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How Hard Is It to Get a Jet Pilot License?

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Earning licensing to pilot jet aircraft is challenging. You need experience flying other slower, less complex aircraft before you can begin training in jet aircraft. You must then meet strict physical, medical and knowledge requirements and have hundreds of hours of flight experience to earn the required certifications and ratings.

Basic Training, Certification and Education

The first step toward becoming a licensed jet pilot is to gain basic flight certification. The Federal Aviation Administration offers certifications for student, private and commercial pilots. To achieve the commercial pilot certification, you must enroll in a flight school and gain at least 250 hours of flight experience, earn at least a second-class medical certificate, pass the knowledge exam and complete the FAA practical flight test. The knowledge exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions, which you will have three hours to complete. Questions require you to make calculations, such as airspeed, crosswind and center-of-gravity calculations; define aeronautical terms; interpret sample instrument readings; and recall information on aeronautical concepts and regulations. You also need to pass the instrumentation rating test, which tests your knowledge in using instrumentation to guide your flight when visibility is low. The FAA does not require you to have a degree, but you will need a bachelor's degree to compete in the job market.

Jet Type Ratings

Commercial pilot certification does not enable you to fly jets. The FAA has additional requirements for these aircraft due to their high speed and complex engineering. You must earn a type rating, a license to fly a particular model of aircraft, to fly any turbojet airplane. For example, if you want to fly a Lear 45 jet for corporate clients, you need a Lear 45 type rating. You must take a training course and pass oral and flight exams with an FAA examiner before you earn your rating. You receive training either from your employer or through private schools, such as the Pan Am International Flight Academy.

Airline Transport Pilot Rating

If you want to work for an airline, you need an airline transport pilot certification, in addition to your commercial certification and type rating. This requires you to have at least 1,500 hours of flight experience, including at least 250 hours performing the duties of a pilot in command and 20 night takeoffs. Beginning pilots often work as flight instructors, charter pilots or agricultural pilots to build up the flight experience needed to meet these requirements. These types of commercial pilots fly an average of 30 to 90 hours per month, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, so it can take years to gain enough experience to work as an airline pilot.

Medical Certificates

You must have a first-class medical certificate to earn your airline transport pilot certificate and work as a pilot in command for airlines or a second-class certificate to work as a commercial pilot. The primary differences between these certificates relate mainly to expiration dates and vision. To earn any certificate, you must meet strict standards related to your vision, hearing, equilibrium, mental health, and heart health and you must not take any prescriptions that might negatively affect your ability to pilot an aircraft safely. You may use corrective lenses or hearing aids during your medical examination, and the same standards apply whether you use these items or not. A second-class certificate requires 20/40 vision, while first-class requires 20/20 vision. Certain conditions result in limitations on your license. For example, people with trouble distinguishing colors cannot fly at night. You need to renew your first-class certificate every 12 months if you are younger than 40 years old or every six months if you are older than 40 to maintain an airline transport pilot certificate. Second-class certificates require renewal every 12 months, regardless of age.


Jon Gjerde worked as a journalist in northern California where he covered topics ranging from city, county and tribal governments to alternative transportation. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from University of California, Davis.

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