How To Become a Pilot in California-8 Best Steps

Looking for the steps on how to become a pilot in California? This article is for you. The state of California is well known for its warm weather, coastal beaches, and spread-out cities.

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Although the state is better known for Hollywood and Silicon Valley, many colleges in California rank among the best colleges in the country.

Colleges like Stanford, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and the University of California attract students from all over the world.

The natural beauty and calm climate of California make it desirable for a lot of college students. The state over the years has maintained a national reputation for cultural and racial diversity. 

California has provided students who are interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with professional and educational opportunities.

They equally offer willing students internships and other opportunities to learn at some of the top tech companies in the country like Google and Apple. 

California boasts of various landscapes that provide a lot of opportunities for outdoor activities. Surfing, hiking, skiing, and also camping can be enjoyed without trouble by students who are interested in these activities. Read on to find out how to become a pilot in California.

Studying Aviation in California

It is pertinent to note that flight schools in California have set rules and regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration they follow, which are known as the part 61 and part 141 flight schools. 

Part 141 refers to the rules set for flight schools in California which includes the curriculum for pilot training. Here, training and curriculum are fixed and based on a set time. 

Part 61 refers to the rules set for the instructors, be it the ground instructors or the flight instructors. Here, there is no specific curriculum, making it possible for students to go through their flight training at their own pace.

Although Part 61 has no fixed curriculum, it requires more flight hours for aspiring pilots to be eligible to get their pilot licenses. This is why it is cheaper for Part 141 schools than Part 61 schools. 

Below are the 8 best steps to becoming a pilot in California.

How To Become a Pilot in California in 8 Best Steps

  • Step 1: Check Age and Language Requirements
  • Step 2: Pick From the Training Options Available in California
  • Step 3: Acquire a Medical Certificate
  • Step 4: Go Through The Pilot Training Stages
  • Step 5: Acquire a Flight Instructor Certificate
  • Step 6: Acquiring Ratings
  • Step 7: Experience and Flight Hours
  • Step 8. Acquire an Airline Transport Pilot Certification

Step 1: Check Age and Language Requirements

To apply to acquire a license to become an aviator in California, a prospective pilot must be 17 or above 17 years of age.

He must be able to understand, read, write and speak the English language very well because English is internationally an aviation language.

At least an aspiring pilot should have a level 4 English standard before receiving his/her pilot license.

Step 2: Pick From the Training Options Available in California

To begin, an aspiring pilot needs to check out the training options available in California and pick the one he/she is fine with in order to get the desired pilot license. Below are training options for aspiring pilots in California.

1 A flight school

In a flight school, you have different training programs to choose from and California has over 51 flight schools. Each of these schools has its own requirements, procedures, and tuition. It is pertinent to know that tuition would depend on what training program you are going for. 

2 An Aviation-related college degree program

If you desire to have a college degree and also have flight training, a good option is an aviation-related university degree program which would allow students to acquire a college degree with flight training as well.

At the end of this program, you’ll earn a college degree and a pilot license. 

3 A Pilot Pathway Program  

In a pilot pathway program, an aspiring pilot who has little or no aviation experience gets flying experience.

The aspiring pilot is sent to an airline to get trained in partnership with its partner school if they meet all the requirements.

When he/she completes the program and gets to the required flight hours, and has passed the important exams, he/she would be given employment with the airline.

The aspiring pilot may also be granted an interview for the post of first officer with the airline, he’ll work for some years, before he can be allowed to seek employment elsewhere at will. 

Step 3: Acquire a Medical Certificate

Before an aspiring pilot starts his/her pilot training, he/she would need to get a medical certificate. This can be made possible by the flight school of choice at the student’s request.

It is pertinent to know that this medical certificate should be gotten from a qualified medical examiner, with authority from the regulator.

This is why it is important to request a medical certificate from the school. If they can make it work they would, and if not, they would refer, or connect the student to a qualified medical examiner. 

Step 4: Go Through The Pilot Training Stages

In order to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, you have to go through certain pilot training stages to achieve this.

These stages would depend on what pilot license you want to get.

Below are the Pilot Training Stages an aspiring pilot will have to go through to obtain an Airline Pilot Certificate:

1. Get the Student Pilot License

The SPL is the first pilot license an aspiring pilot would have to obtain. This is the license that gives the aspiring pilot access to begin his/her pilot training.

In the US, the Student Pilot License is the first stage an aspiring pilot needs to obtain to become a pilot.

To obtain a Student Pilot License, an aspiring pilot should be over 16 years of age, have an FAA medical certificate, and be able to understand, speak, read and write the English language.

2. The Private Pilot License

For a prospective pilot to get a pilot’s license, he/she would need to have basic knowledge about flight methods, learn how to navigate, maneuver aircraft, get trained for emergencies, flight planning, and also get to learn how to fly small aircraft themselves without help. 

This license makes you eligible to fly on your own, fly passengers and cargo, but you won’t get paid for doing so.

To earn a Private Pilot License, you should be up to 17 years of age, have a current FAA medical certificate, a Student Pilot Certificate, and can understand, speak, read and write the English language.

3. Learn to Make Use Of Sophisticated Equipment

A pilot knows how to use certain instruments for flying an aircraft. After getting a basic certificate that qualifies a person to become an aircraft pilot, learning how to use these instruments is essential because aircraft pilots need to use these instruments to guide an aircraft through different altitudes and weather to achieve a safe trip.

4. Get a Commercial Pilot License

For an aspiring pilot to have access to transport people and goods as an aircraft pilot, he/she needs a commercial pilot license to do so. As long as a pilot has this license, he/she can take up various flying jobs like transporting people from one destination to the order, delivering cargo, going on search and rescue trips. An aspiring pilot would need to get ratings for the different kinds of planes he/she would love to fly. The reason for this is, different airplanes have different engines, and a pilot should know how to make use of these different engines if he wants to fly a specific airplane.

A Commercial Pilot License is the license that qualifies a pilot to become a paid professional pilot in California. This license is one that an aspiring pilot would need for he/she to start earning money from transporting passengers and cargo. 

To acquire a Commercial Pilot License, an aspiring pilot has to be up to 18 years of age, should have a current FAA medical certificate, have a Private Pilot License, can understand, speak, read and write the English language. 

An aspiring pilot should log at least 250 hours of flight time for a single-engine rating for an airplane. This 250 hours of flight time would consist of: 

i. 100 hours in powered aircraft and 50 hours of this 100 hours should be in airplanes. 

ii. 100 hours of pilot-in-command flight time and 50 hrs of this 100 hours of pilot-in-command flight time should be in airplanes and 50 hours in cross-country flights. Also, out of these 50 hours in cross-country flight, 10 hours should be in airplanes. 

iii. 20 hours of training on areas of operation. 

iv. 10 hours of flying solo in a multi-engine airplane or 10 hours of flight time flying as a commander, with an instructor to guide, in a multi-engine airplane. 

Step 5: Acquire a Flight Instructor Certificate

To become a first officer, a pilot would need to gain a certain amount of flight hours.

Many pilots take up the initiative to become flight instructors so they would gain more flight hours to be able to qualify to become the first officers to be able to become an airline pilot.

Step 6: Acquiring Ratings

A pilot needs to go through pilot training and the pilot training an aspiring pilot would undergo, has different stages.

These stages are for an airplane single-engine rating and an airplane multi-engine rating. These stages are:

1. For a single-engine rating:

 An aspiring pilot should log at least 250 hours of flight time of which;

i. 100 hours would be in powered aircraft, of which 50 hours are allocated to airplanes. 

ii. 100 hours of pilot-in-command flight, of which 50 hours would be in airplanes and the other 50 hours would be in cross-country flight, of which 10 hours should be in airplanes. 

iii. 20 hours of training in areas such as instrument training, training in a complex airplane, cross-country flight in a single-engine airplane during the day, cross-country flight in a single-engine plane at night, and flying in a single-engine airplane with an authorized instructor.

iv. 10 hours of flying alone in a single-engine airplane or this amount of time acting out the duties of a pilot-in-command in a single-engine airplane with an instructor on board.

2. For an airplane multi-engine rating:

To get an airplane multi-engine rating, an aspiring pilot should log at least 250 hours of flight time.

Step 7: Experience and Flight Hours

An airline pilot needs to log a reasonable amount of flight hours in the air to be able to fly passengers and cargo and carry out other flight duties.

You can achieve this required number of flight hours through working as a commercial pilot, a flight instructor, and also through training classes.

The standard minimum flight hours by the Federal Aviation Administration is 1.500. 

Step 8. Acquire an Airline Transport Pilot Certification

The highest license the Federal Aviation Administration gives is the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate.

A pilot would need more than the minimum required flight hours of 1,500 hours of flight experience.

A pilot would also need to pass some medical examinations to be qualified to earn an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate.

A first-class medical exam is needed for a pilot and a second-class medical exam in order to become second in command. 

An aspiring airline pilot would need to go through an interview to become an airline pilot. As long as he/she has met all of the Federal Aviation Administration requirements, the pilot can apply to work in top airlines.

An aspiring airline pilot would have to work as a first officer at least for a period of two years, before becoming a captain in an airline.

What are Skills and Qualities That can Help Pilots?

1. Problem-Solving Skills

A pilot should be able to pick out difficult situations and proffer solutions. An example during the airplane encounters turbulence, a pilot should know what action to take instantly.

2. Communication Skills

A pilot should be able to pass information clearly and accurately and also be able to listen, so as to take in information and follow instructions.

3. Observational Skills

A pilot should be very observant to make sure all systems are working as they are supposed to. They are supposed to always watch over gauges, dials, screens and look out for obstacles and other aircraft. 

Aviation Schools in California

  • 1. CFI Academy–Acampo, California

  • 2. American Flyers–Santa Monica, California

  • 3. California Flight Academy–El Cajon, California

  • 4. Charter College Aviation–El Cajon, California

  • 5. Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics–Hagerstown, Maryland

  • 6. Upper Limit Aviation–Murrieta, California

  • 7. Aero Squad–Compton, California

  • 8. AFI Flight Training–Fullerton, California

  • 9. Antelope Valley College–Lancaster, California

  • 10. Anthelion Helicopters–Long Beach, California

  • 11. California Aeronautical University–Bakersfield, California

  • 12. Crimson Technical College–Inglewood, California

  • 13. Cypress College–Cypress, California

  • 14. Institute of Aeronautics and Aerospace Studies–Livermore, California

  • 15. Long Beach City College–Long Beach, California

  • 16. Mt. San Antonio College–Walnut, California

  • 17. Orange Coast College–Costa Mesa, California

  • 18. Pinnacle Aviation Academy–Carlsbad, California

  • 19. ROTOR F/X LLC–Van Nuys, California

  • 20. Sacramento City College–McClellan, California

  • 21. San Diego Christian College–Santee, California

  • 22. San Diego Flight Training International–San Diego, California

  • 23. San Joaquin Valley College–Fresno, California

  • 24. SRT Helicopters–Bakersfield, California

  • 25. ADF Airways

What are the Top Recommended Flight Schools in California?

Note that these schools listed here are not based on ranking, this is just possible options to choose from which are recommended:

1. ATP Flight School

2. Spartan

3. California Aeronautical University

4. Mt. San Antonio College

5. NorCal Flight Center LLC 

Where is ATP Flight School Located?

This is the largest flight training school in the United States of America and it has existed for over 33 years.

ATP has 72 training centers located in 31 states, eight are in California. An attractive feature of ATP is its all-inclusive, low tuition. 

ATP is Located in: 

  • 1. Camarillo (KCMA)

  • 2. Carlsbad (KCRQ)

  • 3. Long Beach (KLGB)

  • 4. Livermore (KLVK)

  • 5. Riverside (KRAL)

  • 7. San Diego (KMYF)

  • 8. San Luis Obispo (KSBP)

Tuition & fees: 

  • ATP Flight School’s tuition includes every flight instruction, FAA has written, practical and oral exams, ratings, and certificates.
  • This all-inclusive tuition is $92,000 for students who don’t have private pilot certificates and $72,000 for students who have completed their private certificate.

ATP has an FFA accreditation. It is an FAA Part 141 school with a minimum program length of 7 months

Read more on the other recommended schools here.

Pilots’ Salaries

Pilots’ salaries depend on factors like the airline or company a pilot works for and if he/she is a first officer or a captain.

Many students after graduating from flight school, will be first officers when they begin their first pilot journey at their first airline and get paid roughly $50,000 to $70,000 in their first year.

The Average Base Salary of a Pilot in California

The average base salary of a pilot in California is $61,449 per year and a non-cash benefit of 401(k).

Top Companies For Pilots in California

  • 1. Strategic Technology Institute, Inc. (STi): Salary of $329,265 per year

  • 2. American Queen Voyages: Salary of $204,647 per year

  • 3. City of Los Angeles: Salary of $181,705 per year

  • 4. Northrop Grumman: Salary of $180,126 per year

  • 5. Tradewind Aviation: Salary of $163,718 per year

What are the Most Common Benefits for Pilots in California?

  • Dental Insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Disability insurance
  • 401(k)
  • 401(k) matching
  • Housing stipend
  • Paid housing
  • Retirement plan
  • Paid time off
  • Vision insurance

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pilot in California?

The Federal Aviation Administration requires 1,500 hours to fly as an airline pilot, and this can be earned in two years.

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