Here's What it Takes to Get (and Keep) a Pilot's License
Following a recent incident in which actor Harrison Ford had a close call with a commercial aircraft during a landing, critics began questioning what it takes to successfully acquire and keep a private pilot's license.
Ford has been involved in incidents in the past, though many experts say he is a skilled aviator.
Travel + Leisure spoke with Frank Delia, vice president of the Academy of Aviation pilot school in New York, to discuss the rules and regulations.
The FAA outlines a certain number of requirements to be met in order to earn a private pilot’s license, and Delia described them as both quantitative and qualitative. Some of the quantitative hurdles include spending a minimum number of 40 hours flying, completing a certain number of hours at night, and a certain number of landings.
Instructors also measure a student’s general competency, such as how well they complete these tasks and how accurately they can maintain a certain altitude.
Private pilots also need to maintain a medical certificate. There are about 6,000 FAA-authorized aviation medical examiners in the U.S. Pilots under the age of 40 are tested every five years and pilots over 40 (or with outstanding medical conditions) are tested every two years. Ford was last tested in 2015 and is due for another examination later this year.
“A private pilot needs to maintain at least a third class medical—you can’t just go to any doctor to do this,” Delia said. “There are certain disqualifying factors, and a lot of that has to do with age.”
Critics have been quick to point to the actor’s age, but Ford had maintained his third class medical standard.
The FAA is investigating the landing, with some reports claiming Ford made mistakes over radio communication. The details of the situation remain murky, however, and clarity will only come following the release of the investigation.
As Delia pointed out, only Ford and those he communicated with during the landing will be able to place responsibility: “If I’m not in the cockpit, I don’t know.”