What’s the Ideal Age to Start Flying Lessons?

Is there such a thing when you want to learn to fly? It depends.

Is there such a thing as an ideal age if you want to learn to fly? [Shutterstock]

Question: What is the ideal age to start flying?

Answer: This seemingly straightforward question has a complicated answer that begins with more questions: Why do you want to fly? Is it a bucket list item? Are you wanting to make a career change? Are you looking for an initial career?

When the person asking the question is a teenager, we need to take a look at their age. You can earn a glider certificate at 14, solo a powered airplane at 16, and become a private pilot at age 17. But that doesn't mean a teen has the maturity to accept the responsibility of being a pilot. In addition, teens are notoriously overscheduled these days. If they are taking a heavy course load at school, playing a sport, or involved in a lot of extracurriculars such as band, robotics club, etc., this may not be the time to start flying lessons. They need to be able to focus on the task, and that's tough to do when you are spread so thin. 

As flying skills are perishable, for teens seeking training in powered aircraft it is often best to schedule flight lessons a few months ahead of their 16th birthday and/or when the weather in your part of the world is best. You don't want the training to drag out for too long. However, I have worked with teens as young as 14 for whom flying lessons were a reward for doing well in school—straight A’s will get you into the cockpit or ground school, but the teen will have to do the work once they get there. When their birthday on the calendar caught up with their training progress, they earned their certificates.

For the person seeking a career change, the question pivots to: Do you have the time and money to devote at least 10 hours a week to learning to fly? Don't forget to factor in study time as well as commuting to and from the airport. Take a serious look at your adult responsibilities, such as simultaneously managing your present career and family obligations, before you commit.

Even if you select an accelerated program, anticipate at least two years of training before having the certifications and experience needed to be hired as a pilot.

Bucket List

If flying is simply the thing that has tugged at your heart for a long time, take consolation. There is no upper-age limit for learning to fly. For a sport pilot certificate, you can use your driver's license in lieu of a medical exam. If you wish to be a private pilot, as long as you can meet the requirements of a third-class medical certificate, age isn't a factor. In fact, as a retiree, you may be at the point in your life when you have the time and resources to do what you want. Many people learn to fly when they set aside their primary career and open up their world to the next thing. You could be one of them.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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