Can a Felon Become a Pilot? -
Civilian Rights Finding Employment

Can a Felon Become a Pilot?

When it comes to getting a job after their release from prison, felons find it challenging.  Jobs they once had are lost and careers may be gone.

Felons may think no one will hire them, but there are resources available.

They will have to be open and willing to learn a new trade or start a different career.

This is the opportunity for felons to begin a new profession.

This blog post will address the issue of whether a felon can become a pilot.

  • What is a Pilot?
  • What Education/Training Does a Pilot Need?
  • How Much Does a Pilot Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Supporting a Felon in Becoming a Pilot

What is a Pilot?

A pilot is a person that works in the aviation industry and flies a plane to transport people or goods from one place to another.

A pilot is employed by an airline, corporation, or government.  Some pilots are self-employed.

Many pilots work an unconventional schedule, including weekends, holidays, and nights.

An airline pilot, for example, typically travels and is gone overnight.  The FAA limits their flying to no more than 100 hours a month and 1000 annually.

There are different types, or privilege levels, of pilots, depending on the kind or aircraft they are certified to fly.

While learning to become a pilot, a person is a student pilot under the instructions of a flight instructor.

The various levels of a pilot after receiving certification from most basic to most advanced are:

  • Sport pilot who is authorized to fly only light aircraft
  • Recreational pilot who may fly aircraft up to 180 horsepower with four seats for pleasure
  • Private pilot who may fly for pleasure or business
  • Commercial pilot who may fly for compensation
  • Airline transport pilot who is authorized to fly a scheduled airline flight with passengers and/or cargo

There are specific characteristics of a successful pilot:

  • Ability to control their emotions
  • Ability to remain calm under stress
  • Self-disciplined
  • Detail-oriented
  • Can learn from mistakes
  • Good evaluation skills
  • Good communications and interpersonal skills
  • High spatial orientation
  • Need for stimulation found in a cockpit
  • Educated and knowledgeable (Most professional pilots have a college degree)
  • Confident
  • Good perceptual motor skills

What Education/Training Does a Pilot Need?

There are certain requirements to become a pilot.  In order to become a student pilot, a person must be at least 16 years old.  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:

  • Flight and aircraft operations procedures
  • Aeronautical knowledge such as weather and regional 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.

Flight training consists of in-air flight time with an FAA licensed pilot.  An applicant must accumulate at least 40 hours of flight time, including ten hours of solo flying.

In order to obtain a student pilot certificate, an applicant must pass an aviation medical exam administered by an approved physician.  An individual must also have health insurance for most flight training programs.

Following ground school and flight training, an applicant must take and pass the FAA written and flight exam.

How Much Does a Pilot Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there are approximately 590,000 licensed pilots in the U.S.  This occupation is expected to show a 6% growth by 2020.

The area of greatest need will be for airline pilots with an increasing number of these pilots reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65.

A pilot’s salary depends on what type of license they have.  A private pilot may earn a median salary of $45,000, a commercial pilot $70,000, and an airline pilot $116,000.

Their level of earnings will depend on factors also of years of experience and region of the country.

An Opportunity for Felons?

As part of this application, a felon must disclose information about a felony conviction.

No person with a felony will be disqualified by the FAA because of a felony with the exception of drug and alcohol related convictions.

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

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

Another challenge for felons after becoming a pilot is when they seek a job as a pilot.

In order to get an airport identity badge for an airport pilot’s position, a detailed history is required.  This includes a work history and criminal history records.

The background check is 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.

The FAA recognizes particular disqualifying crimes for airport certification: unlawful possession or use of explosives or a weapon, interference with aircraft navigation, terroristic acts, treason, aggravated assault, sexual offenses, armed robbery, distribution of a controlled substance, and felony arson.

In order to be successful in their pursuit of being a pilot, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background.  Lying about their conviction will prevent them from becoming a pilot.

They are already working with the often negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

There are many success stories, as the Guide to Being Employed, reveals, showing how being honest, having a goal, commitment, dedication, and perseverance can assist felons in achieving their dream.

There are re-entry programs, such as drug treatment, and educational opportunities for felons who need them.

Having their felony expunged can give felons the chance they need to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a pilot.

When a felon has his record expunged, they can honestly state on any job application, including for receiving an airport badge, that they have not been convicted of a crime.

For employers, there is a Work Opportunity Tax Credit for hiring a felon.

Supporting a Felon in Becoming a Pilot

For families of felons wanting to pursue a dream of becoming a pilot, encourage your loved one and support their efforts to live an honest life, change their lifestyle, and keep their dreams alive.

Your family member is worth making the effort for, if they are sincere in their desire to become a pilot.

This will provide them the chance to show that they are hard-working, dependable, and responsible.

Help them realize their ambition no matter how difficult the road might be.

What do you think about this blog post?  Are you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a pilot with a felony?  What was that like for them, and how did they achieve success?  Please tell us in the comments below.

One response to “Can a Felon Become a Pilot?”

  1. Dave McConeghey says:

    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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