How to Become a Pilot in Canada

Rocky mountains under the wing
Mountain Flying in British Columbia

Becoming a pilot may seem like an intimidating goal, but with a little guidance from those who have done it before, you’ll have the tools to make your aviation training and career path progress as smoothly as possible. There is a very real pilot shortage at this point in time. It may not be as severe in Canada as it is in Asia and the Middle East, but it’s still very noticeable. It’s true that the shortage is for experienced pilots, but the effects trickle down, with younger pilots being hired and upgraded to captain at a more rapid pace in order to fill the gaps. For obvious reasons, this is a good thing for you, and we’re here to help you get started with how to become a pilot in Canada.

Decide How to Fund Training

Pilot training is expensive, we all know that. Canada, however, is one of the most affordable nations for pilot training. This doesn’t make it cheap, but it could be much worse. There’s a reason you’ll find pilots from all over the globe at most flight training schools in Canada.

One option is to pay as you go (modular) while working a part-time job or even a full-time job if you can manage both. This will ensure you have no debt at the end of your training, but your entire life will consist of work and training. The other problem with this is that it will take you longer to finish your training. If the goal is to become a career pilot, getting there sooner than later is ideal, as you’ll want to be upgrading your seat/aircraft type and earning bigger paycheques sooner than later.

A better option is to take out a loan of sufficient size to cover both flight training and living expenses (rent + food). This way you can commit to training full time (integrated) and be done in as little as a year. Expect CAD $50,000 – $60,000 for Private/Commercial license and Multi-Engine Rating/Instrument Rating. The sooner you can start working as a pilot, the sooner you can begin to pay the loan back.

Cessna cockpit with night bokeh

Choose a Flight School

If you’re choosing the loan option as we’ve recommended, your selection of flight schools is a lot more narrow. The bank you obtain your loan from will have a list of accredited flight schools that they deem worthy. That being said, the flight schools on that list should be of high quality. If you are paying as you go, you can pretty much select from any flying club or flight school out there that offer the licenses you need.

Cessna over downtown Vancouver
Vancouver from above. Instagram – brunoeigenheer

Visit each school’s website and if you are able to, visit them in person too. Check out the aircraft types and condition, as well as the character of those doing the training and those in charge. There are some cash hungry flight school’s out there who have no problem waiting until you’re locked in and then add all sorts of costs to your training (more about that in a later post). Check online forums such as AvCanada and Pprune for posts from current and past students to see what they have to say about the flight schools.

Location is very important to consider as well. Do you want to live in -25 degree celsius weather for a good portion of the year in Winnipeg? Vancouver has a much nicer climate, but often has low ceilings and fog that could inhibit your flying. You may want to live in a bustling city like Toronto, but the cost of training there is much higher. This will depend on what you like personally, but should not be overlooked.

Flight training at sunset

Work Hard

Settle in to your new life and hit the books. If you’re becoming a pilot for the right reasons then you’re probably genuinely interested in the subjects. This being said, some topics are very dry (that’s you, CARs) and you just need to push through. Your life will now consist of reading and flying and hey… that’s not so bad.

Fly in the morning, have lunch/study, fly in the evening (sunset permitting), and keep a balance of social life/studying in the evenings. You’ll have exams for PSTAR almost right away, then private, commercial, and instrument. Stay on top of the material and don’t wait to cram last minute. Your in-flight tests will have prerequisite hour requirements so continue flying daily to keep training moving as seamlessly as possible. Once you’re going solo, take long cross-country flights. This will build valuable experience and time. Bring other pilots with you and explore. These are likely the only days where you’ll get to decide where you’re landing!

Cockpit view over a lake


Try your best to get to know people in the industry. Walk into some operator’s offices around the airport and talk to people. This could open doors for your first job if they like the cut of your jib. Keep in touch with other pilots who are training. Throughout your career you will find yourself giving each other valuable advice, news within your respective companies and job opportunities in Canada and abroad. Throughout your training, keep on top of job boards so you know the requirements and what to expect when you’re finished training. Don’t get an ego at this point, because you don’t know what you don’t know yet. You will learn a lot more when you start operating commercially, and continue learning throughout your career.

Seek Employment

DC3 with Canadian Air Force in background
DC3 First Job. Instagtam – nico_dupre

This step is a lot easier currently than it has been in the past. Use your contacts along with the job boards below to find your first job as a commercial pilot. It will possibly take some persistence, and maybe even a stroke of luck, but you will succeed; especially the way the industry is today. With pilots needing less experience to move up to bigger aircraft, the gaps are there for you to fill with your low time.

Helpful sites in Canada for finding jobs:

Some people grow to enjoy the North or the 703 operations and stay for a long time. You can upgrade to captain fairly quickly there and make some good money to start paying those loans back. Others seek a life back in a big city or close to home, with more stable hours and working conditions – to each their own. In today’s industry, once you’ve gotten about 1,000 hours total time (which you will likely achieve in a single year at your first job), you can start applying to regional carriers.

There are many different paths to take after you’ve built some time at your first job. This post is only intended to give you the initial steps on how to become a pilot in Canada.

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