I Want To Fly! How Do I Start?

For most people outside of aviation looking in, it can seem like a confusing world of acronyms and regulations far removed from their typical routine where only the wealthy can afford to fly.

What most people don’t realize is just how accessible learning to fly can be at a local airport to earn a pilot certificate. With a pilot certificate they could take weekend trips with a rented plane or, if flying moves from a hobby to a passion, they can build on a private pilot certificate to transform it into a commercial certificate and have a career in aviation.

A rented Piper Comanche flying around the SF Bay Area.

The first place to start is to ask oneself “why do I want to fly?” For the very basic, daytime only, weekend-style flying in a Light Sport Airplane (LSA) with only one passenger a Sport Pilot certificate is the easiest to obtain, but comes with heavy restrictions. If desired, this can be built upon later to obtain a Private Pilot certificate which affords more privileges such as night flying, more passengers, flying cross country (another airport), and larger airplanes. In fact, instructors find that many of the sport pilot candidates decide during their training to avoid the limitations imposed on sport pilots and train the few additional hours to obtain a private pilot certificate.

The Private Pilot certificate holder can build upon that to obtain their Instrument Rating which affords more flying capability (through clouds), adds significantly to a pilot’s knowledge/skills/confidence, and ties in well for obtaining a Commercial Pilot certificate. It is possible to obtain a Commercial Pilot certificate without an instrument rating, but it severely limits what that Commercial Pilot can do, so it is not something we recommend.

With a Commercial Pilot certificate, it is now possible to be hired to fly planes, with certain limitations such as you can’t just start advertising your new one-person airline or charter service unless you want to be regulated like one. A simile used, which works well, is that having a Commercial Pilot certificate is like graduating from a cooking school as a Master Chef. You could be hired to cook at a restaurant the next day and get paid to cook, but you can’t start your own restaurant without obtaining additional regulatory approvals, insurance, and clearance from the local health inspector. Title 14 CFR Part §61.133 specifically lists those commercial pilot privileges and limitations.

Another rating that many commercial pilots obtain is a Multi-Engine rating. This is a significant rating that many commercial companies will require for their pilots because of the planes they fly in their fleet. Sometimes, when pilots are in short supply, a company may sponsor a pilot and put them through a multi-engine course. However, this is rare and most companies expect applicants to have this initial rating when they apply for a piloting position.

After obtaining a commercial pilot certificate the next step will be to build hours (experience) that charter companies, corporations, and regional/major airlines will require before they are even considered for a position.

One of the most common ways to build time and experience is to earn a Certified Flight Instructor certificate and get paid to teach others to fly. This is very desirable to any company hiring new pilots as it shows that the instructor pilot typically has greater, instructional-level knowledge of aviation and that they have attained a higher bar of certification than many other pilots. In addition, if the instructor has also earned additional ratings for Certified Flight Instructor Instrument and Multi-Engine Instructor it only adds to that pilot’s base of knowledge, experience, and capabilities. It is also a great way to reinforce aeronautical knowledge and understanding of regulations because the instructor will need to explain these rules and concepts to student pilots.

As one can see, a casual interest in flying for fun can easily transition into a full-time career.

As for expense, flying isn’t “cheap”. However, it is not the exclusive domain of the wealthy and even a private pilot can own their own airplane much the same way people own their own boats with many capable airplanes costing about the same as a well-equipped pick-up truck or luxury SUV.

The Airplane Owners and Pilots Association maintains a list of popular scholarships that can assist in funding a pilot’s training and the FAA has a collection of organizations for scholarships, grants, and minority funding as well.

For future female aviators there is an organization called the Ninety-Nines (99’s), an international organization of women pilots. They work to bring more women into aviation by promoting the advancement of aviation through education, scholarships, and mutual support.

For those who are serious about flying professionally and looking to go headlong into an aviation career, spend time looking online for scholarships, grants, and even student loan funding which can help get you there. Take advantage of online coupons for ‘Discovery Flights’ and fly as many different schools or airports as possible or practical in your area to get a feel for what each place has to offer and ensure it is a good fit for you.

Look around your area for flying clubs where you can not only learn to fly, but rent planes after your solo or private pilot certificate to increase your proficiency and go on cross country trips.

Most importantly, while flying planes is a serious endeavor that emphasizes safety, it is also very, very fun to do and only a small group of people will ever join this exclusive club. So, if you are reading this you already have the desire needed and now is the time to put that desire into action!

Contact us to learn more and enjoy your time in the sky!