Can a Felon Become a Pilot?

Felons often assume that most jobs are out of their reach. They feel that potential employers will deem their criminal pasts too large of a hurdle to overcome. While this ideology unfortunately has a certain amount of merit, it is far from a certainty. For the vast majority of positions, felons can overcome their past and gain fulfilling and financially-sound employment.

For many, however, fulfilling and financially-sound simply isn’t enough. They need excitement in their employment. For these individuals, becoming a pilot fulfills all 3 lofty career requirements that they possess.

Can a Felon Become a Pilot?

It may be assumed that felons are automatically disqualified from becoming a pilot in any capacity. Post 9/11, it is easy to see why many have this belief. It is, however, completely inaccurate.

Felons are able to become pilots in nearly any capacity, whether it be private or commercial. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, will not automatically disqualify an individual with a felony. This, however comes with a few exceptions: drug or alcohol related offenses will prevent an individual from being licensed with the FAA. This essentially means that these individuals cannot become pilots. Felons without those particular offenses on their record, however, are able to become licensed with the FAA.

So, how does a felon take the first steps to becoming a pilot?


The first step to becoming a pilot is to complete the necessary training. This can be done in a few different ways. One of the most common is attending a flight school. In flight school, and individual gets one-on-one training with a professional instructor. This can usually be done at an individual’s own pace. This method is popular because of its flexibility, but it does come with a caveat: it’s expensive.

The cost of flight school can range from $5,000 to $16,000. Because of this, individuals looking to attend flight school should shop around before settling on a school. Nonetheless, this option allows an individual to complete pilot training on their own time while also working a part-time side job.

Another, cheaper, option is to go to flight school through the military. Not only does this option not cost money, but they will pay an individual for going through the course. Unfortunately, as many felons know, the military isn’t very receptive of felons.  However, this it isn’t impossible the join with a felony. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard all accept felons.This doesn’t mean it’s easy for felons to join. They will have to complete far more paperwork, complete comprehensive interviews, and go through a rigorous screening process. Nevertheless, for a dedicated individual, it is far from impossible to go this route.

There is also a third option: completing training sponsored by an airline. This is possible through ATP, or the Airline Sponsored Pilot Training program. This is a program sponsored by commercial airliners that provide individuals with a commercial pilot’s license in 9 months’ time. The airline will pay for most, but typically not all, of a potential pilot’s training. This typically comes with an obligatory contract with the respective airline, so private pilots might not find this to be a viable option. For those hoping to fly commercial flights, however, this option should be considered.

During training, regardless of the route taken, there will be a written test that must be passed to proceed with the training process. This exam isn’t incredibly difficult, but it’s necessary for a trainee to study hard to ensure passage of the exam.

Getting the License

After the training and completion of the written test, there is a final step to obtaining a pilot’s license. This is the FAA practical exam. This will be a test of real-life fundamental flying skill. This test should not be likely, and hopeful pilot should practice extensively with their instructor prior to taking the practical exam. The test will cover an individual’s flying ability, as well as their ability to read their instruments and communicate with air traffic controllers.

After passage of the test, an individual will typically receive their private pilot’s license or recreation pilot’s license. This is based off of what type of plane the individual has been flying during training and testing and is typically a single-engine airplane.

They may also with to get an instrument rating in addition to a license. This rating will allow a pilot to fly in sub-par weather conditions. This is not only beneficial for resumé purposes, but it also allows a recreational pilot to fly far more often, as weather isn’t always perfect. Taking this next step requires a bit more training and evaluation, but most pilots would agree that it is well worth it.

From here, the sky is the limit. There are various types of pilot’s licenses available for a different places and careers. There are licenses for sport planes, multi-engine planes, and military craft. Career-wise, there are certifications available for commercial, military, and instructor positions. These are all generally achieved after obtaining a private or recreational license.

Getting a Job

The job field for pilots is fairly saturated and is thereby competitive. This is a scary concept for felons, as they will have to work harder and perform better than their peers to show employers that they are deserving of the position.

Applying for a job in the pilot industry is not much different than any other industry. The only critical difference is the extent of the background check. All pilots will go through extremely rigorous screening during the application process to become a professional pilot. This is especially true in the case of potential commercial and military pilots.

Extended periods of unemployment will be scrutinized, which a felon who has been incarcerated will undoubtedly possess. This, again, is far from an instant disqualification. A truthful explanation of past actions and how the individual has changed since the conviction will be critical in an employer’s decision to hire a felon. It helps to possess certifications, like an instrument rating, that others may not have in order to stand out and overcome a criminal record.


Felons hoping to mix excitement, financial security, and fulfillment in their position may deem that employment as a professional pilot is their perfect career opportunity. In many cases, this is the truth. Barring drug and alcohol convictions, a felon is open to apply for any of the various pilot licenses offered, both in the private and commercial sector.

The road to becoming a pilot is often long and expensive, but the end result is employment that most can only dream of.



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