Wilbur and Orville Wright didn't study in an aviation program before they
took to the air on Dec. 17, 1903. They had to become inventors and pilots
on their own. Fortunately, it is not as difficult for aspiring pilots these
days. Aviation programs can train students to fly in as little as a year.
There are a few ways to become a licensed pilot. Aviation programs are
offered by community colleges, universities and private flight schools or
clubs. Academic institutions often team up with flight schools to offer an
aviation program where students learn to fly and get a certificate or degree
in management, business administration or another major.
Future pilots split their time between the air and the classroom.
Students learn about flight and the aviation industry.
Programs range from one to four years. Graduates become licensed pilots
who are qualified for entry-level pilot jobs.
The minimum age to become a private pilot is 17. Commercial pilots must
be 18. To become a transport pilot, you must be 23.
You must also pass a medical exam before you fly. Adequate vision and
hearing are necessary. Pilots should not have any significant illness
that could create a safety issue while they are in flight.
It is a myth pilots must have 20/20 vision without glasses, however. "The
regulations require you to have vision that is correctable to 20/40 for the
basic ratings and 20/20 for airline captains. In general, aviation medical
standards are set to make sure the pilot is safe to fly the aircraft," says
Laura Gerhold. She is the aviation academic advisor at the University of
Illinois - Institute of Aviation.
Wayne Cave is the director of flight operations for a flight training company.
He says the first thing aspiring pilots should do is get examined by a doctor
who is licensed to administer pilot medicals.
"Almost everyone is medically sound enough to be a commercial pilot. However,
there are a few who find they are color-blind, have a heart defect or some
other problem they never knew existed," says Cave.
Entrance requirements for programs vary. Competition for some aviation
programs is fierce. At the University of Illinois - Institute of Aviation,
there are about 250 students vying for 70 slots. Applicants are assessed
based on coursework, grades, standardized test scores and essays.
"Aviation as a professional field requires strong technical and organization
skills," says Gerhold. "Emphasis is placed on their essays and their passion
Other programs are not as tough to enter. The application process might
be designed to find out whether the applicant will be successful in the program.
"Some prerequisites are set for minimum math, physics and English high
school marks, and an interview is done in order to assess the applicants'
suitability," says Cave.
It is possible to land a job as a pilot without a formal diploma or degree.
But a bachelor's degree makes any pilot a stronger job candidate.
"Subjects which might typically be covered in the final years of a degree
program would include multi-crew operations, heavy jet operations, aviation
management and advanced aerodynamics," says Cave.
In high school, students should focus on English, math and physical
"Foreign language is also becoming more important as aviation is increasing
their international flights," says Gerhold.
Outside of classes, find organizations that help build leadership and
teamwork skills. If you join an aviation organization you can also learn
about aviation and start networking.
"Air cadets is a wonderful way to get exposed to flying and sometimes flight
training scholarships for private pilot licenses can be earned," says Cave.
Aviation programs are expensive. Tuition and books are just the
start. You also have to pay for the fuel you need, licenses and medical tests.
It is not unusual for flight training to cost over $30,000 per year.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Aircraft
Pilots and Flight Engineers
Federal Aviation Administration
Explore this site
Women in Aviation
Resources for women in aviation