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Photo provided by RM Bulseco from Davao City, Philippines (Sunset Aviation) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What It Takes to Get Your Private Pilots License

Everyone who wants to become a pilot has a different story: Parents are pilots, wants to see the world, just loves airplanes, etc. Of all the different stories and aspirations, everyone starts in the same place, How to Fly an Airplane 101, also known as the Private Pilot’s class. No matter what career you want to have as a pilot, or even if you just want to fly for fun, you have to get your first basic license, your Private Pilot’s License or PPL.

I passed my checkride almost exactly two months ago to the day. Whenever I talk to people and tell them I’m a pilot, almost half will ask if I fly the big jets like the ones at Delta? Sadly, no, I cannot fly the heavy metal, I can only fly a 4 seat Cessna 172. However, by flying the 172, I have learned many skills that I will need for the rest of my life as a pilot.

Now many people may think, “It’s my first license and it’s basic, how hard can it be?” If you think that getting your PPL is easy, I will be the first to tell you right now that it is not easy. On average, getting your PPL from Day 1 of training until your checkride takes on average about one year. Mine took 14 months because I had three different instructors, which slowed the process down a little, but nevertheless it was pretty much about a year. Also, getting your PPL is very expensive. The cost will vary from flight school to flight school depending on many different factors such as the type of plane you fly, what your instructor wage is, fuel surcharges and many other complicated aspects. Generally, you can expect the cost of the PPL being between $10,000-$20,000.

The best thing to do is research nearby flight schools and find the one that feels right to you. Go visit nearby flight schools and find out everything you can about them. Ask to see their fleet, their schedule outline, how much it costs to fly there, etc. You don’t necessarily have to choose the closest airport to your house to take lessons. I live 20 miles south of the airport where I train. If possible, and this will be very helpful in the long run, fly out of the busiest airport you can. This gives you a lot of practice flying with other traffic. Then when they day comes when you have to fly to a bigger airport with more traffic, you will already be prepared.

So once you have selected your school, the school will assign you an instructor and you will be set up for your first lesson. The Private Pilot course consists of half flying and half classroom (ground) lessons. What most flight schools do is integrate the flying with the classroom portion. This means that you are doing a ground lesson, then a flight lesson, ground lesson, flight lesson. This helps you retain info as a pilot better because what you are learning in the ground lesson you are going to practice in your next flight. Some schools do the whole ground portion first and then do the flight after you have completed your ground course. Personally, I don’t like this because then it is harder to remember things while you are flying, and also since you studied all your ground material so long before your check ride, you essentially have to relearn everything for your written test and oral test.

After a few months, you will start looking at your first solo. This is the first time you will be in command of an aircraft.  Your first solo is something you will never forget. I remember everything about mine, what the weather was like that morning, that my first landing was a little rough, I greased my last landing, and of course, the date. You will notice that you will remember every important date in your pilot training. In fact, the day I soloed is the password to my phone.

After your first solo, you dive into the world of cross country flights. This is where you learn about airspace and cross country planning. If it doesn’t sound too exciting to you, you aren’t alone, however, this is extremely important information to learn and you have to know it all. You also get to fly three cross country solos, which is your time to pick some cool places that YOU want to fly to.

After you have about 40-50 hours in the air and about 20-30 hours of ground work, you are about ready for your checkride. The checkride consists of three parts. A written test on the computer, an oral test with an FAA examiner, and a practical test in the airplane with the examiner. The written and oral tests require a lot of studying at home by yourself. I remember the week before my written I studied every night all week for at least 2 hours. When you do your oral and practical test, it is okay to be nervous. I remember I was nervous going into my checkride. I was worried that I hadn’t studied anything or wasn’t going to fly well and I wasn’t going to pass. The examiner is not trying to make you nervous, in fact, they are trying to make you comfortable.

If you happen to fail your checkride, don’t worry about it. You probably just made a few mistakes that you can brush up on in an hour with your CFI, and will be good to go after that. Many people fail their PPL checkride, and contrary to popular belief, it is not the end of the world. Yes, it might be embarrassing for a few minutes, but you will be over it once you pass your checkride on the next try.

Once you pass your checkride, the real fun begins. Now you can bring your family and friends with you who have been longing to go for a flight. I brought my family flying within a week of getting my PPL. Best of all, you can finally claim that you are a licensed pilot.


  • AirlineGeeks.com began in February, 2013 as a one-man (er… teenager, rather) show. Since then, we’ve grown to have 20 active team members, and yes, we’re still growing. Some of us are looking to work in the aviation industry as professionals when we grow older. Some of us are still trying to decide what we want to do. That’s okay though, because we’re all here for the same reason: we love the airlines. We’re the youngest team of airline industry journalists out there.

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