How Long Does It Take To Become A Pilot? (With Skills)

Updated 5 September 2023

Pilots have challenging roles that require extensive training, so the amount of time it takes to become a pilot varies from person to person. Becoming a pilot can be a rewarding career for those who enjoy flying and visiting different locations. Understanding how long it takes to become a pilot can help you decide the type of pilot licence to pursue. In this article, we explain what a pilot is, answer 'How long does it take to become a pilot?', including an Air Force pilot, explore some pilot skills and review their work environment.

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What Is A Pilot?

A pilot undergoes rigorous training to operate aircraft for transporting passengers and cargo. In addition to flying the aircraft, they closely monitor weather conditions and communicate with air traffic controllers throughout the flight to ensure the plane's safety. During the flight, they are responsible for the safety of all crew members and passengers on board. Airlines expect pilots to remain calm and maintain their professionalism when emergencies arise. Their job involves a lot of travelling, and they may spend time away from their family members while working. Some other job duties of pilots include:

  • Performing pre- and post-flight inspections

  • Anticipating the potential risks they may encounter while flying

  • Ensuring the safety of all passengers by calmly responding to emergencies

  • Determining safe and efficient flight routes, including weather and wind conditions

  • Liaising and coordinating with co-pilots throughout the flight

  • Keeping up to date with aircraft advancement and equipment

Related: How To Become A Pilot In India: A Step-by-Step Guide

How Long Does It Take To Become A Pilot?

Knowing the answer to the question, 'How long does it take to become a pilot?' helps you decide whether to pursue this career and know the time commitment it entails. The time it takes to become a pilot depends upon the type of licence you want to earn. For instance, earning a student licence takes three to six months. It might take considerably longer to meet the requirements for flying commercial, private or cargo planes. Here are a few kinds of pilot licences you can pursue:

Student pilot licence (SPL)

A student pilot licence requires you to be over 16 years of age. You can apply for this licence only after completing your senior secondary certificate (SSC). You also require a Class II medical certificate from a doctor appointed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The fitness certification ensures you are physically able to fly an aircraft.

Flying experience is not necessary to obtain an SPL. Candidates take an oral examination in aviation meteorology, aircraft and engines, air navigation and air regulation. The licence is valid for five years, and it may take three to six months to become a student pilot.

Related: 6 Things To Consider When Making A Career Change To A Pilot

Private pilot licence (PPL)

With a PPL, pilots are eligible to fly cargo or passenger aircraft without receiving any payment. The minimum age for obtaining a PPL is 17, and meeting all SPL requirements is essential. Before applying for the PPL, join a DGCA-recognised flying school and complete the PPL training course. Depending upon the organisation, the course may take three to four months and provide you with 40 hours of flying time.

Commercial pilot licence (CPL)

The CPL licence is mandatory for becoming a commercial pilot. Like the SPL and PPL, the DGCA expects aspiring pilots to fulfil certain criteria. The minimum age is 18, and it is necessary to complete Class 12 with physics, and maths as the main subjects. Apart from fulfilling the educational qualification, medical fitness certification and a passing mark in the practical DGCA exam are mandatory. The examination tests you on air regulations, engines and signals, meteorology and aircraft and air navigation.

To gain relevant flying experience, enrol in a DGCA-approved flying academy and finish 200 hours of flight training, and 80 hours of academic sessions on the ground. The flying school course typically takes 8 to 10 months to complete. You are eligible for the CPL licence only after you complete 200 hours of flying.

Airline transport pilot licence (ATPL)

To become captain of an aeroplane, pilots require an ATPL, the highest-ranking licence for commercial pilots. Candidates can apply for an ATPL only if they have a CPL and a Class I medical fitness certificate from a DGCA-approved practitioner. The minimum age for an ATPL licence is 21. Prerequisites include 1,500 hours of flying experience, with at least 150 hours in the last year. The 1,500 hours include a minimum of 500 hours of cross-country flying experience, a minimum of 100 hours of night flying and 100 hours of instrument time, among other requirements.

A minimum of 10 hours of flight time in the last six months is necessary to get this licence. The ATPL course may take anywhere from 12 to 24 months. The exact duration depends on your progress and performance during the training. Make sure to meet all the DGCA requirements to reduce the time for becoming a pilot.

Related: 9 Types Of Aviation Jobs (With Salaries And Job Duties)

How Long Does It Take To Become A Pilot With The Air Force?

Becoming an Air Force pilot takes three to five years because pilots undergo extensive training. You can enter the Air Force using three different paths, with each path having a different time frame:

1. Combined Defence Service Examination (CDS)

The first step is passing the CDS exam after graduation. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) conducts the CDS exam twice a year. Candidates between the ages of 20 and 24 appear for the exam. Pursuing physics and mathematics as core subjects during Class 12, and completing a bachelor's degree in engineering is essential to appear for the exam. This exam comprises three sections, general knowledge, English and elementary mathematics. After passing this exam, it is necessary to pass the Service Selection Board (SSB) interview, followed by a pilot aptitude test.

After passing the aptitude test and the interview, candidates receive at least 18 months of training at the Air Force Academy. Typically, it takes five to seven years after Class 12 to become a pilot this way.

Related: Learn How To Become A Pilot In The Indian Air Force

2. National Defence Academy (NDA)

Another path to becoming an Air Force pilot is taking the NDA exam, for which the age limit is between 16.5 and 19.5 years. Consider applying for the exam, which includes two written tests, after completing Class 12. After passing both tests, you attend the SSB interview and take the pilot aptitude test. Candidates can apply for this test only once. It is essential to pass a medical examination to become eligible for the Air Force flying division.

Candidates who pass all the criteria undergo three years of training at the NDA to become permanent commissioned officers or pilots at Indian Air Force (IAF) stations. Typically, it takes three to four years after Class 12 to become a pilot this way.

Related: How To Get A Job In The Air Force: A Complete Guide

3. Air Force Common Admission Test (AFCAT)

Candidates between 20 and 24 years appear for the AFCAT exam. The upper age limit for commercial pilot license candidates is 26 years. To appear for the exam, passing the class 12 exam with at least 60% marks in Maths and Physics is essential. Candidates with a bachelor's degree in any field or engineering degree from a recognised university are eligible to apply for the AFCAT exam.

After passing the AFCAT exam, the selection process for joining the IAF takes one to two years. You also undergo training at the AFA. The training may vary depending upon the aircraft you are flying, but it generally takes one and a half to two years to become a pilot.

Skills For A Pilot

Here are some valuable skills for a pilot:

  • Spatial awareness: Spatial awareness refers to accurately knowing where an object is relative to other objects in the space. The ability to gauge distance, speed and other variables helps you fly to different locations.

  • Patience: Airlines prefer pilots who stay calm during stressful situations. This skill helps you make the right decision if an aircraft malfunctions.

  • Proficiency in aviation equipment: The ability to understand and fly different aviation equipment is desirable for this role. Constantly expanding your specialised knowledge can help you explore better job opportunities.

  • Problem-solving: When aircraft technology malfunctions or fails, your problem-solving skills help you ensure the safety of passengers and crew. Pilots use this skill set to handle harsh weather conditions and unexpected environmental issues that may disrupt the flying experience.

Related: Job Description For Pilots (And How To Become One)

Work Environment Of A Pilot

Pilots can work in various environments, depending on the career path they choose. For example, Air Force pilots work with the government in the armed forces and may operate a plane or helicopter during emergencies. A commercial pilot's work environment includes working for an airline or a charter company. Many pilots even perform emergency flight services, such as airlifts at hospitals. Pilots often have irregular flight schedules and may handle a high workload. This can be physically and mentally demanding, especially during long-haul flights. The working hours of pilots might change every day.

Related: Airline Pilot Responsibilities And Job Requirements

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