Different Types of Pilot Licenses
You want to become a pilot, but did you know the FAA issues different types of pilot licenses depending on classifications and various regulations? Depending on your pilot license and ratings, you will be licensed to fly different types of aircraft or even be able to fly for commercial airlines as a paid professional certified pilot. Whether you’re an international student or American student, you just have to decide which pilot license meets your needs.
What is a Pilot License?
A pilot’s license or pilot certificate, in simple terms, allows a person to be able to fly an aircraft just as a driver’s license allows you to drive a vehicle under specific rules and limitations depending on the category. The FAA is the governing institution that establishes and enforces all aviation rules and regulations for all pilots and other aviation careers and industries.
There are several main classifications for FAA pilot licenses, certificates, and ratings. The most common are Private Pilot (PPL), Instrument Rating (IR), Commercial Pilot (CPL), Airline Transport Pilot (ATP), Multi-Crew Pilot (MCP), Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). The Multi-Engine Rating (ME) is also common, and there are popular certificates such as Sport and Recreational.
Private Pilot License
A Private Pilot License is the most frequently sought license initially. Before you can begin pursuing your PPL, you must begin as a student pilot.
Student Pilot Certificate – A student pilot certificate authorizes you to take flight instruction from a licensed instructor. This is the first step toward earning an actual PPL. To obtain a Student Pilot Certificate, which allows you to pursue flight training, you must meet some basic eligibility requirements. First of all, you must be 16 years of age. (If you intend to pilot a glider or balloon, you only have to be 14 years old.) Also, you must be able to proficiently read, speak, and understand English. This is because English has been designated as the universal language in aviation.
Next, you have to complete an application through Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA). Submit this to any Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), an FAA pilot examiner, an airman certification representative at a part 141 flight school (such as Epic Flight Academy), or a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). Your application will be processed and submitted with the required documents to the Airmen Certification Branch (ACB). Once it has been reviewed by ACB, you can expect to receive your student pilot certificate by mail in approximately three weeks.
Becoming a student pilot also requires you to obtain a medical certificate from an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). Find an examiner near you to schedule your medical exam.
When you have your student pilot certificate and medical certificate, you are ready to begin training.
Private Pilot License – This is the most common type of pilot license issued by the FAA. In order to obtain your FAA private pilot license you must log a minimum of 35 hours of varied flight time, pass the written tests, pass the FAA check-ride, and hold a valid drivers license.
An FAA PPL certificate allows you to be able to fly in most single-engine airplanes and aircraft, although some additional instrument rating tests may be required for more advanced aircraft or if you wish to be rated to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). With a PPL, you will be authorized to fly alone or with other people, but you may not receive compensation for flying or taking people on flights.
Commercial Pilot License
The commercial pilot license (CPL) allows you to be paid for your pilot services. In order to receive your CPL, you will need to meet the following FAA CPL certificate requirements.
You must be at least 18 years old, speak and understand English proficiently, pass all exams, and log a minimum of 250 hours of varied flight time. To work as a CPL, you will need a 2nd Class Medical Certificate. You will need your Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) to write an endorsement stating you are a sound pilot and have passed your ground school courses. You must also pass your check-ride with an FAA instructor, have a current medical license, and, if you want to fly more advanced aircraft, you will need to pass a multi-engine check ride. Please note that in order to fly in inclement weather you will need to take and pass an instrument rating (IFR) course.
Airline Transport Pilot License
The Airline Transport Pilot License is what you need to fly for the major airlines. If you are interested in becoming a commercial airline pilot in the United States or becoming a commercial airline pilot outside of the United States, you will need to complete the first two types of pilot licenses (PPL and CPL) before you can earn your Airline Transport Pilot certification (ATP). To earn your commercial airline transport pilot license, you will need to meet the following FAA ATP requirements. You must be at least 23 years old, have a valid drivers license, pass all exams and tests, pass the flight exams, log more than 1500 hours of flight time (in the U.S.) in various weather conditions and in numerous types of aircraft, pass the IR courses and ground school courses, pass all medical and eye exams, and be of sound body and mind.
Commercial Multi-Engine Land
You can add the multi-engine rating to your PPL or CPL. With the CMEL certification, you will be authorized to fly twin-engine aircraft. To earn this rating, you will be required to fly specific maneuvers in a twin-engine aircraft. We conduct your training in a multi-engine Piper Seminole training aircraft, which is defined as “complex” because it has a constant speed propeller and retractable landing gear. The course covers topics such as slow flight, stalls, and VMC demos, focusing on proper procedures for complex emergency situations.
Certified Flight Instructor
A Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) certificate allows you to train aspiring and student pilots in the intricacies of flying different types of aircraft and in different weather conditions. As a CFI, you can seek employment at an educational institution, at an FAA certified flight school, or, you can even start your own flight school. In order to become a CFI you will need to meet the following FAA CFI requirements. You must be at least 18 years old, hold an active commercial pilot license (CPL), complete all additional CFI training coursework, pass all additional written CFI exams, complete an instrument (IR) course, pass the additional medical and eye exams, obtain an endorsement from your CFI stating that you have completed learning the basics and fundamentals of how to be a certified flight instructor, log more than 15 hours of Pilot In Command (PIC) time while supervising a student pilot, and be able to demonstrate your ability to provide in-depth instruction on spins, spin entry, and spin recovery.
Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument
A CFII allows you to teach student pilots who are attempting to earn their Instrument Rating. You will also be authorized to endorse students who are taking IR training to take their FAA oral and practical exams. To receive CFII training, you must already possess your CPL and instrument rating. You will have to pass the instrument flight instructor knowledge test and checkride.
Your MEI certifies you to teach students who want to become certified to fly multi-engine aircraft. You will also be authorized to endorse multi-engine candidates to take their FAA oral and practical exams. Your MEI training requires you to have already earned your CPL and take 10 hours of ground school and 10 hours of flight training. As with all ratings, you will have to pass a check ride.
Other Licenses and Certificates:
Recreational Pilot License – A recreational pilot is authorized to fly as pilot in command (PIC) in a light, single-engine aircraft without supervision. You must be at least 17 years old to obtain this license. You are required to pass a written knowledge test and a practical (flight) test. A recreational pilot certificate requires 30 hours of training hours compared to the 40 hours required for the private. Recreational pilots receive fewer hours of cross-country navigation training. This is because you must always fly within 50 nautical miles of your home base (unless you earn additional endorsements). Recreational pilots are not required to learn to fly in airspace requiring communications with air traffic control (ATC). Recreational pilots are not required to receive training to fly at night, nor are they required to train with reference to instruments. These limitations are strictly enforced for recreational pilots.
Sport Pilot Certificate – A sport pilot license certificate authorizes you to fly a light sport aircraft without an FAA medical certificate. You are required to have at least 20 hours of flight experience and pass a relatively simple test. The Sport Pilot is allowed to fly light-sport aircraft without an FAA medical certificate. However, a sport pilot must hold at least a current and valid U.S. driver’s license. This certificate can be earned in as little as two weeks. You must be at least 17 years old and proficient in English.
Master Pilot Award
Safety first! The Master Pilot Award is something of a lifetime achievement. As you contemplate the different types of pilot licenses and decide what your flight goals might be, we thought you would enjoy learning about the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, a special award given to pilots who have achieved 50 consecutive years of safe flying. This award was established in honor of the Wright Brothers to recognize all pilots who have safely flown aircraft for 50 straight years. In fact, one of our flight instructors, Hal Maskiell, has received this award. We wish you many years of safe flying.
Approximately how long does it take to earn all of these licenses and ratings?
Training time varies among individuals and flight schools. Factors such as weather, aircraft maintenance, and student aptitude all play a role. We have been training commercial airline pilots at Epic Flight Academy since 1999 and can provide reasonable time estimates for training based on our 20+ years of experience. Our accelerated program is designed to take student pilots with no experience through all levels of training in just 13.5 months. However, we have had many students complete much more quickly, some in as few as 7 months. Our students typically complete their ratings in the following time frames:
- PPL – 3 months
- IR – 2 months
- CMEL – 2 months
- CSEL – 2 months
- CFI – 2 months
- CFII – 3 weeks
- CMEL Add On – 2 weeks
- CSEL Add On – 2 weeks
- MEI Add On – 3 weeks
What are the next steps to become a pilot?
If you are interested in attending flight school to earn a private pilot license, commercial pilot license, airline transport pilot license, or to become a CFI, please contact Epic Flight Academy today for more information. We have trained thousands of domestic and international pilots and would love to welcome you!