Have you ever thought about what it would be like to become a pilot? What the requirements are and what the job is like?
The pursuit of flight is a dream common to many, but a career as a professional pilot seems like an impossible goal beyond the reach of gravity-bound individuals. Despite this common perception, learning to fly is easier and more accessible than most believe. Canada is one of the forerunners of pilot training with a large aviation community, including over “60,000 pilots flying 30,000 aircraft from 2,000 airports and aerodromes” (Canadian Owners & Pilots Association (“COPA”) 2016). In fact, there are four flying schools within the Edmonton area authorized by Transport Canada to conduct flight training. However, aviation is often overlooked as a career path, due to the lack of information on the requirements of pilot licensing and the unavailability of structured flight training for prospective pilots.
Furthermore, there has been an increase in air traffic – an average of 6% each year over the past decade. This has resulted in a shortage of pilots, and many airlines have been finding it difficult to keep up with demand. This shortage is especially predominant in Asia and South America, where several countries have experienced significant development and growth in the past decade. Many of these developing countries lack flight training facilities and the local pilot candidates must travel to the USA, Canada, Australia or other European countries to attend flight training schools recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (“ICAO“).
Types of Pilot Licenses
Student Pilot Permit – Minimum Age to Apply: 14 Years Old
Minimum Flight Experience Required: None
A Student Pilot Permit is where it all begins for those aspiring to become a pilot. While you can start flying with an instructor without any requirements, a Student Pilot Permit will allow you to act as the Pilot in Command (“PIC”) of an aircraft, or “Fly Solo” under the direction of a Flight Instructor. All pilot licenses will require a combination of instruction hours and PIC hours, so without your Student Pilot Permit, you won’t get very far in your training.
Recreational Pilot’s License – Minimum Age to Apply: 16 Years Old
Minimum Flight Experience Required: 25 Hours
A recreational license allows a person to act as a PIC of a single-engine, non-high performance aircraft under day Visual Flight Rules (“VFR”) conditions. A recreational license allows no more than one passenger to be carried on board and the license holder may not fly for hire or reward.
This is an uncommon license for pilots to hold, as the exam and experience requirements between the Recreational License and the Private Pilot’s License is relatively insignificant. Unless you do not meet the age requirements to hold a Private Pilot’s License, we do not recommend applying for a Recreational License.
Private Pilot’s License – Minimum Age to Apply: 17 Years Old
Minimum Flight Hours Required: 45 Hours
The most common license, the Private Pilot’s License, allows you all of the privileges of the Recreational License but does not limit the number of passengers you may carry. You may also add on Endorsements and Ratings to your license to grant you more options and flexibility with what you want to do and the types of aircraft you want to fly.
Common Endorsements and Ratings that Private Pilot License holders add to their license are the Night Rating, which permits you to operate an aircraft at night, and the Float Rating, which allows you to operate an aircraft on floats to take off and land on water.
Commercial Pilot’s License – Minimum Age to Apply: 18 Years Old
Minimum Flight Hours Required: 200 Hours
If you are looking to start a career in Aviation, a Commercial Pilot’s License is a must. This license allows you all the privileges of a Private Pilot’s License plus the ability for fly for hire or reward.
Common Endorsements and Ratings that Commercial Pilot’s License holders add to their license are the Multi-Engine Rating and the Instrument Flight Rules (“IFR”) Rating. The Multi-Engine Rating is pretty self-explanatory, allowing you to operate multi-engine air crafts as a PIC. The IFR Rating will be a little more complex, allowing you to operate aircraft in IFR conditions (see our FAQs for an explanation of VFR vs IFR). Both of these ratings are required by most commercial flight operators and will be an asset to your career. Thankfully, most flying schools will permit you to complete both your Multi-Engine and IFR Ratings as part of your training towards a Commercial Pilot’s License and reduce your overall training costs.
Other Endorsements and Ratings that can be applied for at this stage include the Multi-Crew Rating and the Instructor Rating. A Multi-Crew Rating will allow you to act as a First Officer in a multi-crew (requiring more than one pilot) aircraft. An Instructor Rating will permit you to train new student pilots towards the issuance of a Private Pilot’s License and Commercial Pilot’s License, both of which can be valuable in opening up career opportunities for you.
Airline Transport Pilot’s License – Minimum Age to Apply: 21 Years Old
Minimum Flight Hours Required: 1500 Hours
The highest level of a Pilot’s License is the Airline Transport Pilot’s License. This license will allow you to act as a PIC or Captain of a multi-crew aircraft. Most airline operators will look for candidates with an Airline Transport Pilot’s License, even when they are hiring First Officers. This is because they are always looking for future Captains, people who can be leaders in the flight crew and the company. Only those who hold an Airline Transport Pilot’s License can be qualified to act as a Captain of such an operation.
All pilots must pass a medical exam conducted by a Transport Canada approved Civil Aviation Medical Examiner (“CAME”).
There are 4 categories of Aviation Medicals:
Category 1: For Airline Transport Pilot’s License and Commercial License holders; must be renewed annually
Category 2: For Air Traffic Controllers or Flight Engineers
Category 3: For Student Pilot Permit and Private Pilot’s License holders; must be renewed every 5 years
Category 4: For Recreational Pilot’s License holders; requires filling out a Medical Declaration Form
For those who hold a Category 1 Medical: If the medical is not reviewed after 1 year, it will automatically revert to a Category 3 Medical for 4 more years.
*All of the renewal durations are based on candidates under the age of 40.
We recommend those who are interested in pursuing a career as a pilot to complete a Category 1 Medical first to make sure they are medically fit to hold a Commercial Pilot’s License. Students do not want to invest time and money into their training and discover they are not able to hold a Commercial License because they are not medically fit.
All pilots must be able to achieve an ICAO English Proficiency Level 4 or above. As such, many flight schools will test international student applicants before they accept them into a training program.
This concludes Part 1 of our “How to Become a Pilot” guide. In the next part, we will discuss what a typical flight lesson will be like, and the type of aircraft students will be training on.. If you are ready to make your passion for Aviation a reality, apply to our Aviation Diploma Program and make your dreams come true!