I have heard or read many CFI’s say that older students take more time to learn to fly. I know that as we age our brains in general have more difficulty learning new things, but what part of flying is it that usually takes longer for older students? Do they have more trouble learning things like procedure, regulations and aerodynamics or is it the physical coordination of controlling the plane, judging distances, etc. that takes longer? Maybe it’s the multitasking involved?

  • $\begingroup$ "All CFI’s say" - that's a pretty bold assertion $\endgroup$
    – Steve Kuo
    Nov 21, 2017 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveKuo Ok, All CFI's that I've ever heard or read that have made any observations on the matter. I'll make it less of an absolute. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Nov 21, 2017 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ Slightly related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Nov 21, 2017 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ Depends upon what you mean by ‘old’. The average student undergoing flight training is in their 30s. Everyone is also different and, since there is such a diversity of subject to learn in flight school students can have difficulty with lots of different subjects. Something that comes naturally to one student will be difficult to another one to learn. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2017 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps it's a simple matter of priorities? When you're younger, you can basically devote 100% of your free time to flying lessons. When older, you probably have family responsibilities and other distractions. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Nov 21, 2017 at 19:09

1 Answer 1


This question is more related to human aging and learning than it is to aviation. When people age, there is a toll on several parts of body and the acquired skills may not stay as sharp as they used to be.

As we age, learning new things become harder, not because we are getting stupid, but because learning new things is intrinsically hard. Almost all people get into a profession in their early 20s, but it becomes harder to change their career later in life. The reason is that they have more things on their mind to worry about as opposed to the early phases of life.

One does not stay young forever. And you cannot point out one or two or ten things which makes learning new things hard. It is a combination of many factors. That being said, becoming a pilot in your 50s or 60s is harder than in your 20s or 30s, but there are many old pilots who can do and have done things which younger ones cannot do. Example: Captain Sully

You can ask why most athletes are in their 20s, not in their 60s, and will get a similar answer.

  • $\begingroup$ Seems like everyone has taken my question as some sort of "old vs. young" thing. Totally not what I intended. It's obviously a fairly solid fact that younger flight students progress more quickly through training than older ones. I could dig up a few quotes from CFI's right here on av.se and numerous from online. It's really not a shocking concept. I'm just trying to get an idea from CFI's if there seems to be a particular area that takes people longer. The example of Sully is really not relevant, as he had been flying for 40-some years when the incident occurred. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Nov 21, 2017 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ Finished flight school 2 years ago. Youngest 16, oldest 75. The older guy did absolutely fine and being calm and a good observer turned out a good glider pilot. Still, as one would expect, it took him a lot more that the guys in their 20s to learn all the mnemonic stuff and to become good at the manouvers where physical "feel" is important (sideslips and co.) $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2017 at 8:05

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