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What type of person becomes a pilot?

Becoming a pilot is a dream for many, but only certain types of people are able to turn that dream into reality. It takes a unique combination of skills, interests, and personality traits to pursue a career in aviation. So what does it take to become a pilot? Let’s explore some key qualities and requirements.

Passion for Flying

First and foremost, aspiring pilots need to have a true passion for flying. Those who succeed in this field are the ones who simply can’t imagine doing anything else as a career. They are fascinated by aircraft and spend their free time reading about aviation history or frequently visiting local airports just to watch the planes. Becoming a pilot requires major investments of time and money, so you won’t get far without a heartfelt love of flying.

Strong Interest in Science and Technology

Pilots need to have an eagerness to learn about the mechanics and physics that allow aircraft to fly. This doesn’t mean you need to have a science or engineering degree, but you should have paid attention in science and math classes. Pilots are required to have a solid grasp of concepts like meteorology, aerodynamics, electrical systems, and flight instruments. If these kinds of technical subjects don’t appeal to you, piloting may not be the best career choice.

Ability to Learn Quickly

The training process for pilots is rigorous since there are so many systems and regulations that they need to master. Aspiring pilots should have a propensity for quick learning and retaining large amounts of information. Those who thrive in this career tend to have excellent study habits and memory skills.

Problem-Solving Skills

Sometimes unexpected situations arise while a plane is in flight – from bad weather to mechanical issues. Pilots need to think on their feet and draw on their training to come up with safe solutions. Having strong technical knowledge and problem-solving abilities are key requirements for pilots.

Ability to Perform Under Pressure

Once in the air, pilots need to be able to block out distractions and function at a high level while under significant pressure. Keeping focused during tense situations requires mental discipline and cool confidence.

Excellent Hand-Eye Coordination

Flying requires smooth, precise movements and quick reactions. Pilots need stellar hand-eye coordination skills in order to control the aircraft expertly. Good coordination is also essential for performing required pre-flight inspections and aircraft maintenance.

Detail-Oriented Personality

To ensure safety, pilots must handle a range of pre-flight planning tasks and adhere to detailed checklists throughout each flight. Being meticulous and detail-oriented are critical skills.

Ability to Work Irregular Hours

The hectic schedules of commercial pilots often involve early mornings, late nights, weekends, and holidays. Their work hours are determined by flight schedules and are cyclical in nature. Aspiring pilots need to be prepared to deal with disruptive schedules and irregular work hours.

Leadership and Teamwork Skills

While piloting can be solitary work, it also requires collaboration and leadership skills. Pilots need to communicate clearly with co-pilots, air traffic controllers, and cabin crew members to ensure safe and efficient flights. They are leaders of their aircraft crews and should have an authoritative yet team-oriented disposition.

Physical and Medical Requirements

There are strict medical and fitness standards required for qualifying for pilot licenses. Key requirements include:

  • Vision: Pilots need near-perfect vision, either naturally or corrected with glasses or contacts.
  • Hearing: Normal hearing ability is required to communicate with air traffic control and detect warning sounds.
  • Strength: Upper body strength is needed for manual emergency procedures.
  • Coordination: Pilots must pass tests of balance, equilibrium, and muscular coordination.
  • Overall health: Pilot candidates must pass a comprehensive medical exam.

Minimum Age Requirements

Here are the minimum ages required to obtain pilot licenses in the U.S.:

  • Private pilot license: 17 years old
  • Commercial pilot license: 18 years old
  • Airline transport pilot license: 23 years old

Education Requirements

At a minimum, commercial pilots need a high school diploma or equivalent. However, most have undergraduate degrees in majors such as aviation, physics, or aeronautical engineering. Many prospective airline pilots obtain a bachelor’s degree before starting flight training.

Flight Experience

Here is a look at the minimum flight times required for FAA pilot licenses:

License Type Total Flight Time
Private pilot 40 hours
Commercial pilot 250 hours
Airline transport pilot 1,500 hours

Aspiring airline pilots typically build experience by first working as flight instructors and charter or cargo pilots after earning their commercial license. This allows them to rack up the high number of flight hours needed.

Licensing and Certifications

All pilots who are paid to transport passengers or cargo must hold a commercial pilot license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Additional licenses and ratings are required for specific flight conditions or aircraft types. Airline jobs require an ATP certificate.

Non-Technical Skills

While extensive technical competence is crucial, pilots also rely on a variety of “soft” skills and personal qualities:

  • Communication abilities – articulate speech, active listening
  • Integrity – accountability, commitment to safety
  • Composure – ability to manage stress and fatigue
  • Confidence – self-assuredness and decisiveness
  • Continuous learning – openness to ongoing training
  • Teamwork – interpersonal give-and-take


Becoming an airline pilot is an enormously challenging yet rewarding career path. In addition to cultivating extensive aviation knowledge and technical skills through rigorous training, pilot candidates should possess innate qualities like curiosity, levelheadedness, and a drive for safety. If your passion for flight is paired with mental talents like quick learning, logic, and calm under pressure, you may have what it takes to excel behind the controls of an aircraft.