Flight Training Regulations

4 min read

MC900048057Flight training, as you might expect, is a highly regulated activity.  Flight instructors must be trained and certificated to a specific level.  Flight schools can fall under further regulatory requirements.  Most airport personnel having contact with students and the students themselves fall under regulations defined by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

As a budding student pilot, it is highly recommended that you check out a number of local flight schools and interview potential flight instructors.  Some areas of the country will have more options than others.  As you talk to flight school operators and instructors, some regulatory terms may be brought up in an effort to sway your decision.  Be forewarned and forearmed by understanding the basics.

Part 61 vs Part 141

When a flight school talks about training under Part 61 or being a Part 141 approved school, they are talking about the Federal regulations (14 CFR) under which they have the authority to train pilots.  Both sets of regulations define minimum requirements for pilot training and certification.

Of the entry level certificates, you can obtain a Recreational or a Private certificate under either set of regulations.  Part 141 does not provide provisions for the Sport pilot certificate, therefore, training for this certificate is done under Part 61.

WelcomeStudentAny FAA approved flight instructor, whether associated with a flight school or not, may train a student under Part 61 regulations.

Part 141 regulations are related to the structure and approval of flight schools.  Training under Part 141 regulations is only permitted by instructors associated with an FAA approved flight school.  In order to become approved, a flight school must meet certain requirements and submit each curriculum it wishes to have approved to the FAA for review.  Part 141 approved schools are subject to regular surveillance audits by the FAA and must meet minimum pass rates for the practical exams.

Both methods of flight training require the student to meet the same standard of performance in order to obtain a pilot certificate.  Where the methods differ is in rigidity and in some minimum requirements.

MM900354391Ultimately, the way a student learns and his or her long term goals may be the best criteria for deciding the regulations under which to train.  After making that determination, the student needs to find the best fit amongst the choices within the preferred regulations.  Both excellent and inferior flight instruction may be found under both sets of regulations.

The table below describes some of the potential advantages and disadvantages for the training regulations.  It may be noted that some criteria can be both, depending on the student’s training goals.

Regulation Potential Advantages Potential Disadvantages
Part 61
  • More flexible training environment.  This may allow the instructor to modify his or her program to meet the student’s desires and goals.
  • Better for part-time students pursuing flight training on a less regular schedule.
  • Student can interview and choose the flight instructor that fits best.
  • Less structured training environment.
  • May require more flight training hours.
  • May be fewer instructors to choose from at a given airport.
  • Truly “independent” flight instructors may be difficult to find for a new student unless they have a referral.
Part 141
  • More structured training environment.
  • Better for full time, career oriented students.
  • Good students may be able to complete certificates in fewer hours if the school’s curriculum has been approved for this.
  • May be too rigid for students not planning to pursue an aviation career.
  • Faster pace may overwhelm some students.
  • School may not always provide the student with a choice on instructor assignment.  That being said, better schools will allow an instructor change if there is a mismatch.
  • May not be available at local airport.


TSA’s Alien Flight Student Program

As a result of the attacks on 9/11/2001, the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA developed a set of regulations intended to decrease the chances of flight schools in the United States training would-be terrorists.

As a new flight student, these regulations will require you to prove your U.S. citizenship prior to starting flight training.  You can do this with an unexpired U.S. passport or the combination of your birth certificate and an approved government issued photo ID like your driver’s license.  As long as you are a U.S. citizen and can prove it, this regulation requires little additional from you.

“Alien” students must submit to finger printing and a background check prior to beginning flight training.  A good place for non-U.S. citizens to start is with a review of the TSA’s www.flightschoolcandidates.gov.  You can also find a clearer explanation on the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) website at www.aopa.org/tsa_rule/.


As a bird’s eye view, these regulations should get you through the selection of you flight training provider.  Once you get into your training, your instructor will have broader and more detailed regulations for you to learn.

If you would like to review more details on the regulations, you can check them out online.

Happy flight training!