Learning to fly at 16, 17, or 18 years of age, what’s the right age?

When is the right time to have your son or daughter learn to fly?I occasionally get asked what’s the right age to get my son or daughter into flight lessons.  Having just had this discussion a couple hours ago, I figured this would be a great topic to add to the blog.

First, let’s look at the legal age requirements to learn to fly…  FAR 61.103 states "To be eligible for a private pilot certificate, you must: Be at least 17 years of age for a rating in other than a glider or balloon."

Keep in mind, that regulation applies not to instruction, but the completion of private pilot training.  Meaning a person cannot take the practical test to get their license until they are 17, but it doesn’t state anything about learning to fly before that date.  If we dig a bit deeper in 61.83 and 61.87 we’ll see that in order to solo a person must posses a student pilot certificate and in order to get a student pilot certificate a person must be 16 years old.

So, the short answer is 16 to solo, and 17 to get a license, but that answer is simply the legal aspects of getting a license and doesn’t really address when to start the learning process.

So when should your son or daughter begin learning to fly?  I think a good deal of this is dependent upon their motivation, time commitments, and burn out rate.  Having three kids of my own I know that my children have occasion to get hyped up about things, then burned out a short time later.  If your son or daughter really wants to learn to fly and they have interest in aviation that you want to help cultivate then my advice is to take it slow as to not be the cause of their burn out.

Why do I say that?  Pilot training can be somewhat rigorous.  There are motor skills to develop (flying the plane), knowledge to acquire, practical and written tests to take, and all of these things will require effort from them.  There’s no question that your son or daughter could learn to fly in a 4 week period over their summer break.  The issue is whether or not that crammed learning experience would (1) allow them retain that knowledge and  (2) burn them out on aviation in the process.

So with that said, I believe taking your time is a better strategy – it has less opportunity to lead to burnout and the quality of the training is higher. 

For many years I’ve said that cram type training is no good.  My belief is that pilots that cram their training into a short duration don’t remember as much as pilots who spread the training out, and ultimately these pilots that leaned to fly in a cram session are simply not as safe.

My recommendations – Anytime after the 15th birthday I think the time is right to learn to fly.  Much younger than 15 the child will develop good hands on stick and rudder flying skills, but I have found that kids that age have a hard time grasping the regulatory aspects, as well as the mathematics required.  Certainly you can have your 12 or 13 year old flying, it just means they will spend a lot of time flying with the instructor before they are able to get a license. 

Once they hit high school the math and regulations seem to click for most.  Starting at 16 is a great age, they can take their time, do a lesson a week and a little bookwork (1-2 hours) on the side and this will lead them to easily accomplish the training by their 17th birthday when they are legal to get the license. 

Keep in mind they are kids…. The idea is to not burden them with copious amounts of aviation homework when they have so much other demands on their time from school.  FLYING SHOULD BE FUN FOR THEM… Not a burden of one more thing for school they owe a teach on.

In some families, soloing on a 16th birthday is a right of passage.  If your child wants to solo on their 16th birthday then I recommend them starting regular flight lessons at 15 1/2.  First once a week, leading up the birthday they will probably fly twice a week.

So what about after the private pilot’s license and the 17th birthday?  If they have successfully obtained their private pilot’s license then I recommend going on to an instrument rating.  If they decide to fly for a career then they will need an instrument rating, if they don’t fly for a career then an instrument rating makes them that much better and safer a pilot.

Hopefully that’s helpful.  Just my perspective based on training kids of all ages over the years.  If you have any questions feel free to contact me. 

Alpine Flight Training is conveniently located at the Eagle County Regional Airport.  We are a short driving distance and the best location of choice for leaning to fly in the Vail Valley, Vail, Beaver Creek, Gypsum, Minturn, Eagle, Avon, and Edwards.

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