Learn to Fly

A step-by-step guide to touch the sky

How to become a pilot in Canada

As experienced bush pilots we know there’s a lot more to flying than just having fun and the world of aviation can be a dizzying whirlwind of information. We’re here to make your aviation adventure as straightforward as possible so that your career or hobby can have a smooth take-off – although we can’t guarantee you won’t have a few bumpy landings along the way. It’s all part of the process. : )

Below is a rough overview for what you need to know about becoming a pilot in Canada. The first part of the guide is an explanation of the various licenses/permits/endorsements and certificates that you can receive. The second half of the guide is a step by step approach to take you from PPL right up to CPL.

Flying for fun vs Career:

You’re interested in becoming a pilot but you aren’t sure what the correct steps to take are to get your license. The first thing to do is decide whether you are interested in flying for fun or if you would like a career in aviation. If you’re just looking for a very cool hobby, you don’t need to go any further than the Recreational Permit (Rec.) or the Private Pilots License (PPL).

In Canada in order to make money as a pilot you must at least have your Commercial Pilots License (CPL). If you want to be employable as a pilot, you will need to look further than just the CPL – this is where the ratings and endorsements and finally the Air Transport Pilots License (ATPL) come in.

Part 1: Definitions


These are the exams and permits that you must acquire before you can go solo as part of your training. Keep in mind that you can begin your training before completing these tests – we would even recommend to have a few flight lessons under your belt before applying for the PSTAR and ROC-A, as the theory will make more sense.


You will need to pass a Medical Exam in order to hold a Pilot’s License. More information can be found below.


All students most pass a Pre-Solo Test of Air Regulations in order to obtain their Student Pilots Permit.


Radio exam – students must complete a radio proficiency exam in order to be allowed to go solo.


In order to be able to fly a plane solo – i.e without an instructor with you in the plane – you will need to obtain a student pilot permit.


In Canada there are 4 types of Pilot’s licenses that you can hold (although one is technically a permit and not a license – a little like your Drivers learner permit). At Airhart Aviation we can train our students to CPL level.


The recreational permit is the most basic level for pilots in Canada – this allows you to fly with your friends and family for fun! Only valid within Canada.


The Private Pilots License is similar to the Rec permit except that it is a full license and valid all over the world!


The Commercial Pilots License – fly for fun and for a living, all over the world. This one is valid for the big jets, just not as Captain. 


Air Transport Pilots License. This one is the big leagues and comes with a whole tonne of a responsibility. With this you can fly with airliners as Captain.


If you hold a License (either Private, Commercial or ATPL) there are features that you can add on. These are called Ratings of Endorsements, and they require additional training and sometimes another written or practical (flight) test. Below are some of the most in demand endorsements:

Multi-Engine Rating

Allows you to fly an airplane with more than one engine. Can be done alongside your Private or Commercial License or completed separately.

Instrument Rating

Allows you to fly in Clouds and other adverse weather conditions, using just the instruments. Can be done alongside your Commercial training or obtained separately.

Float Rating

Allows you to take-off and land an airplane that is equipped with floats (on water). 

Instructor Rating

Allows you to teach other people how to fly. Can not be applied to a Private License. 

Part 2: The Process

Describing the process can be tricky, because there is no set order in which everything needs to be accomplished. We do, however, have recommendations. Below is the process for the PPL – if you already have your PPL, skip to our recommendations for CPL.

The first thing you will want to look into is your medical.


You will need to pass a medical exam. Although it’s not necessary to get one before you begin your training, we strongly recommend that you get it done as early as possible. First of all, you want to know before you spend a lot of money and time on flight training if there is any medical reason that you can’t fly. Second, it can take time to process your medical – and you need your medical cert to go solo. You don’t want to have to pause your training while you wait! For the PPL you will only need a Class 3 Medical. For the CPL you will need a Class 1.

  • Class 1 Medical Certificate – Required for the CPL is the highest level of certificate allowing for maximum privileges.
  • Class 3 Medical certificate – Allows you the privileges of a private pilot, recreational pilot, or student pilot.

The cost of the medical exam, which will not be covered by your BC medical or other provincial healthcare, will usually be around $175 to $200, depending on the medical examiner.

The medical exam has to be performed by a doctor qualified by Transport Canada to carry out Pilot Medical Exams.

You can find a list of doctor’s in your are on the Transport Canada web site. If you are outside Canada, you can use this search tool to find available doctors near you too!


Training is broken up into 2 portions – theory and practical. For the PPL it does not matter which order you do them in, but we do highly recommend that you get a basic grounding in the theory before you begin your flight training. This can greatly reduce the number of hours you spend training and, as a result, the cost. 


In order to be able to fly a plane solo (i.e) without an instructor, just you in the plane – you will need to obtain a student pilot permit (SPP). You can begin both your ground school and flight training before this, but we recommend getting your SPP as early as possible. You will need to pass a PSTAR and ROC-A exam.

The PSTAR is a written exam on aviation regulations and meteorology. The fee for the PSTAR exam is $26.00, requires a 90% pass rate and consists of a multiple choice exam of 50 questions.
The ROC-A is a radio proficiency test. It has a fee of $20, requires a 70% pass rate and consists of a multiple choice exam of 25 questions.

Both of these exams can be completed with Airhart and we will provide guidance on completing these exams. Once these exams are completed, along with your medical, you can apply for your Student Pilot Permit (which includes a fee of $80).

Flight Training

You will need to log a minimum of 45 hours of flight training under the direction of a licensed Fight Instructor. There’s more to it then that though – within the minimum 45 hours, there’s also specific training requirements. Of the 45 hours – a minimum of 12 must be solo and a minimum of 17 must be dual. As part of your dual instruction you must do 3 hours of cross country, and 5 hours of instrument time. Your solo hours must also include 5 cross country hours, including a 150 nautical miles cross country trip.

Dual Flight Time Total: 17
Dual Cross Country 3
Dual Instrument Time5
Solo Hours Total: 12
Solo Cross Country5
150 nm Solo Cross country/

The rest of your 45 hour minimum requirements will be made up of hour building or additional training as required.

We recommend that you try to schedule flying lessons at least once per week, preferably twice – even better if you can do 3-4. Like with anything, consistency is key to success. Any less than this and most students find that they have to spend part of each lesson re-capping something you might have forgotten from your last lesson. Which of course means more hours and more money.

Ground School

Airhart does not as of yet have a dedicated ground school. You can instead complete your ground school online at your own pace. Other schools will have in-class ground school that you attend on a weekly basis. We recommend that you get started on your ground school before you start training, but the theory and practical are best done along side each other, as your level of understanding with each comes hand in hand – i.e. experience in the airplane helps the theory make more sense, and ground school helps make the lessons in the airplane more valuable. Ground school can be completed either with pilottraining.ca or hangaaar.com.

Transport Canada Written Test

At PPL level, this can be completed before or after your flight test. We recommend that students complete their written before their flight test. Airhart will arrange your flight test for you once your Instructor is satisfied with your progress.

Transport Canada Practical Flight Test

The Flight Test includes an oral exam and a flight test with a Transport Canada examiner. Again, there is no particular order that this needs to be done in, as long as both the written and practical are completed within 12 months of each other. 

Obtain a PPL from Transport Canada. 

Thats it – once you have all of the above steps completed, you can apply for your Private Pilots License!



The CPL process is very similar to the PPL – you just need more in depth knowledge and are held to a higher standard in your training. There’s also a couple of restrictions that aren’t applied to the PPL:

  1. You will need to upgrade your medical to Class 1 medical.
  2. Your written test must be completed before your Flight test.

The hours and training requirements are also a lot more involved: You will need a minimum of 200 hours flight time. Like the PPL, there are requirements within these requirements. Your PPL hours will count towards the 200.

You need a minimum of 35 hours dual instruction, including 5 cross-country, 5 night, and 20 instrument time. A maximum 10 hours of the 20 hours may be conducted on an approved aeroplane simulator or synthetic flight training device.

100 hours must be as pilot-in-command. 30 of your solo hours must be conducted under the supervision of a flight instructor and also include 20 hours cross-country and 5 hours of night flying, including a minimum of 10 circuits, take-offs and landings. Included in your cross-country time is the 300 nautical mile cross country, with 3 landings at points other than the departure point.

Dual Flight Time Total: 35
Dual Cross Country 5
Dual Night5
Dual Instrument Time20
Pilot in Command100
Solo Flight Time:30
– Solo cross-country (incl. 300nm)20
– Solo night5


This is the highest level of Aircraft Pilot Certificate that allows you to act as pilot-in-command on scheduled air carriers. To get an Airline Transport Pilot License, you must hold a class 1 medical certificate. Airhart Aviation does not offer ATPL training.