To operate an aircraft in the United States, you must be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which since 9/11 is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). There are several levels of pilot's license; the most basic is the Private Pilot license. This license permits the holder to pilot an aircraft anywhere in the United States, and to carry passengers. A Private Pilot may not be paid to fly an aircraft (to ferry an aircraft from one location to another, for example), nor carry passengers or cargo for hire or compensation. However, you may share certain expenses with your passengers (with some restrictions).
The necessary steps to earn this license are:
* Pass a basic medical examination.
* Receive the required amount of instruction from a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI).
* Pass a written examination (100 multiple-choice questions).
* Pass a "checkride" (aircraft equivalent of a driving test) given by an FAA-approved examiner.
How much does it cost?
Many factors will affect the final cost, including the location of where you train (rural vs. urban), the type of training aircraft, your learning pace and style, even things like weather. If I had to pick a number, I would say budget at least $8,000, or even $10,000 if you plan to fly in an urban area such as the San Francisco Bay Area, where I fly. This amount includes aircraft rental, flight instruction, books, charts, examiner fees, etc. You don't need to pay this money all at once. Most flight schools operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, so the cost will be spread out over the time you are working on your license.
What topics will I need to learn?
Here is a brief overview of some of the topics you will need to master in order to earn a pilot's license:
* Aircraft systems: the basic components of an airplane, engine, flight controls, instruments, and how they operate.
* Aerodynamics: basic priciples of how an airplane is able to leave the ground, and how to control it once airborne.
* Navigation: how to use aviation maps and radio navigation aids to get you and your aircraft to your destination.
* Weather: basic concepts of weather formation, and how to obtain and interpret weather information that may affect your flight.
* Aircraft operations: just as there are rules for operating automobiles on roads and highways, there are rules governing the operation of aircraft in the National Airspace System (NAS).
* Regulations: the applicable portions of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which govern licensing of pilots and the licensing and operation of aircraft in the USA.
Can I make a career of flying?
Disclaimer: I am not a professional pilot, so what I am about to say is based solely on my 15 years of observing other people try to get jobs as pilots.
There are many more pilots than there are pilot jobs. This means there is intense competition for the available positions, and the pay rates are kept low by the excess supply. In addition, most of the desireable jobs require experience flying turbine (aka jet) aircraft, so civilian-trained pilots are at a disadvantage to pilots from the military.
(Hint: if you want a good civilian pilot job, get the military to pay for your training.)
Most piloting jobs, especially early in the career path, will require long hours and spending a lot of time away from home. This can take its toll on family life. You will have the best chances if you are single with few, if any, familiy obligations.
I began my flying after I had already established a successful career in computers. So I am content to simply pay for my flying, and not worry about making it pay for me. But I don't want to discourage anyone who has a true passion from pursing aviation as a career. If this is your goal, then I wish you clear skies and tailwinds!
Answered By: miked9372 - 11/5/2009