Frequently Asked Questions About Certification and Training

What does it take to be a Private Pilot? In a nutshell...

You must fulfill minimum requirements to be issued a pilot certificate. You must receive ground instruction and forty hours of flight training from a certified flight instructor (CFI). You must pass two tests. One is a written test with 60 multiple-choice questions. The other is an oral and flight test performed by a pilot examiner. Once you pass these tests you will be issued a private pilot certificate. It can take anywhere from a few months to years to obtain the forty hours of flight experience and the knowledge to pass these tests. The more you meet with your CFI, the sooner you are able to take the test. Subjects students learn include:  basic aerodynamics, weather reports and forecasting, aircrafts systems, navigation, air traffic control, flight rules, and various others.


What can I do with a private pilot certificate?

A private pilot certificate is the entry level certificate in the world of aviation and it gives you the freedom to fly to and from thousands of airports in many different types of aircraft in conditions where you can see and avoid obstacles and other traffic. This is flying by visual flight rules, referred to as VFR. Depending on the limitations of the aircraft, a private pilot may carry passengers and cargo, but not for hire or compensation.


Is there an age limitation to become a pilot?

You may begin training at any age, fly solo on your 16th birthday, and earn your private pilot certificate on your 17th birthday.


What other requirements must I fulfill to become a pilot?

  • You must be able to read, write, speak, and understand English.
  • Pass a medical examination with a designated medical professional proving to be in relative good health.
  • Complete all the knowledge and experience requirements listed in the Federal Aviation Regulations.
  • Pass a written and oral knowledge test and practical exam.


When do I start flying and how long do lessons last?

You will be the pilot at the controls of a real airplane from day one. You will begin flying with assistance from your assigned flight instructor. As you advance through the syllabus your flight instructor will provide decreasing levels of assistance building up to one of the milestones of training, your first solo flight. 

A typical lesson schedule will consists of three 2-hour lesson blocks per week with your assigned flight instructor. More lessons per week can be scheduled time and load permitting.


What is ground school? Do we offer it?

Flight training is divided into two parts:  ground school, and flight training. Ground school teaches students the principles, procedures, and regulations that are put into practice during flight lessons. One portion of the certification process consists of a computerized exam. Ground school is designed to prepare students for this test.

Walla Walla University offers a ground school program during the Fall Quarter of the school year (late September to early December). There are also home study, and computerized ground courses available.


What if I feel airsick?

Some people are more susceptible to motion sickness than others. Ordinarily, it may take a few lessons in order to get used to the sensations of flight. After a few lessons, normal flights often begins to feel as natural as driving a car. If airsickness persists, there are techniques to help alleviate the problem. Most people build a tolerance to motion sickness over time.


How safe is it?

General aviation and “those little airplanes” as some may call them, are as safe as any other mode of travel, if not safer. Pilots and passengers do not use parachutes because airplanes and helicopters do not fall from the sky when the engine stops. An aircraft without an engine, even if it’s supposed to have one, is a glider capable of descending safely to a landing. If the engine quits, for example, it is typically because the pilot has allowed it to run out of fuel. In other words, flying is as safe as each individual chooses to make it. How to fly safely and deal with an extremely rare occurrence of an actual emergency is our top priority in your training.

What does it mean to be “Instrument Rated?”

Earning your instrument rating grants you the ability to fly in conditions where you fly by instrument references alone. While private pilots are limited to flying only where they can see and avoid other traffic (VFR), pilots with their instrument rating can fly in clouds, fog, and at higher altitudes where visual references may not be available. We call the rules that govern these operations “Instrument Flight Rules” (IFR). These specific IFR rules protect aircraft from obstacles, other traffic, and ensure safe and efficient travel from departure to destination.


Why should I get my instrument rating? 

Training for an instrument rating is heavily composed of building cross-country experience. This experience helps you better understand Air Traffic Control (ATC) and the National Airspace System (NAS) which is one of the most complex aviation systems in the world consisting of thousands of people, procedures, and facilities.

Training for your instrument rating also hones your pilot ability and increases your ability to control the aircraft with more finesse.

Having your instrument rating also expands your options when flying. No longer will it be absolutely necessary to have clear weather with good visibility.


Is it safe to fly small airplanes in the clouds?

“Aviation is not inherently dangerous, but to an even greater extent than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect.” Every action we do has a calculated risk involved. Sometimes that risk is negligible, and other times we must be proactive to reduce the risk to a manageable amount. Flying small aircraft in the clouds has it’s own risks that we do our best to reduce by training diligently, knowing what our aircraft are capable of, understanding the airspace and procedures within which we operate, and keeping well maintained and trustworthy aircraft. The safety of our students and instructors is our number one priority, and we make serious efforts to ensure that you have a safe and pleasant experience in your training.


So can I fly people and cargo for hire with this? 

No you cannot. The Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) require you to hold at least a commercial certificate to fly for compensation or hire.


How do you train only “reference to instruments?”

The flight training for your instrument rating consists mainly of flying the aircraft while wearing a view-limiting device, often referred to as a “hood.” This view-limiting device restricts your view of the exterior and only allows you to focus on the instruments in the airplane. You will fly with an instructor or a safety pilot who will be looking outside for traffic while you are in VFR weather.


What are the requirements to become instrument rated?

You must hold at least a private pilot certificate, possess at least a current third-class medical certificate, complete the necessary aeronautical and knowledge requirements, and pass the written, oral, and practical tests.


What will the training consist of? 

The knowledge and aeronautical experience listed in 14 CFR Part 61.65


  • FARs pertinent to instrument flying
  • Information form the Aeronautical Information Manual
  • Air Traffic Control systems and procedures
  • IFR navigation and approaches
  • Use of IFR en route and procedure charts
  • Procurements and use of valid aviation and self observed weather
  • Recognition of critical weather situations
  • Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
  • Crew communication and coordination

Aeronautical Experience:

  • 50 hours Cross-Country flight time as Pilot in Command (PIC)
  • 40 hours actual or simulated instrument time
  • 15 hours of instruction from an Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII)
  • Preflight preparation and post flight procedures
  • ATC clearance and procedures
  • Flight by reference to instruments
  • Navigation systems
  • Instrument approach procedures
  • Emergency operations.

What does a commercial certificate allow me to do? 

The short answer is that it allows you to fly for compensation or fire. By itself, this certificate does not permit the pilot to set up an operation that carries members of the public for hire; such operations are governed by other regulations. Otherwise, a commercial pilot can be paid for certain types of operation, such as banner towing, agricultural applications, and photography, and can be paid for instructing if he holds a flight instructor certificate. To fly for hire, the pilot must hold a second-class medical certificate.

Often, the commercial certificate will reduce a pilot’s aircraft insurance premiums, as it is evidence of training to a higher safety standard.


What does the commercial training focus on?

Training for the certificate focuses on a better understanding of aircraft systems and a higher standard of airmanship. A commercial airplane pilot must be able to operate a complex airplane (retractable landing gear, flaps, and controllable pitch propeller), as a specific number of hours of complex aircraft time are among the prerequisites, and at least a portion of the practical examination is performed in a complex aircraft.


Are the single engine and multi engine ratings different? 

There are two paths to choose from at this point of your training. You can choose to do your initial commercial training in either a single engine or a multi engine aircraft. Either one you choose, you will have the option to add the additional class to your commercial certificate with reduced training. The primary difference is the amount of hours in each class aircraft at the conclusion of your training. Most commercial aviation operations value greater amounts of multi-engine time.


What are the requirements to become a commercial pilot?

The knowledge and flight instruction listed in 14 CFR Part 61.125 and 61.127. In addition to these topics you will also need to meet the aeronautical experience requirements of 14 CFR Part 61.129.


Do I have to have my instrument rating to be able to get my commercial pilot license?

No. You can take the test for becoming a commercial pilot without having already obtained your instrument rating. However, the commercial pilot license will have some restrictions on it. Because there is a requirement to log 250 hours of total time before you can test for your commercial license, most people work on their instrument rating while they are accumulating those hours in their logbook. This method makes the most sense financially for most people.


Will we do much instrument flying?

For a single engine commercial pilot license, there is no instrument requirement to meet. If you are planning on adding on a multi engine commercial license, you can plan on doing some instrument work during the multi engine training.


I’m not planning on flying for a career. Is there any benefit to me if I get my commercial pilot license? 

Definitely! Training for a commercial pilot license will increase your ability to control the airplane in everyday flying conditions, emergency situations, and more advanced flying scenarios such as short field and soft field operations. Part of obtaining your commercial pilot license involves becoming endorsed for complex airplanes, which offers a fun, and new challenge for many people. If you own your own airplane, you may be able to benefit from reduced insurance premiums. On top of all that, a commercial pilot license looks great on a resume and can give you a very competitive edge in interviews and the workplace. Having the confidence that comes from receiving additional training will be something you and your passengers appreciate.

Page maintained by Michael Gref
Last update on April 7, 2015