Pilots fly airplanes, helicopters and other classes of aircraft for business and pleasure. In order to become pilots, individuals must undergo flight training and earn several licenses and certificates. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets flight-hour and flight-testing guidelines for individuals looking to earn pilot licenses. However, the FAA does not impose a time limit on those looking to become pilots. The amount of time it takes someone to become a pilot varies on a wide variety of factors.
Background on Pilot Training
In order to become a professional pilot, a person must first earn three licenses: private, instrument and commercial. The private pilot license allows a person to fly for pleasure and is the first step in the pilot training process; the instrument rating allows him to fly by reference to the aircraft's equipment and is the second step in the flight training process; while the commercial license allows a pilot to fly for pay or hire.
Flight School Structure
The structure of the flight school at which a prospective pilot trains is a major factor in how long it takes her to complete professional pilot training. The FAA allows a person to train at either a Part 61 flight school or a Part 141 flight school. Part 61 schools are unstructured -- students work at their own paces and may take as little or as much time as they like to finish their training. In contrast, Part 141 schools are highly structured and have defined lesson plans and dates. Students training at Part 141 schools progress at the rate the flight school's training curriculum allows.
In addition to flight school structure, a multitude of other factors influence how long it takes individuals to become pilots. Flight schools may only conduct pilot training operations in reasonably good meteorological conditions, so weather is a key factor. A student training in a climate that experiences inclement weather will likely take longer to become a pilot than one in a mild, temperate climate. Personal determination is another factor, especially for Part 61 students. A person who flies every day will progress faster than one who flies once per week.
Although the amount of time it takes a person to become a pilot varies on a many factors, in some cases students can know how many years it will take them to finish training. For instance, university flight programs tie flight training into a two- or four-year degree program. A student training at a collegiate aviation program will likely earn her flight ratings in two or four years, depending on the degree program in which she is enrolled.