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  • Writer's pictureMonica Montanari

The Self-Starter's Guide to Pursuing a Private Pilot License

Okay, so, let's back up. From the time I was, I don't know, born (?) I have been passionate about flight. Growing up as the daughter of an aviation attorney, I dreamed of working on my private pilot's license from the time I was probably 9. I wanted to earn my license as soon as I turned 16, but the costs associated with learning to fly were too high for me- and back then, finding scholarships wasn't very easy unless you knew where to look.

Flash forward 20 years. I'd earned my Bachelor's, my Master's, and my Paralegal Certification, and had been working full-time in aviation law for about two years. I started dating a guy who had his private, single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument licenses/certificates and was working on his flight instructor certification. I had shelved the idea of getting my license forever, but after a little convincing on his part, I decided that the time had come to look into pursuing that goal.

Now what? Where do I even start?

You can talk to 100 different instructors and they'll tell you 100 different processes- but for someone like me, who likes to be independent and make sure I've got all my bases covered (especially legally), I wanted to do my own research first. But, you can skip all of this and talk to any instructor if you know one. If you don't, I know a guy- LOL!

I read all over the internet- but the problem is, I'm a simple-minded person at heart. I needed an un-complicated road map for someone who doesn't have 800 contacts within the aviation community. So I made it.


Step 1- Lay Out a Plan

The first thing you need to do is decide that you want to do it. Laying out a plan has always been my method-of-attack, which is why I wrote this article; and hopefully, it can help you create your own plan, too.

Step 2- Get Familiar with the Law

As a student pilot, you'll want to get familiar with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). You don't need to read the whole gamut of regulations now, but you will want to have a basic understanding of what they are.

Basically, the federal government of the United States establishes different executive departments and agencies to regulate all of the different things that the federal government needs to regulate. There are about 50 broad areas that the federal government has decided it has a responsibility to regulate. Those 50 areas are all spoken for in the 50 "Titles" within the CFRs.

CFR Title 14 relates to Aeronautics and Space. Volumes 1-3 of Title 14 are referred to as Chapter 1, which relates to the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation. The Federal Aviation Administration is the Administration, created by the federal government, that regulates all things aviation within the United States.

Chapter 1 is then divided into Subchapters A-N.

So, why do we need to be familiar with these now?

Step 3- Make Sure You're Eligible

CFR Title 14- Chapter 1- Subchapter D- Part 61 establishes the guidelines for the certification of pilots, flight instructors, and ground instructors.

CFR Title 14- Chapter 1- Subchapter D- Part 61- Subpart C establishes the rules for Student Pilots. Pretty simple. To be eligible you must be over the age of 16, able to read, write, speak, and understand English, and must fill out an application. Note: You can start a Student Pilot Application as early as the age of 13, but you can't turn it in until you're within 90 days of your 14th birthday.

Step 4- Fill Out the FAA Application for A Student Pilot Certificate

Visit the FAA's Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) portal and register as an "Applicant".

The FAA makes this part pretty simple. There's a New User Guide they provide, but more specifically, they provide a Student Pilot New User Guide that makes the application process pretty simple.

As soon as you submit the application, you must meet with a Recommending Instructor (RI) and/or Certifying Officer (CO) to complete the application. You will need your FTN and Application ID numbers.

Step 5- Finding an RI or CO

Sometimes this will get flip-flopped with Step 2. You don't have to have a student certificate before you can find an instructor, as many will walk you through the process. But, if you're a self-starter like me, then waiting for other people to do things just isn't your style- go for it.

Anyway, finding an instructor tends to be the way most people go (that I've heard of). The easiest way to do this is to look up flight schools near you. Most flight schools will be at local, municipal airports. So wherever you live, there's bound to be somewhere you can learn to fly. Honestly, the more rural, the better (some might argue otherwise). This is a great site to start with, seeing as they list schools that are accredited by the FAA.

Step 6- Secure Funding

This is the most daunting part for most of us. Learning to fly is such an exciting and fun thing to do- but like most other fun things, it requires shelling out a good amount of dough. Luckily, these days, there are more resources than ever to help you fund your dream of taking to the skies.

Below are my three favorite guides and lists for aviation scholarships- and guess what?! There's something for everyone. Whether you're not even able to drive a car yet or you're kicking one more thing off your bucket list after 40 years of being grounded, there are resources set up to help you:

Can't get a scholarship? It's not the end of the world. Private loans or paying for your training through credit cards is often an option depending on your credit. If you want to learn bad enough, trust me: you'll find a way eventually.

Step 7- Get Started on the Ground

A lot of students start with ground school before doing lessons in a plane. This is totally an option. Otherwise, some instructors prefer to teach you the ground basics right on the tarmac. If you're looking to build your aviation knowledge a little before heading into the cockpit, ground school can be a great way to get confident. Plus, it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg! With all of the resources available online these days, it's easier than ever before to learn the basics for free before you head into the real deal of training.

Step 8- Take to the Skies

Like I said before: if you want to learn to fly, you're going to find a way. You can only make excuses for so long- and once you've been in a small plane, you'll fall in love with aviation in a way that you never knew you could.

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