FAQs


Millions of people have learned to fly and they've all had questions about the process. These are the most frequently asked questions with answers and links to more info.

 


 

How and where can I get a student pilot certificate? (top)
An aviation medical examiner (AME) typically gives you a student pilot certificate to fill out as part of the third class medical exam. Your flight instructor will likely refer you to a local AME, or you can find an examiner online using AOPA's database of AME's searchable by city and state. A student pilot certificate is valid for 24 calendar months and a third class medical could be valid for up to 36 months, depending on your age at the time of your AME visit. If your student pilot certificate expires first, you can get a new one from a designated pilot examiner (DPE) or your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).

For how long is a student pilot certificate valid? (top)
A student pilot certificate is valid for 24 calendar months.
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What are the vision, hearing, and general medical health requirements (top)
Your vision must be at least 20/40 for near and distant vision with or without corrective lenses, and you must be able to perceive those colors necessary for the safe pilot performance. For general health and medical related questions, refer to AOPA's medical subject reports Web page prior to visiting your AME.
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FAR

Do I need a medical certificate to become a sport pilot? (top)
A medical is not required, but you will need to have a valid U.S. driver’s license. You must comply with each restriction and limitation imposed by that U.S. driver's license and any judicial or administrative order applying to the operation of a motor vehicle. You must also meet the requirements of Federal Aviation Regulation 61.23(c)(2): You must have been found eligible for the issuance of at least a third class airman medical certificate at the time of your most recent application (if you have applied for a medical certificate); you must not have had your most recently issued medical certificate (if you have held a medical certificate) suspended or revoked or most recent Authorization for a Special Issuance of a Medical Certificate withdrawn; and you must not have any medical condition that would make you unable to operate a light-sport aircraft in a safe manner.
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How much does it cost to learn to fly and get a pilot certificate? (top)
There are a lot of variables that affect the cost of learning to fly, including the frequency of flight lessons, weather conditions, the kind of aircraft in which you are training and its availability for scheduling, and individual aptitude. A rough estimate would range between $5,000 and $9,000, depending on the certificate being sought.
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How long does it take to learn to fly and get a pilot certificate? (top)
The same variables that affect the cost of learning to fly will affect the time it takes to earn your certificate. The FAA has established the minimum number of flight hours needed to obtain a certificate. Under Part 61 of the federal aviation regulations, the minimums are 20 hours for a sport pilot certificate, 30 hours for a recreational certificate, and 40 hours for a private pilot certificate. Some schools operate under an alternate regulation, Part 141, which provides more FAA oversight, more rigid schedules, and more paperwork. The added requirements allow them to reduce the minimum hours of private pilot training to 35 hours. However, many schools believe that a true average flight training time for a private pilot is between 50 hours and 60 hours, whether the school operates under Part 61 or Part 141 schools. Others believe that 68 to 70 hours is the more likely average. These flight hours can be spread over a time span of several months to a year or more.

What are the differences between a Part 61 and a Part 141 flight school? (top)
Part 141 schools have more FAA oversight, more rigid schedules, and more paperwork. For the added requirements, they are allowed to reduce the minimum required hours of private pilot training to 35 hours, rather than the 40-hour minimum required when training at a Part 61 flight school. The Part 61 school, on the other hand, is able to be more flexible with training schedules, and has the ability to tailor the curriculum to meet individual students' training needs. Either school must train you to pass the very same practical test.
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Where and how can I find a good flight school? (top)
Search the flight school database and find other useful information in this Web site's Learn to Fly section.

Where and how can I find a good flight instructor? (top)
AOPA has an online database of flight instructors, searchable by city and state. The Flight Training magazine archives offer many articles on finding just the right instructor for you.

As a student pilot, what is the best aircraft to rent or purchase? (top)
It depends: for most student pilots, an aircraft such as a Piper Cherokee or Cessna 172 is probably the most suitable, although there are a number of other aircraft that can provide an excellent introduction to flight while offering reasonable operating costs (for example, the Cessna 152 or Piper Tomahawk).
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Some flight schools have aircraft with "glass cockpits" and others do not. Are there any advantages of training in either aircraft? (top)
A controversial subject at times, there is no doubt that modern technology has inundated the general aviation cockpit, including training aircraft. The choice is ultimately yours, but some things to consider will be the cost of training in the "glass cockpit" versus conventionally equipped aircraft. Additionally, your future ambitions might involve or require extensive use of glass-cockpit aircraft. In either case, train in an aircraft that best suits your present and future needs and interests.
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How old do I have to be before I can start taking flying lessons? (top)
You don't have to be a particular age before you can begin to take flying lessons. That said, however, you do have to be at least 16 years old before you can solo an airplane (14 years old for operation of a balloon or glider), and 17 before you can be issued a pilot certificate. Therefore, it may not be particularly efficient from the standpoint of cost and flight hours to begin lessons too early.
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How old is too old to begin flying lessons? (top)
Say "student pilot," and most people think of a youngster chasing a dream. In reality, today's fledgling is likely a middle-aged adult who's not only chasing, but actually fulfilling a lifelong ambition to be a pilot. The average student pilot today is in his 30s, and the typical average active pilot is a decade older. In addition, more than 25 percent of all U.S. pilots with current medical certificates are in their 50s. And some pilots learn to fly after they retire.
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I have a friend who is a private pilot and would like to coach me through my flight training. Does AOPA have a resource for him? (top)
AOPA's Project Pilot can provide materials and guidance for your friend, who can enroll as a mentor pilot.
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I heard that some Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirements must be fulfilled before I can receive flight training. How will these requirements affect me? (top)
You're referring to the TSA's alien flight training and citizenship validation rule. The effects of this rule depend on whether you are a U.S. citizen or an alien.
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