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Can a Felon Become a Pilot?

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You may have dreamed of becoming a pilot in the past before your felony. Maybe you still have that dream now. 

Can a felon become a pilot? Let’s look at this issue.

In this blog post, we’ll cover the following:

  • What Is a Pilot?
  • Requirements to Become a Pilot
  • Background Check?
  • Does the Type of Felony Make a Difference?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Steps to Take


What Is a Pilot?

As a pilot, you fly a plane or other air transport to carry people or goods from one place to another.

There are different types, or privilege levels, of pilots, depending on the kind of aircraft they are certified to fly. These levels correspond to the amount of training necessary to achieve each standard.

The most basic level for a pilot is a sport pilot who is authorized to fly only light aircraft. Then, there is a recreational pilot who may fly aircraft up to 180 horsepower with four seats for pleasure. If you get a private pilot certificate, you may fly for pleasure or business while a commercial pilot flies for pay.

The most advanced pilot category is an airline transport pilot who is authorized to fly a scheduled airline flight with passengers and/or cargo.

Pilots tend to be calm, self-disciplined, and often are college graduates.

Requirements to Become a Pilot

The first requirement to become a pilot is to be at least 16 years old. In spite of the age factor, there are no education requirements to be a student pilot.

Pilot training consists of a combination of ground school and flight training.

Ground school covers the basic information a pilot needs to know regarding flight and aircraft operations procedures. This education also involves aeronautical knowledge such as weather and regional air patterns.

Ground schools are located around the U.S. Some are in-person programs while others are offered online. An application for ground school typically requires only basic information. 

Then there is the actual flight training to allow you to fly a plane. Flight training involves in-air flight time with an FAA licensed pilot along with at least 40 hours of flight time, including 10 hours of solo flying.

In order to obtain a student pilot certificate, you must pass an aviation medical exam administered by an Aviation Medical Examiner. You must also have health insurance for most flight training programs.

This requirement could be a challenge for many felons who often don’t have a job or at least one that includes benefits such as medical insurance.

After you complete ground school and flight training, you must take and pass the FAA written and flight exam.

Here is a summary of the steps involved in getting a pilot license. 

For this, you must:

  • Pass a medical exam, including a physical, blood test, and an eye test
  • Be at least 17 years old for a private license and 18 for a commercial license
  • Have a current FAA third-class medical certificate
  • Have at least 40 flight hours
  • Have at least 20 flight hours with an instructor
  • Have at least 10 solo flight hours
  • Pass the FAA Private Pilot Airmen Knowledge written exam
  • Pass an FAA Private Pilot flight exam

As part of the application for flight training, you must disclose information about any felony conviction.

Background Check?

Yes, there is a background check that is required in order to initiate flight school training and acquire a sport pilot certification. As a reminder, this is the basic level for a pilot and the one that will be easiest for you to get.

Regulations indicate that you must undergo a background check through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA oversees all activity related to the transportation area.

This agency will conduct a threat assessment on you to determine any potential danger that you might pose to U.S. national security and the aviation industry.

The threat assessment will focus on a variety of serious felonies that might be on your record from at least the past seven years.

Does the Type of Felony Make a Difference?

Yes, the type of felony will make a difference. 

While you could be disqualified for any of a number of felonies, those that are deemed to pose a threat to national security will receive the most attention. 

These will be most likely to eliminate you from consideration for a pilot license.

You might be disqualified from getting a pilot license if you have been convicted of any of the following crimes:

  • Espionage
  • Sedition
  • Treason
  • Transportation security incident
  • Improper transportation of a hazardous material
  • Unlawful possession, use, sale, purchase, receipt, or dealing in an explosive device
  • Murder
  • Conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these crimes

Also, if you were released from incarceration after conviction within five years of the date of the application, the following felonies will also disqualify you:

  • Unlawful possession, use, sale, or dealing in a firearm 
  • Extortion
  • Dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation
  • Bribery
  • Smuggling
  • Immigration violations
  • Distribution or possession of a controlled substance
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape or aggravated sexual abuse
  • Assault with intent to kill
  • Robbery
  • Fraudulent entry into a seaport 

That’s a long list, but the TSA wants to be certain that you will not pose a security threat. 

If you take a close look at that list, you know whether or not any felony conviction that is on your record is such a serious one. So, you should already know about your chances to pass the TSA assessment.

An Opportunity for Felons?

The FAA has the final say about whether or not you will be granted a pilot license.

This is not to say that the FAA will deny you the opportunity to pursue your goal of becoming a pilot with any of those offenses on your record. 

FAA regulations do state that no person will be automatically disqualified because of having a felony conviction with the exception of drug and alcohol-related convictions.

This is because the FAA doesn’t want anyone who may be cognitively impaired due to drug or alcohol issues to fly a plane. It makes sense.

The one type of pilot license that you will have a great difficulty qualifying for is as an airline pilot. You will receive the utmost scrutiny if you seek to become an airline pilot.

In order to become an airline pilot, you must be “of good moral standing.” This makes it the most challenging level of pilot certification to obtain.

As a felon you would have to provide detailed information regarding your felony, including the type of offense, how long ago the conviction was, and your efforts at rehabilitation and living an honest life since your release. 

Another challenge for you after becoming a pilot is if you seek a job as a pilot. You can be a pilot without trying to get a pilot position and just fly recreationally.

However, if you want to apply for a pilot position that requires an airport identity badge, a detailed history is required, which includes a work history and criminal history records.

For this, a background check will be conducted through the FBI and involves a fingerprint identification. Any gap in employment for more than six months in the past ten years must be explained. 

That’s an issue right there for felons who have been incarcerated for a minimum of one year and likely longer than that.

Steps to Take

So if you want to become a pilot, you will have to be honest about your criminal background. Lying about your conviction will end that dream.

You could lose out by not getting into a pilot training program if you aren’t honest. Don’t blow the opportunity you have.

It would be to your advantage to run a background check on yourself to see what a flight training program would find if they did a background check on you.

It would be in your best interest to check to see if you are eligible to have your record expunged. That way you could honestly state on an application that you have not been convicted of a felony.

You have made a lot of mistakes in the past, but you don’t have to be defined by them. You are defined by how you recover from those mistakes.

If you want to become a pilot, don’t get discouraged and give up.

While it won’t be easy, you can live an honest lifestyle that could include becoming a pilot.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a pilot with a felony? What was that like and what happened? Please tell us in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Can a Felon Become a Pilot?”

  1. My friend has small possession charges, evading arrest, stealing a car. Nothing aggravated nor sexual. Can he get a pilot’s license?

  2. Thank you for this helpful article! Some clarifications:
    1. The required time for a Private pilot license is 40 hours.
    The required time for a Commercial Pilot license is 250 hours. The required time for an Airline pilot is 1500 hours. We
    2. You say “A private pilot may earn a median salary of $45,000” which could be a little misleading. While he might have a salary for a non-flying position he may fly an aircraft for the purpose of doing business using the airplane as transportation. See FAR 61.113.
    3. There are some pilot jobs that do not require airport security badges: Crop spraying/dusting, banner towing, Sight seeing rides, flight instructing and many others.


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