What is a Private Pilot?

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  • Written By: Jessica Hobby
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2019
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A private pilot is a person licensed to operate an aircraft. Private pilots may fly different aircraft such as single-engine planes, helicopters, gliders and hot-air balloons. Whatever aircraft a pilot learns to fly in will determine what class and certification of aircraft he is licensed to fly. There are certain eligibility and training requirements for someone to obtain a private pilot's license.

To become a private pilot, a person must be 16 years old to operate a glider or a balloon and must be 17 years old for all other aircraft. A flight physical, which includes a sight and hearing check, is required to obtain a third-class medical that will allow a student pilot to fly. Additionally, a person must be proficient at reading, writing, speaking and understanding English. A student pilot must also pass a general aviation knowledge test after receiving a logbook endorsement from a flight instructor. Prior to taking a licensing check ride, the student pilot must also receive flight instruction in the class and category of aircraft he wishes to get his license in and have enough solo experience in the same aircraft.


The subject matter of ground instruction and flight instruction received by a student pilot are governed by Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR’s) set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A student pilot trying to become a private pilot may gain knowledge to pass the required test in a number of ways. Some students choose to independently study at home, while others take a structured private pilot ground school that may last anywhere from two days to three months.

The FAA requires that all student pilots learn specific things while in an aircraft, for example, takeoffs, landings, unusual attitudes, emergency landings, slow flight, etc. It usually takes a minimum of ten hours of flight instruction to cover all the required topics before a student pilot is ready to solo, or fly without an instructor. However, more often than not, it will take closer to 20 hours before a student pilot has his first solo flight.

After a student pilot is capable of solo flight, he must perform a long solo cross country and three solo takeoffs and landings from a controlled and uncontrolled airport. When the student pilot has fulfilled all of his requirements and passes his check ride, he will receive his private pilot’s license. Once a student is a private pilot, he is not able to get paid when carrying other passengers, but he may choose to split the cost of fuel. In order to keep a private pilot’s license, the pilot must get a flight review performed by an FAA check airman every two years and keep current on his medical.


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