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Is 35 too old to become a pilot?

Many people dream of becoming a pilot and taking to the skies, but wonder if they’ve missed their chance as they get older. Pilots need strong vision, quick reflexes, and the ability to perform under pressure, which has led to the perception that piloting is best suited to the young. However, modern advancements in aviation have made piloting much more accessible. While there are regulations regarding minimum and maximum ages for airline pilots, becoming a private or commercial pilot is still feasible for many 35 year olds.

Pilot Age Requirements

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has set minimum and maximum age limits for acting as a pilot-in-command on airline flights:

Type of Operation Minimum Age Maximum Age
Airline Transport Pilot 23 65
Commercial Pilot 18 None

As you can see, there are no maximum age restrictions for commercial pilots. The minimum age is 18. The more advanced Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which is required for pilots of the major airlines, has a minimum age of 23 and maximum age of 65.

So a 35 year old is still well within the acceptable age range for commercial piloting, though a bit past the ideal age to begin training for the airlines.

Private vs Commercial Pilot

Many private pilots fly purely recreationally. Having a private pilot’s license allows you to fly single engine aircraft with up to 8 passengers. To become a private pilot, you need a minimum of 40 hours flight time.

A commercial pilot can fly for hire. There are typically minimum requirements of 200-250 flight hours to obtain a commercial license. Commercial pilots require more training on electronically controlled aircraft, navigation procedures, and instrument flying.

Challenges for Older Pilot Trainees

While 35 is not too old biologically speaking, there can be some challenges when learning to fly at this age:

– Less energy and stamina compared to younger trainees
– More family and work commitments
– May find it harder to polish skills like instrument reading that rely on good vision
– May take longer to become comfortable with modern electronic flight systems
– Need to pass regular medical exams to show good health

However, these challenges are surmountable through diligent study and practice. Plenty of 35 year olds have the motivation and dedication needed to become private or commercial pilots.

Advantages of Starting Pilot Training at 35

Here are some potential benefits of becoming a pilot at 35 versus a younger age:

Maturity and Focus

By 35, most people are more mature and focused than their early 20s. They may be more motivated to seriously pursue piloting skills rather than treating lessons as a fun hobby. With families to provide for, 35 year olds may have a greater sense of responsibility and discipline.

Financial Resources

Flight training can be quite expensive. 35 year olds tend to have more financial resources than young adults just starting their careers. Savings from a decade or more of work can be used to pay for lessons, aircraft rental, and other costs.

Relevant Experience

Some 35 year olds will already have military or civilian flying experience. Even unrelated work experience in fields like mechanics, electronics, or working under high pressure can help in flight training. Maturity and life experience are useful assets.

Career Change Prospects

Becoming a professional pilot around 35 can be a viable second career. After years in another profession like engineering or business, piloting may provide a welcome change of pace. Some may even leverage connections or management know-how to help run a small charter air service.

Steps to Becoming a Pilot at 35

If you find the idea of being a 35 year old pilot trainee appealing, here are some steps to follow:

Pass the FAA Medical Exam

All pilots need to pass periodic physical exams by an FAA-approved doctor, known as a “medical certificate”. This checks vision, hearing, mental health, heart issues, and other conditions that could impair piloting abilities. 35 year olds should still be able to pass this medical requirement.

Obtain a Student Pilot Certificate

Anyone flying solo must hold a student pilot certificate. To qualify, you must be at least 16 years old and able to communicate aviation concepts in English. Student certificates can be obtained from an FAA-approved doctor.

Enroll in Flight Training

Formal flight instruction can be obtained through an FAA-approved flight school. Choose between local flying clubs, colleges, universities, or dedicated flight academies based on your budget and preferences. Be sure to find certified flight instructors. Instruction for a private pilot license takes around 40-70 hours. Commercial certification requires 190-250 hours of training.

Log Solo Flight Time

Student pilots need to record at least 20 hours piloting an aircraft solo, including 5 hours on cross-country flights over 100 nautical miles. This hands-on experience is key preparation for the licensing exam. Older trainees may need to spend more time mastering solo flight than younger students.

Pass FAA Written and Practical Tests

The FAA administers written exams on aviation concepts and practical flight tests to license pilots. Additional ratings are required for instrument flying or piloting multi-engine aircraft. Motivated 35 year old students can study diligently to pass these assessments.

Physical Effects of Aging to Consider

Here are some normal effects of aging around 35 years old that can impact piloting abilities if not properly managed:

Vision Changes

After age 40, the lenses of the eyes gradually lose flexibility. This makes it harder to shift focus between objects near and far away. Pilots need sharp distance vision and near vision for cockpit gauges and controls. Get a thorough exam to detect any problems like astigmatism or near-sightedness. Corrective lenses may be required to meet vision standards.

Slower Reaction Time

Processing visual information and movements slows with age. Pilots must act quickly in emergencies requiring sudden maneuvers. Simulator practice is key to honing responsiveness. Fatigue also slows reactions, so get adequate rest before flying.

Hearing Loss

Gradual loss of hearing acuity and perception is common after age 35. This can make it harder to understand air traffic control communications. An aviation headset can offset minor high frequency hearing deficits. More severe issues may require a special medical flight exam.

Muscle Strength Reduction

By the 40s and 50s, muscle mass begins decreasing by up to 3% per year if exercise is not maintained. Pilots need arm and leg strength to work rudder pedals and control yokes. Weight training helps counteract loss of strength and stamina.

Increased Risk Factors

Advancing age increases the chances of medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems, and artery/vein issues. These require careful monitoring since they can impair piloting abilities. Maintaining normal weight, diet, and exercise is key.


Becoming a pilot at 35 or older certainly presents challenges compared to doing flight training at a younger age. But with discipline and dedication, it is still within the reach of many 35 year olds looking to experience the thrill of piloting an aircraft.

The FAA imposes no maximum age limits for commercial pilots, though airline pilots must retire by 65. Private pilot training has fewer hours requirements than commercial certification.

While vision, hearing, reaction time, and strength naturally decline past age 35, proper medical oversight can detect issues early. With diligent practice on flight simulators, older novice pilots can overcome slower reflexes. And maturity can actually provide benefits like financial resources, patience, and life experience.

With drive and commitment, 35 year olds can earn private or commercial pilot licenses for an exciting second career taking to the skies. Proper precautions are necessary, but age alone should not ground a motivated pilot trainee.