Aviation – Misconceptions

I would have pursued my private pilot license much sooner and probably would have considered it as a career more seriously if I didn’t already have certain misconceptions about becoming a pilot in the first place.  At the time there wasn’t really an Internet, so it was a bit harder to get solid advice without going directly to the horse’s mouth.  This was my mistake.

Everyone’s situation is different, but these are what I thought were my hurdles:


The FAA’s website covers this and many other medical topics related to becoming a pilot.  There are areas of concern, especially regarding medications (both prescription and over-the-counter).  The FAA has very strict rules and is rather slow at approving new medications.

Congress has recently pass 3rd Class Medical Reform as part of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016.  This relieves some of the burden of keeping a current medical certificate for a private pilot, as we will no longer be required to regularly see an AME and go through the slow process with the FAA.  All that is required is to see a state-licensed physician every 4 years and have them go through an FAA-generated checklist.  See AOPA’s website for more information.

If you can’t or don’t want to try to get a medical certificate, consider the sport pilot certificate instead of the private certificate.  It has certain limitations, but less training is required and that training is applicable towards a private pilot certificate if you change your mind later.


I was convinced that a career as a commercial pilot would be severely limited or impossible without 20/20 vision.  I have been very near-sighted since adolescence, so this issue alone was enough to stop me from seriously considering aviation at all.  This is a common myth but it has never actually been the case.  The FAA used to require a waiver if your uncorrected vision was worse than a certain threshold, but apparently anyone that requested this waiver usually got it.

As long as your corrected vision is 20/40 or better as a private pilot, near or farsightedness is generally not a factor.  There are some limits to the amount and type of correction allowed for stricter classes, but not so much for a Class 3.  They are also not fans of laser surgery or even contact lenses in some cases.

Color blindness can be an issue, but there are waivers for this as well.  The FAA is mainly concerned about red-green color blindness (navigation lights and light gun signals).  Many color blind people that fail the Ishihara Test Plates can differentiate red and green lights just fine.  They can overcome this with a lantern test performed by an FAA official.


Cost is one of the biggest barriers and is obviously something to consider carefully.  This factor stopped me cold several years ago when I briefly looked into flight training again.  It turned out that the advice I that got was off by a factor of about 10.  This was partly due to conflating training costs with the costs of maintaining currency afterwards (more on this below).  Another point of confusion is that the costs can vary quite wildly depending on where you are, how you go about your training, and how long your training takes.


Flight training is expensive.  You not only have to pay the instructor’s hourly rate, but also rent the airplane, buy fuel (sometimes fuel is included with the rental), rent a headset if you don’t have one, and pay any other fees associated with the airplane.  You also have one-time costs for certain books, charts, a headset, kneeboard, and other supplies.  You also have to pay for your ground school, testing fees, and your medical.

There are many ways to save money on flight training, though.  For the supplies and books, you can save money by buying them used through places like eBay from former students (just make sure that they are current).

Jason Schappert of fame has some good tips on how to minimize training costs.  His YouTube channel is a great free resource for many training topics with in-plane video from multiple views.  He also has an online ground school.  It is a very safety-oriented school, but does have a tendency to over simplify some of the more technical topics in my opinion.  The school does provide access to even more training resources, including live webinars and pre-test boot camps.

If you are looking to pursue aviation as a career, there are ways to finance your training.  This can be especially important since there are more certifications needed beyond the private pilot to get to that point.


If you don’t use your pilot certificate, will you lose it?  No.  You will never lose your certificate through disuse.  However, you can and will lose your currency if you don’t fly regularly.  At a bare minimum, you need to have a biennial flight review by a certified flight instructor to fly solo.  The review is one hour of ground school and one hour in the air.  It is up to that instructor to sign off on your logbook that you are OK to fly.  If you haven’t flown often in those intervening 24 months, chances are that the instructor will ask you to undergo additional training before they will do so.

The story is a little different if you want to carry passengers, fly at night, fly under instrument conditions, etc.  To carry passengers, the FAA requires that you have performed at least 3 landings within the previous 90 days.  The exact parameters vary, depending on the type of aircraft, day vs night, etc.  If you let your currency lapse for visual flight rules during the day for example, you need only to perform some practice landings to get it back.

Keep in mind that these are just the bare minimums.  To be a safe pilot and to fly stress-free, you’ll want to practice as much as you can.  Presumably if you are pursuing aviation as a hobby, you will want to fly more often than once every three months!  The FAA also has a program called WINGS that allows you to push-back the biennial review by taking other types of training along the way.


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