How to Become a Pilot: 4 Questions Every Prospective Aviator Should Ask

Virtually everyone who’s ever seen an aircraft fly overhead has probably wondered just how to
become a pilot. Sadly, only a minuscule slice of the population ever pursues an answer to that question. In addition, an extremely high percentage of flight training prospects quit without obtaining a license. Why the high dropout rate? One opinion is that many of them dive into training without fully understanding the commitment necessary to earn their wings.

So, want to know how to become a pilot and succeed where so many others fail? The secret can be summed up in one word: planning. Before you can hope to succeed, you need to understand what you’re up against. To do this, you need to ask the right questions before beginning your quest for a pilot certificate.

WHAT IS MY ULTIMATE FLYING GOAL?

All pilot licenses are not created equal. The different levels of certification have different knowledge standards, operating privileges, and experience requirements. Depending on your personal goals, just how you pursue your training could vary drastically from the next person. A fair-weather weekend warrior has vastly different priorities than the hopeful who dreams of captaining an international wide-body. Rather than simply asking how to become a pilot, you should ponder “What’s the best path for me to become a pilot?” Answering this question early on is important, as it will likely shape the structure of your flight training.

DO I HAVE ANY MEDICAL CONDITIONS THAT MIGHT PRECLUDE MY FLYING?

Commanding an aircraft is not akin to driving a car. Aviators are subject to a laundry list of physiological standards and medication restrictions. In fact, the FAA has an entire regulatory section that deals exclusively with pilot medical standards (14 CFR Part 67). The higher the certificate level (i.e. Airline Transport Pilot), the stricter the medical standards. If you dream of one day earning a living as a professional pilot, do yourself a favor and research your medical eligibility before committing time and money towards airline-oriented flight training.

Even if you have a condition that prevents your eligibility for some classes of medical certification, it doesn’t mean you can’t earn a pilot certificate. A few years ago, the FAA created a whole new class of pilot certificate (Sport Pilot) that allows pilots to self-certify their medical fitness. That’s right, no medical exam necessary. Sound too good to be true? There are a few catches, but nothing that will likely be a problem if you handle the process correctly. A good source of info is the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which maintains an outstanding website of all things aviation. Instead of just asking how to become a pilot, seek to determine “What level(s) of pilot certification am I medically eligible to earn?”

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

Price is probably the biggest reason so many pilot hopefuls abandon their training. Most know to ask for a price quote, but many blindly adhere to a stated figure, unwilling to accept a given quote as an approximate number. In truth, it is very difficult to tell exactly how much it will cost to earn a pilot certificate. Too many variables come into play that make accurately foretelling the exact cost a challenging feat. However, many pricing options and learning strategies (to be discussed in separate posts) can allow pilots to control and reduce their training expenditures. Even still, such strategies are only effective if pilots ask themselves “What’s a reasonable range I can expect to spend to earn my pilot certificate? How can I lower that number? What happens if my training costs exceed that figure?” 

WHERE CAN I GET MORE VALUABLE INFORMATION?

One of the more valuable cache of flight training information is the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). This organization has loads of free info and strategic advice to help you achieve your pilot’s license. Additionally, you can get a student pilot membership (including a six-month subscription to their Flight Training magazine) absolutely free! If you’re interested in learning how to become a pilot, AOPA is a good place to start your search for information.

Earning a pilot certificate is a formidable challenge.  Despite the setbacks that often doom flight trainees, you can surmount any obstacles you’ll encounter with an appropriate degree of preparation. With adequate planning and a commitment to training, you’re fully capable of joining the elite ranks of the pilot community.