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How long does it take to become a pilot?

If you have ever wondered how long it takes to become a pilot, you may be surprised by the answer.

The answer is that it varies. How long it takes to become a pilot is dependent on quite a few factors, things like:

  • your budget

  • your personal ability

  • your dedication

  • the weather

  • other factors

You may have noticed the first three variables are completely reliant on you. If you choose a flight academy, the training is very structured and you are pushed along at a particular pace. If you don't keep up, you lose out. If you choose a smaller flight school, you progress at the pace you set for yourself.

For the purpose of this discussion we will be talking about the Private Pilot License (PPL) and the Commercial Pilot License (CPL). To understand more about these and other licenses, visit "the basics".

An SA PPL normally takes 3 to 4 months to complete, full time. This is mainly because of the eight written exams. In good weather, it is possible to complete the flying in 4 to 6 weeks, but if your exams are not done, you will have to brush up again for your flight test. This will end up costing you more money. Depending on the circumstance, I recommend that either:

  1. the student does all the exams first, (once the first exam is passed, the rest must be passed within 18 months). When the exams are done, the PPL student has 3 years in which to complete the practical flight training.

  2. The exams and the flight training are done inter-woven, where the student should aim to write an exam for every 5.6 hours of flight training, so that the exams and training are completed at roughly the same time.

The quickest I have had a zero to PPL completion was in 2018, by an extremely study-fit and

Me (left) and Gianmarco (right)

determined Swiss-Italian student, Gianmarco. He completed it in 7 weeks!! (He had good flying weather the whole time too - Winter in KZN). He also managed to fit in charming everyone at the Pmb Aero Club (with the exception of the Flying Club (now ex-) Chef), and delighted us all with the most delicious Italian pastas and burger patties.

Part time, aiming to fly once a week (it never works out to be that regular... weather, aircraft maintenance, family events), it will take approximately 18 months zero to PPL.

It can take longer.

The longer it takes, the more hours the Student Pilot tends to accumulate. There is a detriment to this... there is a suspension policy in Airlaw... if a student has not gone SOLO by 40 hours, and a DFE (Designated Flight Examiner), does not approve them for solo flight, they will be suspended from further flight training, and flagged as a potential safety risk, pending a decision by the Director of Civil Aviation. Flying solo happens on average between 18 and 25 hours with exceptional students going solo between 10 and 18 hours. Factors such as continuity of training, Student effort, natural ability and paperwork being processed timeously by the Authority, affect the hours at which the Student flies SOLO for the first time, but the most important factor for this is the Student's ability to consistently land safely without Instructor assistance.

Learning to fly is not a simple thing. There are many aspects to the License to Fly: time, money, persistence, fear, physical flying, studies and exams, learning about airspaces and flight rules. It is not surprising there is about an 80% drop-out rate. It is not surprising that Pilots make up less than half of 1 % of the World population. So if you do not feel passionate about flying, then don't bother to start the journey.

Time to CPL

Once again this is up to the individual. You can complete this in a year, if you have your PPL in hand. Some people take a lot longer. At an Academy it will take you about 18 months from zero to CPL. If you can't keep pace, you get dropped off the program. There are another 8 exams to write. Same subjects as the PPL but only about 20% more work. You should be able to write an exam a week if you put in the time, or study for them all and write all eight in one week...

Your PPL flying hours are part of your CPL hours. You need a minimum of 200 hours (and fly to standard) to get your CPL. The 85 PIC hours are probably the most fun you could potentially have in your career, so enjoy these and go on an adventure!

You can do a VFR CPL or an IFR CPL (recommended) in a Single Engine (recommended) or a Twin (very expensive, and a whole lot of aeroplane for a fresh CPL to handle).

The main limitations are that once you have passed your first exam, you have 18 months in which to complete them all. You may not re-write a specific subject for 7 days if you fail with more than 50 % (pass mark is 75%), if you fail badly, less than 50%, you have to wait 2 months before you can attempt that particular exam again. You can write any of the others during that time though. See how quickly you could run out of time if you don't study hard the first time? PPL exams only have the 7 day waiting period, no matter your mark.

Once all your exams are passed, you have 3 years in which to finish your Flight Training.

So in summary, how long does it take to complete your training? Well, that is entirely up to you. Full time, with effort and dedication, and the money, you can expect 4 months for a PPL and another year for a CPL.

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