Measuring tape: why pilots have height requirements

Why do pilots have height requirements?

Piloting an aircraft is a demanding job that requires a specific set of skills, training, and physical attributes. One aspect of these physical attributes that often raises questions is the height requirement.

Many aspiring pilots wonder if their height might prevent them from achieving their dreams. From the popularity of these Google searches, my personal conversations with aspiring aviators, and throughout pilot recruitment days, worries about height seem to crop up surprisingly regularly.

Firstly, there is some good news for aspiring commercial pilots. Unlike other attributes, such as colour blindness or certain mental health issues, height rarely prevents anybody from being a pilot.

So what’s the deal? This article will shed light on the height requirements in aviation for both UK and American readers, and will explain what, and why, height requirements exist.

Is there a height requirement to be a Commercial Pilot?

In both the UK and the US, there isn’t a strict height “limit” to be a commercial pilot. There are certain height ranges that are recommended, but as long as pilots can pass a functional fit test in a cockpit mockup, heights outside these ranges are typically allowed. 

I have personally flown with pilots as tall as 6’4”, and as short as 5’0” and I’m sure there are commercial pilots who fall further outside these ranges.

  • In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) doesn’t set explicit height requirements. Instead, they emphasise the ability to reach and operate all controls effectively. Generally, heights between 5’2″ (1.57 m) and 6’3″ (1.91 m) are seen as suitable for most commercial aircraft.
  • In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has similar guidelines. They don’t have specific height requirements, but do stress the importance of being able to operate the aircraft safely — highlighting that this may be difficult for pilots under 5’4”. The FAA also allows functional tests, and occasionally places license restrictions on pilots unable to operate certain types of aircraft, if appropriate.
US airforce globe master with one of the largest cockpits

Pilot Height Requirements: Military Vs Commercial

Part of the reason aspiring airline pilots don’t have too much to worry about is aircraft design specifications, applicable to commercial aircraft:

A pilot who is between 5ft 2 in (1.57 m) to 6ft 3 in (1.91m) tall shall have easy access to all the aircraft’s controls in the cockpit


As a highly regulated industry, both EASA and the FAA (where the two dominant commercial aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing are located) mandate that aircraft cockpits should accommodate the majority of the population.

With wide fuselages to accommodate passengers and freight, alongside sedate aircraft performance (no ejector seats or aircraft parachutes required here!) commercial aircraft cockpits have space to accommodate pilots of all sizes. Correct seating positions to ensure datum eye reference points — something we will discuss later in the article — are achieved via adjustable rudder pedals, armrests and 3-axis moving seats.

In contrast, Military pilots often have a narrower height range, although waivers are still possible. For example, the U.S. Air Force, has more stringent minimum height requirements for some of its pilots, generally requiring a minimum height of 5’4″ (1.63 m), but permits larger heights up to 6’5″ (1.96 m).

Why the difference? Well, military aircraft are designed around combat capabilities and expected mission profiles — commercial design specifications do not apply. With a considerable variation in aircraft performance, capabilities, and cockpit sizes, height requirements can differ significantly by aircraft type.

This means that some aircraft may rule out pilots that fall out of a typical height range, but other military aircraft will be fine. So for aspiring military aviators — extra short or extra tall — don’t worry, most airforces will be able to find an aircraft type that can accommodate!

For pilot and aircrew positions, height specifications vary by aircraft, and most applicants can successfully pursue a career in aviation with the U.S. Air Force. Applicants who are significantly taller or shorter than average may require special screening to ensure they can safely perform operational duties. Applicants of all heights are encouraged to apply.

US Airforce

Why Are There Height Requirements to Be a Pilot?

Height requirements for both military and commercial pilots are in place primarily for safety reasons. Here’s why:

Cockpit Ergonomics

  • Aircraft cockpits are designed with specific dimensions — and for good reason! Pilots not only need to be able to reach all instruments and controls comfortably, but certain certifications rely on something known as the designs “eye reference point”.
  • Essentially, tasks ranging from parking the aircraft, to safely performing an automatic landing, are all certified upon the operating pilot having the correct field of vision.
  • This is ensured by pilots having the correct seating position, lining their eyesight up with the eye reference point, marked within the cockpit.
Narrow military training aircraft cockpit with stricter pilot height restriction
Tall and short model heights

Ejection Seats

  • Fitted in some military aircraft, the ejection seat mechanism is designed for a certain range of height and weight, to safely propel pilots out of the cockpit during extreme emergencies.
  • Ejector seats are designed for extreme scenarios, and a successful ejection still places massive stress on a pilot’s body.
  • Those outside of the narrow range of height and weights might face increased risks during an emergency ejection.

G-Force Tolerance And Confined Cockpits

  • It was previously thought that height can influence how the body tolerates G-forces — with shorter pilots deemed better at dealing with G-force effects.
  • In addition, initial jet aircraft were designed before cockpit ergonomics really took off, with pilots crammed into tiny cockpits, almost as an afterthought! Have you seen some early military jets?
  • In combination, this meant that airforces typically had strict maximum height limits. However, more recent studies have shown g-force affects to be inconclusive, and most military aircraft now have larger, more ergonomic cockpits. So military height requirements have become less restrictive.


While height is one of many factors in becoming a pilot, there is a very lenient stance on height for most pilots.

In the realm of commercial aviation, the design of modern cockpits and adjustable equipment caters to a broader range of pilot heights. This ensures that height rarely becomes a barrier to entry.

For aspiring military pilot’s, height is more of a concern on certain aircraft types, primarily due to the safety considerations associated with ejector seats.

Tall and short model heights
  • The European regulator EASA, the UK’s CAA and the US’s FAA all emphasise the ability to operate aircraft safely over any strict height requirements.
  • Pilots are permitted to apply to virtually all airlines regardless of the height ranges specified, with functional fitness tests determining whether they can safely operate the aircraft type.
  • For those pursuing a military aviation career, aircraft-specific height ranges may apply. However, pilots of all heights are encouraged to apply, and will be streamed to aircraft suitable after further testing.

Finally, while height shouldn’t be a barrier to entry, it’s always a good practice for potential pilots to consult relevant aviation schools or agencies to get a clear understanding of the specific requirements before applying.

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