What, if any, requirements are there to maintain a private pilot certificate? For example:

  • Do I have to renew my certificate after a period of time? E.g. annually, 5 years, 10 years
  • Do I have to receive a minimum number of continued training hours?
  • Do I have to fly a minimum number of hours?

For instance, say I had enough money/time to go out and start the process of getting a private pilot certificate tomorrow, but I didn't plan to make use of it in the foreseeable future, would it cost me more in time and money than if I waited until I had plans to use it?

This is assuming I live and fly in the USA.

Related Question: How much, generally speaking, does it cost to learn how to fly?

Edit: Note I understand the safety aspect of not practicing and "getting rusty", for lack of a better term on my part, and that practically a certain amount of retraining would be required (though it seems that it is not legally required). The retraining is not mandated and I would need to retrain until I felt proficient enough technically and practically. Retraining would include familiarizing myself with the controls, instruments, radio, physics, etc.

My main concern was that (a) at some point I my certificate would expire and I would have to go through the process again, making the initial effort practically useless, (b) that I may have to pay a significant amount of money to keep the certificate from expiring, or (c) that I would have to commit to a certain number of hours (instructed or solo) per year to keep the certificate.

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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately I can't answer your question, because I'm not really familiar with the FARs yet, but please do not only consider the costs but also your own and other ones safety. $\endgroup$
    – Falk
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ I found that if I flew less than about once a month that my landings would suffer, my review of checklists was slower, and my recall of emergency procedures was slower. However my navigation skills and knowledge of systems did not deteriorate. (Posting as a comment instead of an answer because it's a personal anecdote.) $\endgroup$
    – Ed Griebel
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ Technical point, but it is not a license. It is a certificate. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 13:51

6 Answers 6


A license, once granted, is good forever (barring some enforcement action).

But, you need more than just a license to fly. To use your license, while flying solo, you also need a Medical Certificate (if required for the aircraft or flight rules) and a Current BFR (Biennial Flight Review).

Medical Certificates are good for 5 years until you're 40, then good for 2 years. Its a quick trip to an FAA approved doctor to examine you for any obvious medical conditions.

A BFR is a review with an instructor every two years to make sure you're still proficient and safe. If all goes well, it takes about 90 minutes.

However, if you want to fly passengers, you also need 3 landings within the previous 90 days.

If you want to fly passengers at night, you need 3 landings to a full stop, at night, within the previous 90 days.

If your 90-day landings have lapsed, you can quickly fix it with 3 trips around the pattern, taking off and landing each time (touch-n-go during the day, or full-stop at night). Then taxi back to the ramp, pick up your passengers, and go on your way.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd also add, these are the FAA legality minimums. In reality, you'd probably be dealing with an club or school, which will usually impose higher requirements for currency, per type, due mainly to insurance. These often are the 3 landings rules above every 30 days, per type. $\endgroup$
    – slookabill
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ BFR's are now just called Flight Review. A Flight Review requires a minimum one hour of flight training and one hour of ground review (61.56). $\endgroup$
    – Steve Kuo
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ This needs to be updated for BasicMed. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 13:44

The plain and simple answer to your updated question is that once you get your pilot license, it is good forever. You can go 50 years without flying, and the license itself is still valid.

When it comes time to fly again, depending on the type of airplane that you want to fly, you will probably also need a medical.

You will need to have a Flight Review within the previous two years that you will need to be able to pass (and you have to be proficient in order to pass it).

Most importantly, in order to be safe, you will want to fly enough to be proficient and comfortable in the airplane so that you don't hurt yourself, others, or the airplane. If you go a long time without flying, it can be almost like starting over.

In short, the additional training that you will have to do in order to become comfortable will end up costing you more in the long run, but you don't have to do anything to maintain just the license portion that you are asking about.


There is no simple answer to this question because it depends how much you fly and how much time you need to re-learn after not flying for a while.

A US private pilot's license never expires, but you do lose currency. The recurring training requirement is in 14 CFR 61.56: you must pass a biennial flight review (BFR) every two years, which consists of one hour ground school and one hour in the air with an instructor. If you do not have a current BFR (or have passed an equivalent test) then you can't fly as PIC.

Apart from the BFR there is no requirement at all to fly regularly, nor is there a requirement to fly a minimum number of hours. That's for solo day VFR only; there are minimums if you intend to carry passengers, fly at night or operate under IFR (see 14 CFR 61.57).

So in an extreme case, you could get your license and not fly for 20 years. Then you would 'just' need to pass a BFR to become legal again, with no need to do the theory and practical tests over again (a BFR is not a test). But you would need a valid third-class medical as well.

The costs are impossible to estimate because it depends on how long your break from flying is and how quick you are to pick it up again. If you don't fly for a year you might need a couple of hours with an instructor to be safe again, but if you don't fly for 5 years it's probably going to be much more time. This is definitely one case where 'safe' is a lot more important than 'legal'.

  • $\begingroup$ It looks like you forgot a 3rd Class Medical in your answer. Best-case, they last 5 years. So after not flying for 20 years, you need a new Medical and a new BFR. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ @abelenky Good point, I'll add that. Although if you wait twenty years the current proposed legislation to remove the 3rd class medical for VFR might actually have passed... $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @abelenky And you're obviously younger than I am: my medical only lasts 2 years :-) $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ I just passed 40.... I made sure to renew my medical at 39.9, so it will now last me until almost 45. :) $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 20:21

All of the people here are correct. Your license has no expiration date, but your medical does, depending on your age.

I personally went 15 years without flying. This year I got my medical set and needed some time with an instructor to get the feel back for the plane.

I am back in the saddle after 7 hours with an instructor and the biennial flight review itself.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you - this is a simple answer, but very informative. The amount of time it took you get comfortable again with an instructor is very helpful. How much flying did you do before the 15 years - were you amateur/commercial/military? $\endgroup$
    – tehDorf
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 22:08

To answer your question simply with emphasis on continued cost.

Your certificate never expires and never needs renewed. There is no minimum hours required for life.

The only cost involved to become current is to hire a flight instructor for a flight review(FR). This isn't required every 2 years, but you must have had a FR within 2 years of operating as a private pilot. There is no test and no examiner for a FR. The only requirement is one hour of flight and one hour of ground training with an instructor of your choosing.

The only other cost involved to operate as a private pilot would be a medical certificate from a designated medical examiner. A private pilot can fly as a sport pilot without a medical under certain limitations.

If you have the money/time now, and feel that it would more practical/better investment than waiting for costs to go up, than there is very little expense you would need to spend later.


The limits being flying a legal Part 103 ultralight plane then you would need no license or time in air or medical check to resume flying. I would advise you to take extreme caution as in any sport you lay off for a few years, you have a big surprise coming.. Use it or lose it ! The primery thought here is " Safety " yours & ours. So just generally follow the rules & the aviation community will breath a little easier .. RJ Muni


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