Stages in becoming a pilot

(This page is a copy of the relevant page on CASA's website.)

Getting started - Achieving your Private Pilot Licence

Introduction to flying training and the flying school

The first step in taking up flying, as a career or just for pleasure, is to undertake a Trial Instructional Flight, or TIF, at a licensed flying club or training organisation. The normal rate for a TIF is around $45-60 and it should last around 30 minutes. This trial flight will most likely lead to a few lessons after which you should be able to decide whether you want to continue flying training. Your instructor will also be able to make an assessment of your potential to handle an aircraft.

During the initial stages of flight instruction you will always be with a flight instructor. You will be taught the basics of flight in preparation for your first solo flight in the circuit area (rectangular pattern flown around an aerodrome), but will be familiarised with the local training area, usually a ten mile area around the airport. During this time you consolidate your training and build flying experience. Most likely, you will be ready to fly solo after approximately 10-15 hours of instruction. However each subsequent solo flight must be authorised by your instructor.

Before you can fly solo, you will need to pass the required medical checks, pass an examination in Air Law and be issued with a Student Pilot Licence (STUDENT). To be issued the SPL, you must be at least 16 years of age and be capable of reading, writing, speaking and understanding the English language. You will also need to obtain an ARN (Aviation Reference Number) from CASA, supply photographs and identification documentation, and complete a security check.

If you have set your sights on a career in aviation, this is usually the time that your school will advise you of options for commercial training. They will also suggest that you undertake the required medical checks which are more exacting for professional pilots to make sure you can satisfy the medical standards before outlaying considerable sums of money on flying training.

First solo

Your first solo flight will involve practising take-offs and landings, and general flying within the airport circuit. This is basically a consolidation of everything that you have learned to date, such as operation and effect of controls, straight and level flying, climbing and descending, turning and stalling, for which your instructor found you competent to do on your own.

From this point on, you will focus on preparing for your first area solo where you will demonstrate your ability to fly solo outside the airport circuit but still within the training area used by the school.

Most students are ready to attempt their first area solo after reaching 15-20 hours. Before you can do so, however, you must pass an examination on the flight procedures pertaining to that training area.

First area solo

Your first solo in the training area will involve practising simulated engine failure during which you will exercise your own judgement, simulate radio calls and trouble checks as well as passenger briefs. It will also include a short navigation exercise to and from the local training area to enable you to demonstrate some chart reading skills.

As you progress, you will learn to fly the aircraft in all situations in preparation for your General Flying Progress Test (GFPT). Before you can undertake this test you first need to pass the Basic Aeronautical Knowledge theory examination. You will also need at least 20 hours flight time which includes 5 hours as pilot in command and 2 hours instrument time, of which at least 1 hour must be instrument flight time. Having said that, the average student is not ready to attempt the GFPT until the 30 hour mark.

General flying progress test (GFPT)

During this test, you will demonstrate to an approved testing officer that you can competently manage the aircraft in all basic phases of flight. If you pass the test, you will be able to carry passengers in private operations (ie Not for hire or reward) within the confines of the student pilot area limit. Your solo or pilot-in-command flights must still be approved by your instructor.

After the GFPT, you will be able to commence navigation training. The navigation exercises teach the practical skills and airmanship required for flying safely to distant locations plus management of fuel and flight logs, radio communication and transition through different airspace, control zones, unplanned diversions due to weather etc., and circuits at distant locations with landings on different types of surfaces. These skills will then be reinforced and consolidated in preparation for the Private Pilot Licence flight test.

Prior to undertaking the PPL test, you must have acquired at least 40 hours of flight time as a pilot that includes:

  • 5 hours of general flight time as pilot in command; and
  • 5 hours of cross country flight time as pilot in command; and
  • 2 hours of instrument flight time.

You must also pass a theory examination which covers flight rules and air law, navigation, performance and flight planning, meteorology and principles of flight.

Although the minimum experience requirement is 40 hours, the average pilot is ready to attempt the Private Pilot Licence flight test after about 55-60 hours. You can undertake the PPL flight test while still 16, however, you cannot be issued with the licence until your 17th birthday.

Private pilot licence (PPL) test

You will demonstrate your skill to an approved testing officer by departing for a round trip with two or more landings/turning points enroute. You will be able to show that you can divert to an alternative location and overall, demonstrate competent planning and management of the flight, observing all procedures and rules, navigation, radio work and airmanship before successfully completing the flight.

After passing the PPL Test, you will be issued with the licence which enables you to fly anywhere within Australia, solo or with private passengers in daytime visual meteorological conditions. You will no longer require your instructor's permission to undertake a flight as pilot in command.

Getting serious - Commercial and Air Transport Pilot Licences

After receiving your PPL you may decide to train for various aircraft endorsements and/or ratings.

If you wish to continue onto a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), you will need at least 200 hours of flying experience with specified time as pilot in command, cross country and instrument flight time. If you enrolled in an integrated CPL course of aviation training with this flying school, this time would be reduced to 150 hours. The difference in hours reflects the different approach to training. With the 150 hours course, the theory and flying training are coordinated, whereas for the 200 hour option, they are often arranged separately.

Before you can attempt the CPL flight test you must pass a theory examination, covering similar subject areas as for the PPL but this time to Commercial standard and do a Recommendation Flight with the Chief Flying Instructor. While you may undertake the flight test for the CPL at 17, the licence cannot be issued until your 18th birthday.

Commercial pilot licence (CPL) test

You will be flying with an approved testing officer and will be tested on similar issues as the PPL except that the knowledge and skill areas will be covered more comprehensively.

Passing the CPL test and being issued with the licence entitles you to carry passengers for hire or reward, in association with a licensed air service operator. This licence is needed to operate as a light aircraft charter pilot. You will now be able to fly as pilot in command of single pilot aircraft or as co-pilot in multi-crew aircraft.

Before exercising the privileges of the licence, you must pass more stringent medical examinations in order to obtain a Class 1 medical certificate.


  1. The above requirements relate to aeroplane pilot licences. Similar requirements apply for helicopter pilot licences.
  2. Although flying training is a building block process it is not a compulsory step-by-step process. For example, if you had decided from the beginning that you wanted to be a commercial pilot, you could by-pass the private pilot licence if you so desired.

Air transport pilot licence (ATPL)

If you wish to fly as pilot-in-command of a multi-crew aircraft you will need to obtain an ATPL.

To obtain an ATPL you would undertake further theory study in advanced aerodynamics, air law, advanced navigation, human factors, performance and loading, flight planning and meteorology. At the end of the study course, you will need to pass a theory examination which consists of seven separate subject parts. These parts maybe attempted singularly or in any number at a sitting.

To be issued with the actual licence, you must have at least 1500 flying hours, with specified time as pilot in command. The aeroplane licence also sets minimum requirements for cross country, night flying and instrument time. You also need to be 21 or older.

For an ATPL on aeroplanes, you must hold or have held a Command Multi-Engine Instrument Rating.

Endorsement and ratings

Once you have your Private Pilot Licence, you have the option of adding endorsements and ratings to your licence.

Endorsements can be either for a particular type of aircraft or for a class (ie. where a number of aircraft with similar handling capabilities are grouped for endorsement purposes). An initial endorsement on a light twin aeroplane can take 5 to 7 hours to gain.

The four types of ratings are:

Agricultural Rating - for crop spraying, for pest control and fertiliser spreading (commercial licence or higher required)

Instrument Rating - for flying in cloud, day/night, in non visual meteorological conditions.

Instructor Rating - for training other pilots. (commercial licence or higher required)

Night (VFR) Rating - for flying at night (including dusk) in visual meteorological conditions.

To obtain a rating or an endorsement , you will need to complete appropriate training after which a CASA delegate, usually an industry pilot, assesses your competence. Some ratings also involve a theory exam.

For further information contact CASA's Flight Crew Licensing area:
Ph: 131 757 (Local call cost within Australia)