How Long Does It Take to Be a Pilot?

Training to become a pilot is a time-consuming and challenging process, but needless to say, the end result is worth it.

You might find a lot of different information online in terms of how long it takes to become a qualified pilot, and the truth is, it varies.

To become a private pilot, you can gain your qualification in as little as 3 months, but this is far from the extensive education required to become a commercial pilot. 

A thorough qualification would take more like 3 to 4 years, the time it takes to get your Bachelor of Science in Professional Flight. It’s important to not cut corners, as falling into bad habits early on could cost you in the long run. 

It’s also important to note that a commercial airline pilot requires by far the most training, and if you’re looking to become a qualified sport pilot or even an instructor, it would take far less time. 

It depends not only on the type of pilot you want to become, but also the type of aircraft you want to fly, as well as other factors such as your availability, aptitude, and which flying school you choose.

According to the Pilot Institute, this is a rough table showing how long it would take to get a particular type of pilot certificate:

Pilot Certificate

Time to Get It

Student Pilot

3 weeks for certificate (1 to 7 weeks to solo)

Sport Pilot

6 weeks to 3 months

Recreational Pilot

6 weeks to 3 months

Private Pilot

2 weeks to 3 months

Commercial Pilot

3 to 9 months

Flight Instructor

2 weeks to 3 months

Airline Transport Pilot

3 to 5 years

How long does it take to become a captain pilot?

When you first become a qualified pilot, you’ll probably start out as a co-pilot or first officer, and you need to be willing to work extremely hard to become a captain. The process is a long one - it can take between 6 to 15 years, depending on the airline you’re employed by and your skills and qualifications as an individual. 

Pilots eligible for promotion to captain are also required to have logged at least 1500 flight hours, and also require a full Air Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL). Some legacy airlines may even require 3000 flight hours to be logged before they’ll consider you for promotion. 

If you have the minimum requirements - the logged flight hours and necessary certificate -  the airline will then consider your training and performance record, before starting a ‘command assessment’, a process that includes an interview and a simulator check to assess your ability to captain an aircraft. 

This simulator check is a practical test where the pilot is put in various scenarios with different malfunctions that they must respond to. It assesses your flight management skills and your ability to make decisions quickly and under pressure.

If you pass this assessment, you will then begin a command course, but don’t be fooled - this is actually the hardest part - as the course is long, demanding, and challenging to pass. 

How long does it take to become a commercial airline pilot?

The process of becoming a commercial airline pilot is also challenging. It takes between 3-5 years of training, and the FAA requires 1500 hours for a pilot to become an Airline Transport Pilot. 

If you’re starting from scratch, the first step will be to earn a private pilot certificate, where you’ll learn the basics of flying a single-engine plane. This requires passing a medical exam, written exam, and logging at least 40 hours of flight time. 

You’ll then need to earn an instrument rating, which qualifies you to fly in low-visibility conditions using instrument flight rules, as well as a multi-engine rating that enables you to fly larger planes. 

Once you’ve completed at least 250 hours of flight time, you’ll then be eligible to work towards gaining your commercial pilot license, starting with pursuing your multi-engine, single-engine, and instrument flight instructor certificates. Many trainee pilots turn to flight instruction to help them earn money to pay for their training, while also building their experience. 

As we said, in order to gain your Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, you’ll need to have logged at least 1,500 hours of flight experience which is the minimum required to work as a pilot for a commercial airline. 

As expected, this is a costly process, and training can rack up fees of anywhere between $60,000-$100,000.

Final Verdict

The term ‘pilot’ encompasses a range of flying roles, and these take different amounts of time - and require different qualifications - to complete. 

Training to become a commercial pilot or a captain not only requires years of training, but you also need to have logged a certain number of hours to prove your experience.