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What can disqualify you from becoming a pilot?

Published March 7, 2024| minute read

    If you’re currently deciding whether to pursue a career as a pilot — whether as a helicopter or airplane pilot — you should get familiar with some of the things that could disqualify you. With safety being the utmost priority for pilots, training schools, airlines, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have some strict rules regarding who they’ll allow to get a pilot certification and to work as a commercial pilot.

    Here are some of the most common disqualifiers that could prevent you from becoming and working as a pilot. Keep in mind that the items on this list apply to becoming a pilot in the U.S. and not in other countries.

    Your age may disqualify you from becoming a pilot

    Age might not be a long-term stop in your pursuit of flying, but it can temporarily halt your training. To acquire a student license, you must be at least 16 years old; to obtain a private license, you must be at least 17 years old.

    If you start your training at an early age, you may find yourself in a waiting period before you can pursue certain certifications and licenses. For example, you must be at least 18 years old to get your commercial pilot license and to become a flight instructor, and 23 if you want an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certification.

    Depending on how fast you complete training programs, this could mean that you have a waiting period before completing the ATP Certification.

    A lack of a high school diploma or a GED may disqualify you from becoming a pilot

    A lack of a high school diploma or GED can pose challenges for someone aspiring to become a pilot, primarily due to the educational requirements set by flight schools and commercial airlines. Most flight schools and aviation programs prefer or require applicants to have at least a high school diploma or GED.

    Additionally, for those aspiring to become commercial airline pilots, airlines often require applicants to have at least a high school diploma or GED, if not an associate or bachelor’s degree.

    A lack of fluency in English may disqualify you from becoming a pilot

    The FAA requires that all licensed pilots in the U.S. must be able to read, write, and speak English. English is the international language of aviation, and the FAA requires pilots operating in the U.S. airspace to be proficient in English.

    This requirement ensures that pilots can understand all communications with air traffic control and read and interpret flight manuals, navigation instructions, and safety regulations.

    Certain medical conditions may disqualify you from becoming a pilot

    The FAA lists medical conditions that may disqualify an individual from becoming a pilot. If the condition can be controlled, as is the case in some instances, the FAA can issue a medical certificate contingent on periodic checks. Here are some of the conditions listed by the FAA, but remember that this list is subject to change:

    • Angina Pectoris
    • Bipolar disease
    • Cardiac valve replacement
    • Coronary heart disease
    • Diabetes mellitus, where hypoglycemic medications are required
    • Disturbance of consciousness without explanation of the cause
    • Epilepsy
    • Heart replacement
    • Myocardial infarction
    • Permanent cardiac pacemaker
    • Personality disorder
    • Psychosis
    • Substance abuse or dependence
    • Transient loss of nervous system functions

    A criminal background may disqualify you from becoming a pilot

    If you have any drug or alcohol-related criminal offenses on your record, you may be denied entry into a pilot training program or stopped from getting a private or commercial pilot’s license (although there are exceptions).

    If you have a criminal history that includes other things, you might still be able to attend a flight school and get your license. That being said, you may find it challenging to find employment as a commercial pilot if that’s your ultimate goal, as some individual companies disqualify applicants with certain criminal convictions.

    Final thoughts

    Given how demanding it is to be a pilot – both physically and mentally – it's no surprise that it comes with some unique requirements and disqualifiers. It may be important to familiarize yourself with what they are before pursuing this career, as becoming a pilot takes time and effort.