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A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Your FAA Pilot License

BY Alan Perlman
10 November 2015

At the moment, U.S. regulations state that whoever the pilot in command (PIC) is during a given commercial UAV flight, that person needs to hold a valid pilot license (sport or higher).

Now, this post isn’t about U.S. drone regulations, UAS registration, or my personal thoughts on both existing and proposed processes. That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms, folks!

This post is for those of you who are considering getting your pilot license, either to legally operate an unmanned aerial system, commercially, as the pilot in command, or simply because you’ve always wanted to learn to fly an airplane.

I get a lot of questions about the different types of licenses, and while I’ve traditionally pointed people to this Wikipedia article, I finally hopped on the phone to chat with an expert.

Enter Matt Ostermann, General Manager over at Ventura Flight Training.



“I enjoy flight training because it is a challenge that has endless rewards.  Flying is something that many people need to experience first hand; it gives me an unexplainable feeling of freedom, and has opened many doors for me.”

Matt, what’s the history of Ventura? How’d you initially get involved?

Ventura, previously known as Air East, started in 1982 by Mike Tarascio. Mike and his wife Maureen bought one plane and started Air East. Air East continued to grow and expand, eventually adding more aircraft and services such as aircraft maintenance, avionics, and aircraft charter. Later, joined by his sons, and then in 2000 together they built a new facility at Republic Airport where they still operate today. I got involved with Ventura in 2008. I started off as an Intern and worked my way up to General Manager.

How does one go about getting a sport pilot (LSA) license?

To earn a sport pilots license, you need a minimum of 20 hours of training with a certified flight instructor (CFI) in a light-sport aircraft. Most take anywhere from 25-30 hours in the air to pass this satisfy this portion of the license.

You’re also required to pass a sport license ground school examination. These are administered at FAA-approved testing centers around the U.S.

How long does it take to get a sport pilot license?

Depending on weather and you and your certified flight instructor’s schedules, it could take you anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months.

How much does a sport pilot license cost?

Depending on how fast you learn the maneuvers, the cost of a sport pilot license ranges anywhere from $5,000 – $9,000.

What’s the ground school test like? What knowledge areas are covered?

The ground school test is a multiple choice test.

You need a minimum of 70% to pass and it covers areas such as weather, navigation, aerodynamics, and airspace.

What happens when you both satisfy the CFI training AND pass ground school – does the FAA send you something in the mail?

After you pass both the ground knowledge test and the practical test, the designated practical examiner will issue you a temporary sport pilot certificate. The temporary sports pilot certificate is valid for 120 days. Your official sports pilot certificate will be sent in the mail, and it usually take 60 days to be sent to you.

What kind of people go through sport pilot license training?

The people who generally get sports pilot certificates are students who want to fly drones, students who can’t get a medical certification, or students who want to fly only during the daytime. People who get there sports pilots license enjoy their license by renting our planes, flying to different airports and flying with one friend, and continuing their training to be a private pilot.

What’s the difference between a sport pilot license, a recreational pilot license, and a private pilot license?

The table below shows the differences between the Private, Recreational, and Sports pilot (click to open a larger version of the table in a new tab):

sport vs. recreational vs. private pilot license

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