it slow and procrastinate during their training.

As a result, they waste a few more months in commercial pilot school.

Taking a bit longer than others is not a bad thing. If you want to learn slowly but accurately, you should do that if it works for you.

Instead of competing with other students to finish training quickly, take time to learn slowly and dominate at what you do.

Procrastinating and going on long vacations delays pilot training for many.

Lastly, if you intentionally delay your commercial pilot training by taking vacations during your course.

It’s common for student pilots to take a break after getting their private pilot licenses.

Often, the students anticipate the leave for two months, and it turns out six months have passed without any progress in flying. It’s possible for students that go to flight schools far from home.

Due to this reason, many students fall behind and take longer than a year to obtain a commercial pilot license.

Do you think you are ready to work after twelve months of training?

Most of you reckon you are ready to work as an airline pilot after twelve to eighteen months of training in pilot school. Sadly, the explanation is that you are not there yet.

As I said, the job of a commercial pilot school is to train you properly and ultimately obtain a commercial pilot license. But to work in the USA as an airline pilot, you need at least 1500 flying hours with ATPL.

This hour requirement varies outside the USA, but no significant airlines hire fresh graduates of commercial pilot school with 200 hours.

To build 1500 hours from 200 hours would take another two to three years. You can work as a Certified flight instructor or a charter pilot during this time. The pay for this kind of pilot job is not satisfying.

However, the perks of such professions are to build hours without spending a dime from your pocket.

You can read more about the duration of becoming an airline pilot from zero hours here.


You can finish commercial pilot school within twelve to eighteen months.

Enrolling in a reputed flight school in the USA will quickly earn your commercial pilot license.

A flight school can significantly affect how soon you finish your pilot training. Likewise, the school’s location plays a role in the training period.

Lastly, a student can take years after years only to get a commercial pilot license. It depends on how you choose to progress in your profession.

Nevertheless, you are unprepared to take an airline pilot job after getting your commercial pilot license. You have to work your way up to fulfill airline hiring requirements.

Want to become an airline pilot but need to know where to begin? The particulars about becoming a private pilot and an airline pilot are confusing, and reading all the articles online puzzles the average student even more.

To simplify matters, it’s best to know how long it takes to become a pilot.

Before I begin, I recommend you read these two articles here to understand the terms I frequently use in this post:

How long does it take to become a pilot?

If you begin training today, expect to become an airline pilot in the next five years. The duration to become an airline pilot varies depending on adverse weather and students’ availability. According to most American flight schools, getting a PPL, IR, and CPL takes 12 – 16 months for anyone with zero experience in flying. In addition, it takes 2-4 years to accumulate 1500 hours for ATPL.

It isn’t easy for a newbie in the aviation industry to comprehend all the licenses required to become a pilot. Thus, let’s clarify matters by breaking down each license’s duration.

To become an airline pilot in the USA, you must train and acquire the following licenses:

  • Obtain a student pilot license: Requires endorsement from a Flight Instructor;
  • Get a sports pilot license: Requires 20 Hours of flight time;
  • Acquire recreational pilot license: 30 hours total flight time;
  • Get your Private pilot license: The minimum flight requirement is 35 hours;
  • Acquire Instrument rating;
  • Obtain your commercial pilot license. The hours requirement varies from 150 to 250 hours;
  • Get a Certified Flight Instructor license: 2 more months and a bit more cash is all you need;
  • Acquire your Airline Transport Pilot License: 1500 hours flight time requirement.

How long does it take to become an airline pilot with zero experience in the aviation industry?

As you can see, you need 1,500 flight hours and many licenses to qualify for an airline pilot job. However, I don’t want to discourage you.

Many students presume acquiring 1,500 hours may take years or even a decade. But if you put in the effort and dedicate time to becoming a pilot, you can achieve your goals more quickly.

The path won’t be easy. Yet, with patience, you can progress to operating an airliner.

Each pilot license is a stepping stone to your aviation career.

Assuming most of my readers tend to become a pilot in the USA, this post is tailored to adhere to the FAA regulations.

STEP 1: Obtain a student pilot license: Requires endorsement from a Flight Instructor.

DURATION: 2 months.

You need a student pilot license (SPL) to begin your flight training. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues a student pilot license in the United States.

Before issuing a student pilot license, the FAA verifies whether you’re ready to take flight training by checking an endorsement. Once you enroll in flight school, the certified flight instructor (CFI) endorses you for an SPL.

You must pass your ground school test and assessments and hold a medical certificate to obtain an SPL.

You may also fly a couple of hours in an aircraft to discover how you feel about controlling the aircraft.

If the CFI is sure about your progress, you will receive the endorsement to present to the FAA to get your student pilot license.

Imagine you enroll for pilot training at 16, and you can get your student pilot license in the next two months.

I mentioned the age of 16 here because the minimum requirement to become a student pilot is 16.

Thus, starting flight training at 16 and obtaining your SPL sooner is a great idea. The sooner you begin, the quicker you can become an airline pilot.

STEP 2: Get a sports pilot license: Requires 20 Hours of flight time.

You must acquire 20 hours of flight time to get a sport pilot license. The total flight time must include 15 hours of instruction from a CFI and 5 hours of solo flight time.

However, getting a sports pilot license is optional. Most aspiring pilots aim for a private pilot license as their ultimate goal is to become airline pilots.

On the contrary, a sports pilot license has several limitations and is suitable for pilots only looking forward to operating sports aircraft.

However, obtaining 20 hours of flying time would take up to a month.

Even if you’ve adequate hours to get your sports pilot license, you can only apply for one if you’re 17. So, you’ve to wait and continue flying to build hours.

STEP 3: Acquire recreational pilot license: 30 hours total flight time.

Next comes the recreational pilot license. To be eligible for a recreational pilot license, you must log 30 hours of flight time.

The 30 hours must include 15 hours of instruction from a CFI and 15 hours of solo flying time.

If you’re eligible for a sports pilot license, accumulating an additional 10 hours solo would make you eligible for a recreational pilot license.

However, getting a recreational pilot license is irrelevant for student pilots aiming for an airline pilot job. Similar to a sport pilot license, the recreational pilot license has limitations such as restrictions to fly within specific nautical miles from the departure airport.

Though you can reach this stage within two months of getting your student pilot license, I recommend waiting for a private pilot license other than a recreational one.

Instead, go for a private pilot license as the age requirement for a sport pilot license, recreational pilot license, and personal pilot license is 17 years old.

If you aim to fly only within your area for recreation, get a recreational pilot license.

At this stage, you’re still training with a student pilot license, and you have 30 hours of flight time, and four months have passed since you began your pilot training.

Keep in mind that your student pilot license validity is two years. So, if you get a student pilot license when you’re 16, your SPL is valid until you’re 18.

STEP 4: Get your Private pilot license: The minimum flight requirement is 35 hours.

Now comes a crucial stage for aspiring pilots looking forward to having a profession in aviation.

A private pilot license (PPL) allows you to conduct cross-country flights as a PIC. You can carry passengers but cannot accept compensation for flying them.

Though you can’t accept payments, becoming a private pilot is a big responsibility. Thus, the minimum age requirement for a private pilot license is 17.

Let’s stop thinking about the sports and recreational pilot licenses here. Assuming you got your Student pilot license at 16 and gradually acquired 60 hours of flight time by the time you’re 17.

Thus, at 17, you’re eligible for a private pilot license application.

But there are other factors you must consider before getting a private pilot license:

  • Passing an FAA knowledge test and
  • Checkride (Oral & Practical exam).

Passing the FAA knowledge test and the checkride would take three months. It may take more than three months for a part-time student.

One year period is abundant to accumulate 60 hours and pass all your FAA exams.

A 17-year-old can get a private pilot license in 6 months as the pilot has no age threshold.

On the contrary, the actual hour requirement by the FAA to become a private pilot is 35 hours.

However, the typical national average for a private pilot applicant is 55 hours. Hence, to be realistic, I cited 60 hours for you.

Flight schools say you’ll fly 35 hours for a private pilot license. In that case, a student must grasp the necessary skills to become a private pilot within 35 hours, which is quite challenging.

Once you have your private pilot license, you can fly cross country to build flight hours for a commercial pilot license.

However, I suggest aspiring pilots immediately go for an instrument rating after obtaining a private pilot license. Because an instrument rating is an obligation for a professional pilot as it lifts many restrictions from flying.

If you begin pilot training at 16 years old, by the time you’re 17, you have 60 hours and a private pilot license.

STEP 5: Acquire Instrument rating.

Imagine you’re preparing for a cross-country flight, and suddenly the weather changes. There is minimum visibility, and you must cancel your flight because you can’t fly without an outside reference.

Therefore, the instrument rating is crucial for pilots.

Pilots must rely on the cockpit instrument panel to conduct flights at night. Pilots rely on the aircraft’s instrument panel to fly without visual references outside.

Thus, a private pilot must fly 40 hours in an instrument-rated aircraft or practice in a simulation to get an instrument rating. Out of these forty hours, you must receive 15 hours of instruction from a certified flight instructor-instrument.

In-flight schools, trainee pilots typically fly 35 hours in an instrument-rated aircraft and another fifteen hours in a simulation.

Also, you must know that before applying for an instrument rating, you must have 50 hours of cross-country flight as a PIC.

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

The entire process to get an instrument rating after your private pilot license may take about four months. Four months is adequate to get your instrument rating for a part-time student.

Since you got your private pilot license at 17 and had 60 hours logged, you can expect to get your instrument rating before 18 and have a total of 120 hours.

The above number is practical for a part-time student pilot who begins training at 16 and aims to become a professional pilot in the next five years.

This is an approximate number, and the flight training hour may vary depending on a student pilot’s potency.

The period is shorter for individuals who begin training at 25 years old and are full-time students. A 25-year-old student pilot can reach this stage of 120 hours within a year, as there are no age restrictions for acquiring licenses.

Some pilots say instrument flight training is the most challenging part of becoming a pilot and requires patience and effort. Thus, the duration is variable.

The objective is to keep going and progress gradually. You’re on the right path if you can get your Instrument rating before 18.

STEP 6: Obtain your commercial pilot license: The hour requirement varies from 150 to 250 hours.

Let’s take that you’re almost 18 and have 120 hours logged. You have a private pilot license with an instrument rating.

It’s time for you to build hours for your commercial pilot license. The best part is that by the time you make 200 flying hours, you’ll be 18 years old and eligible for a commercial pilot license.

The FAA requires pilots to be 18 years old before applying for a commercial pilot license.

On the contrary, the hour requirement for a commercial pilot application varies between 200 to 250 hours.

If you train in a PART 141 flight school, 200 hours is adequate for a commercial pilot license application.

In contrast, part-time students train in a PART 61 flight school. A commercial pilot applicant must log 250 hours of flying time to comply with FAA regulations.

Thus, the time required for a PART 61 student is more than that of a PART 141 flight school trainee.

Nevertheless, accumulating 250 hours starting from 120 hours will take little effort.

A pilot can log up to eight hours of flying time daily. However, 8 hours can be tiresome.

You are a part-time pilot in a PART 61 flight school. You have 120 hours before beginning your training.

You can easily acquire another 130 hours in the next six months to accumulate 250 hours in your log book.

On average, fly 6 hours weekly, perhaps only on weekends, to achieve 250 hours of flying time in the next six months.

The math is straightforward. While flying during the weekend, you can prepare for the FAA commercial pilot knowledge test.

So, even if you build flying hours and train at your own pace, you can obtain your commercial pilot license before you’re 19. Suppose you’re 19 years old and have a commercial pilot license.

The ground school studies and assessments of obtaining a commercial pilot license are more complex than any other license. Thus, you need approximately another six months to become a competent commercial pilot.

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 only sometimes be perfect for flying.

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

Now, this is not the end of your journey. You need 1500 hours to get your job at an airline. Though you have a commercial pilot license and can receive compensation for conducting flights, an airline wouldn’t hire a novice pilot with 250 hours.

It’s time to build more experience, and how do you do that?

STEP 7: Get a Certified Flight Instructor license: 2 more months and a bit more cash is all you need.

You’re 19 and have a commercial pilot license. You can now look for different jobs that hire pilots with low hours.

Typically, you can work in general aviation to build hours. Some jobs hire pilots as freelancers and some as independent contractors.

But the best job to build hours quickly and similarly get paid is a Certified flight instructor job at a flight school.

To get a certified flight instructor job, you need a CFI license. To get a CFI license, you must train an additional 15 hours and continue to learn more in ground school.

You need two months to get a CFI license. Most often, getting a CFI job isn’t a challenge. The flight school where you finish your pilot training is more inclined to hire its graduates than a CFI from a different flight school.

This is how you begin making money and continue building hours.

To accumulate 1500 flight hours starting from roughly 300 hours is quite a journey.

Pilots enjoy flying airplanes compared to most other jobs. After all, flying an aircraft is varied.

So how long may it take from here to get 1500 hours?

Assuming you’re 19 and working as a flight instructor with minimum pay. You can expect to achieve 1500 hours of flying time in the next 18 months.

Therefore, by age 21, you have enough flying experience to apply for an airline.

But now the main obstacle is your age.

You can only apply for an ATPL if you’re 23. I understand you have 1500 hours and are well experienced, yet FAA regulation would keep you from obtaining an ATPL.

However, look at the bright side. You’re only 21 years old, ready to apply for an airline job, and have a certified flight instructor pilot job.

STEP 8: Acquire your Airline Transport Pilot License: 1500 hours flight time requirement and lots of advanced studies.

So you’re 21 and have 1500 hours of flying time. Do you stop here?

You continue to study because you aim to get an ATPL and apply for an airline. Researching and preparing for ATPL requires time as you learn matters in more depth.

However, if you start preparing for your ATPL exam at 21, by the time you’re 23, you’ll be well-educated on the ATPL subjects.

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.

I take that at 23, you have an ATPL and have already spent a long time in the aviation industry. You can begin applying for regional airlines. Did it take long to become a pilot?

Indeed, it did. Anything worthwhile takes work to achieve. Would the journey be worth it?

Well, you would only know if you began your journey.

STEP 9: 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 American airline operators. With 1500 flying hours and an ATPL, you are no longer obliged to work only in the USA. Now, you can look for opportunities around the globe.

Getting your first airline job takes patience and perseverance, similar to any other profession. You’ll get hired in no time if you consistently apply to airlines.

Often, the pilots get hired even before they get their ATPL. It’s common because there need to be more qualified pilots.

Once you get hired, expect another six months of training for the airliner-type rating before you can finally operate an airliner as a first officer.

So, finally, before you’re 24, you can become an airline pilot. However, long before 24, at 19, you can begin earning as a pilot.


I described each stage of pilot training and how long it would take for an individual to become a pilot, from zero to 1500 hours, and the time to get their first airline job.

The period I mentioned in the article is for a student who starts pilot training at 16 and gets an airline pilot job by 23.

It may seem for a student to become an airline pilot takes seven years. However, the reality is different for every pilot trainee.

The period is variable due to many factors, and age plays a significant role.

Such as a student pilot who starts pilot training at 25 years old may become an airline pilot in the next four years. It’s because a 25-year-old student has no age barrier to getting specific licenses.

The minimum age requirement to get an ATPL with 1,500 flying hours is 23.

Hence, if you begin training at 25 and accumulate 1500 hours by 29 years old, you can apply for ATPL without restrictions. Similarly, you’ll be eligible for an airline first officer job by 29.

However, are you willing to wait till you’re 29 to become an airline pilot? You don’t have to do so. You can begin training at 16 and slowly advance toward an airline pilot job.

It takes 16 months to get all the licenses for a part/full-time student pilot—and 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 be prolonged if you become a pilot in Asian countries or delay your training for personal reasons.

If you’ve come this far reading this article, then you can read more about becoming a pilot in the USA in these other posts:


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