Getting through TSA screening at the airport is enough to make anyone wish for his or her own pilot's license. But becoming a pilot seems a bit daunting, too. Here's what you need to know about licenses, instructors, flight-training schools and what all this is going to cost, in time and money.
The basics and beyond: First, a few basics. To become a pilot, you must be at least 16 years old to solo and at least 17 to receive a pilot's certificate. You'll also need an aviation medical certificate, which involves a head-to-toe examination of your general health, and you must be able to speak and understand English.
Next, you'll need to decide which type of certificate, or license, you want. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for issuing certificates, specifies six categories of pilots, from student to commercial, but the two that apply to you will be either a recreational or a private pilot's certificate.
A recreational pilot's certification is the easier of the two to achieve, since it requires fewer hours of training, 30 as opposed to 40 for a private pilot's certificate. However, this certification comes with restrictions. You can fly only within 50 miles of your home airport, for instance, and only in good weather (and no night-time flying). In addition, you can carry only one passenger, and you have to stay within 2,000 feet of the ground.
With a private pilot's certificate, you can fly anywhere in the United States -- and beyond if you comply with foreign regulations -- and carry an unlimited number of passengers, so you can save on costs by sharing operating expenses. In addition, you'll be able to fly to heights of 18,000 feet above sea level. If you're flying for business reasons, this is the certificate you want.
When you're ready to take to the skies, you'll find a variety of programs, pricing and time frames available. Start with an introductory flight, called a Discovery Flight, which walks you through the entire process of flying, from the preflight inspection of the craft to the takeoff and landing, and gives you the chance to take over the controls yourself.
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