How Old Do You Have to Be to Fly a Plane?

May 19, 2023

Age Requirements for a Pilot’s License

Has the thought, “How old do you have to be to fly a plane?” or “How old do you have to be to take flying lessons?” been doing lazy eights through your mind lately?

Aspiring pilots often wonder about the minimum age requirements for taking flight training and piloting a plane. The answers to these questions depend on the type of pilot license.

In this post, we’ll explore the:

  • Age requirements for different types of pilots
  • Training and certification process for each type of pilot
  • Steps you can take to pursue your dream of flying

The Importance of Age in Aviation

Age plays a crucial role in aviation safety as flying a plane requires maturity, responsibility, and advanced decision-making capabilities. Pilots need to be emotionally and mentally prepared to confidently and competently handle the stress and challenges that come with operating an aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has specific age requirements for pilots to ensure that they possess the necessary skills and experience to operate an aircraft. However, while age is important and meaningful, it isn’t the only factor the FAA also considers before granting a pilot license.

So, How Old Do You Have to Be to Take Flying Lessons or Get Your Pilot Certification?

If you’ve got your sights set on being a pilot, knowing how old you must be for various kinds of licenses is helpful. Let’s take a look at the age requirements for formal flight training and certification for different types of pilots.

Student Pilot License

A student pilot license allows individuals to receive flight training and fly under certain limitations and conditions. With this kind of certification, you can:

  • Fly an aircraft solo (without an instructor on board) once authorized by your flight instructor.
  • Conduct flights for the purpose of training and practice.
  • Log flight hours and experience to work towards obtaining higher levels of pilot certification, such as the Private Pilot License (PPL).

 

Activity Minimum Age Requirement
Training (Accompanied) None*
Training (Solo) 16
Certification  16

 

* While there’s no lower limit for age to begin learning to fly, some schools and programs may have minimum age requirements. And, you can’t fly solo before the age of 16, once you hold a student pilot certificate.

Private Pilot License

With a private pilot license (PPL), you’re allowed to do much more than with a student license. Among the additional things you’re able to do with your PPL:

  • Act as the pilot in command (PIC) of an aircraft for personal and non-commercial purposes.
  • Carry passengers and fly friends or family on trips.
  • Rent or own aircraft and fly to various destinations.
  • Pursue additional endorsements and ratings, such as instrument rating or multi-engine rating, to expand your flying capabilities.

 

Activity Minimum Age Requirement
Training (Accompanied) None*
Training (Solo) 16
Certification 17

 

Commercial Pilot License

Advanced training and certification unlocks many doors, especially if your aim is to be a career pilot. Once you have your commercial pilot license (CPL), you may:

  • Do everything you could do with a PPL.
  • Be the PIC of an aircraft for compensation or hire.
  • Fly as a professional pilot in various commercial aviation roles (e.g., charter flights, aerial photography, flight instruction, or regional airline operations).
  • Operate larger aircraft that require a CPL.
  • Conduct flights in more challenging weather and operational conditions.
  • Continue to build flight experience and pursue advanced ratings, such as an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) or specific type ratings for different aircraft.

 

Activity Minimum Age Requirement
Training 17
Certification 18

 

Airline Transport Pilot License

The airline transport pilot license (ATPL), the highest level of pilot certification, is required to be an airline pilot or in certain other advanced aviation roles. A scaled-back ATPL with restricted privileges (ATP-R) is also available and permits holders to act as a copilot in commercial operations.

With an ATPL, you can:

  • Be the pilot in command of a commercial aircraft for scheduled airline flights or corporate charters.
  • Serve as a captain or first officer in multi-crew operations.
  • Operate large transport-category aircraft that require an airline transport pilot license.
  • Conduct flights in various weather and operational conditions.

 

Activity Minimum Age Requirement
Training None*
Certification (ATP-R) 21
Certification (ATPL) 23

 

* There’s no specific minimum age requirement to begin flight training for an ATPL, but most first get their PPL, CPL, and significant flight experience.

Military Pilot License

Another exciting path you can follow is military aviation. All branches of the armed services (except, perhaps ironically, the Space Force) require — and train — airplane and/or helicopter pilots. Becoming a military pilot involves a rigorous selection process, extensive training, and fulfilling specific requirements of the particular military branch. Training and licensing processes for military pilots will differ from those of civilian programs.

With a military pilot’s license, you can:

  • Serve as a pilot in the military branch for which you’re trained (e.g., Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines, Coast Guard).
  • Operate military aircraft and perform a wide range of missions — like combat missions, reconnaissance, and transport.
  • Participate in ongoing training and advancement within the military aviation career field.
  • Potentially transition to civilian aviation careers after completing your military service.

 

Activity Minimum Age Requirement
Training 18*
Certification 18*

 

* This is a generality as age requirements can vary depending upon the military branch and training programs you’re in. 

Gliders & Hot Air Balloon License

Yes, you need a license for these vehicles as well. The good news is that — if you really want to get an aviation-related certification — you can get this one off the ground at an even younger age than for a plane or helicopter.

Activity Minimum Age Requirement
Training 14
Certification 16

 

Other Opportunities to Learn to Fly

For those of you who aren’t yet of minimum age, there are alternate ways you can start gaining flight experience and acquiring knowledge about aircraft, meteorology, physics, and all the subjects pilots need to be versed in. You’ll need to see what’s available in your area, but a few fantastic options are:

  • Get involved with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP).
  • Go to a specialty flight camp.
  • Attend air shows and visit aviation museums.
  • Take flight lessons with an adult.

Blazing Trails: Famous Young Aviators

If you take to the skies at an early age, you’ll be following in the wakes of some incredibly brave, talented, and accomplished people.Here are just a handful of youthful aviators that made names for themselves in the world of aeronautics and beyond.

 

Name Famous For Age Started Flying Age Got Pilot License
Katrina Mumaw Youngest person to fly a MIG and break the sound barrier (1994) 8 17
Elinor Smith First woman test pilot and world’s youngest licensed pilot (1927) 10 16
Neil Armstrong First person to walk on the moon (1969) 15 16
Yuri Gagarin First human to journey into space (1961) 17 22
Charles Lindbergh First solo non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris (1927) 20 25
Amelia Earhart First female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean (1932) 22 23

 

 

Steps to Becoming a Pilot at Minimum Age

Aside from crossing over that age threshold, what else do young aviators need to do to embark on pilothood? Here’s a quick overview and some links to deeper details that you’ll definitely want to check out.

The basics:

  1. Figure out what kind of pilot’s license you want to get and why.
  2. Research and select an appropriate flight school for your needs.
  3. Apply to your program of choice.
  4. Sort out the logistics (e.g., financing, accommodations, transportation to/from the school, etc.)
  5. Get your medical certificate squared away.
  6. Do your ground school and flight training and accrue the hours required for your certification.
  7. Take your written exams and flight test.
  8. Apply for your license.
  9. Soar!

Learn even more:

Pureflight, Flight Training for the Young & Young at Heart 

We’re certainly biased, but we think anyone who wants to be a pilot should chase that dream — no matter their age. And the sooner, the better!

At Pureflight, our mission is to help you prepare for flight school and provide the best possible training. Contact us today to learn more.