There are a lot of rules about who can be a pilot. While outdated rules about height, perfect vision, and even societal norms about gender are out, there are still some restrictions about who can be a pilot. One of the restrictions in place is on age.
Becoming a pilot is like getting a driver’s license—you have to be a certain age to start. The minimum age for getting a pilot’s license is 17. While there is no maximum age for getting a pilot’s license, there are different regulations for flying commercial airliners.
Here is what you need to know about how old pilots can be. However, the most important thing to know is that if you’ve always dreamed of having a pilot’s license but are worried that you’re too old, it’s never too late to take to the skies.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Pilot’s License?
Just to get a pilot’s license, the age limits are fairly limitless. Future pilots can start piloting planes solo at 16 but cannot get a private pilot certificate, the easiest way to get a pilot’s license, until they are 17. The easiest way to start flying for work is as a commercial pilot, but pilots have to be at least 18 to get a Commercial Pilot Certificate.
There is no maximum age when the FAA will revoke your pilot’s license. Many pilots who fly for sport fly well into their 70s and 80s if they trust their judgment enough to continue flying. Some pilots continue flying for work at that age if they work for private taxi companies or other sectors of the aviation industry.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Become an Airline Pilot?
As you might expect, the rules around flying a commercial jet are much stricter than they are for just taking a personal Cessna into the air. A person has to be at least 23 years old to get an Airline Transport Pilot License, the license that equips pilots to fly commercially.
There is a junior form of this license, the Restricted Airline Transport Pilot License, which lovers of aviation can get as young as 21. However, this license only equips its holder to be a first officer or co-pilot on a flight, never the main pilot or fly solo. It is a great way for someone to get the necessary experience before going for the full ATPL.
Is There a Maximum Age for Airline Pilots?
Not only do airline pilots have to be over a certain age to fly, but they also have to be under a certain age to keep flying. According to Federal Aviation Regulations, pilots have to be under 60 to fly commercial planes solo and under 65 to fly at all. Airlines force pilots to retire when they reach 65.
This regulation does not just apply to the United States. The International Civil Aviation Organization, a branch of the United Nations that governs international flight, sets a standard limit of 65 years for retirement age for pilots. Countries have to apply for exemptions.
The ICAO also sets out regulations for pilots between 60 and 65 who still want to fly commercially. These pilots have to renew their medical certificates every six months, while younger pilots only have to go to their mandatory medical visit once a year. Pilots who are over 60 have to fly with a co-pilot who is below that age at all times.
Why Do Airline Pilots Have a Maximum Age?
There are a few reasons why commercial airlines have a maximum age for their pilots. Most of them have to do with safety. As people age, they are more prone to physical problems such as fatigue, declining vision, and high blood pressure that impacts their ability to fly. If a medical examiner uncovers problems, a pilot can be forced to retire even before 65.
Besides physical decline, people lose some of their mental acuity as they age. This includes important factors such as reaction time, fine motor coordination, memory, and more. While the cognitive decline is usually not severe enough at 65 to impact a pilot’s quality of life, it can impact how the pilot will respond in an emergency.
The reason why commercial airlines are much stricter than private companies or the FAA governing bureau for private licenses is that the stakes are much higher. If an older pilot crashes while flying a private plane, it is a tragic loss. However, an older pilot crashing a commercial plane due to a slow reaction time in an emergency potentially endangers hundreds of lives.
However, as technology makes it easier for older pilots to fly and as medical advancements halt aging and decline, these rules may change at some point in the future.