Types of Pilot Licenses: From Part-Time Hobby to Lifetime Career and Everything In Between

Different Types of Pilot Licenses
There are different types of pilot licenses. Which ones will you earn?

You want to become a pilot, but did you know the FAA issues different types of pilot licenses? These vary by classifications, ratings, and various regulations. Depending on your pilot license and ratings, you will be licensed to fly different types of aircraft. Above all, you can even 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. Therefore, you need to think about your pilot goals.

What is a pilot license?

In simple terms, a pilot’s license, or pilot certificate, allows a person to be able to fly an aircraft. This is similar to a driver’s license allowing you to drive a vehicle. However, the FAA subjects pilots to specific rules and limitations depending on the category or rating. The FAA is the governing institution that establishes and enforces all aviation rules and regulations. This includes pilots and other aviation careers and industries.

What are the different types of pilot licenses?

There are several main classifications for FAA pilot licenses, certificates, and ratings. For instance, the most common are:

What are the steps to acquire a pilot license?

  1. Have a dream

    If you’ve been dreaming of becoming a pilot, you’re already on your way! We hear from aspiring pilots from all around the world every day. In fact, some people have nurtured this dream since childhood. Certainly every goal begins as a dream. Now it’s time to plan!
    Pilot Dreams and Goals

  2. Do the paperwork

    As with all dreams and goals, you’ll need to get your paperwork in order. Once you determine your eligibility, you’ll need to comply with FAA requirements. For instance, get your student pilot license so you can start training.
    Pilot License Paperwork

  3. Flight train

    As a result of acquiring your student pilot license, you can begin your flight training. You’ll take ground school classes and train one-on-one with a flight instructor. After that, you’ll be ready for your written exam and check ride for your PPL. After that, it’s up to you to earn other ratings and licenses.
    Flight Training

  4. Use your license

    Whatever you decide to do with your pilot license, opportunities abound. For example, your ATPL can put you inside the cockpit of a commercial airline aircraft. There are countless aviation careers available to licensed pilots. The more licenses and ratings you have, the more options you have.
    Pilot License and Ratings Career

What are the differences between pilot licenses?

List of Pilot Licenses

Student Pilot License

Student Pilot Wings

Student Pilot Requirements

A Student Pilot Certificate authorizes you to take flight instruction from a licensed instructor. This is the first step toward earning an actual license. The FAA requires you to meet basic eligibility requirements. Once met, you can obtain a Student Pilot Certificate, which allows you to begin flight training. First of all, you must be 16 years of age. (Note: If you intend to pilot a glider or balloon, you only have to be 14 years old.) Additionally, you must be proficient in English. English is the universal language in aviation, therefore you must have a good command of the language.

Applying to Become a Student Pilot

Next, you have to complete an application through Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA). Then, submit this to a proper authority. For instance, you can submit to any Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) or an FAA pilot examiner. You can also submit to an airman certification representative at a Part 141 flight school, such as Epic Flight Academy. You can even submit to a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). They will process your application and submit it with the required documents to the Airmen Certification Branch (ACB). Once it has been reviewed by ACB, expect to receive your student pilot certificate by mail in approximately three weeks.

Getting a Medical Certificate

Becoming a student pilot also requires you to obtain a medical certificate from an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). You can find an examiner near you to schedule your medical exam. Once you have your student pilot certificate and medical certificate, you are finally ready to begin training.

Private Pilot License

FAA private pilot license example

PPL Requirements

Private Pilot LicenseThis 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. You must also pass the written tests, pass the FAA check-ride, and hold a valid drivers license. With a PPL, you will be authorized to fly alone or with other people. However, you may not be paid for flying or taking people on flights.

Instrument Rating

Instrument Rated IFR

An FAA PPL certificate allows you to be able to fly most single-engine airplanes and aircraft. However, some additional instrument rating tests may be required for more advanced aircraft. This is certainly true if you wish to be rated to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Most pilots earn their Instrument Rating so they can safely and legally fly in low visibility conditions.

Commercial Pilot License

FAA commercial pilot license

Commercial Pilot Training Requirements

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.
  • Log a minimum of 250 hours of varied flight time.
  • To work as a CPL, you will need a 2nd Class Medical Certificate.

Commercial Pilot Employment Requirements

Thinking about working as a CPL? There are a few requirements you will first have to meet. For instance, to fly in inclement weather, you’ll need to take and pass an instrument rating (IFR) course. Basic requirements to work as a CPL include:

  • Your Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) must endorse you as a sound pilot.
  • You must have passed your ground school courses.
  • You must also pass your check-ride with an FAA instructor.
  • CPLs are required to have a current medical license.
  • If you want to fly more advanced aircraft, you will need to pass a multi-engine check ride.

Note: Epic can train you in these ratings for commercial pilots: Single-Engine and Multi-Engine.

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.

Airline Transport Pilot License

FAA airline transport pilot license

ATPL Requirements

Finally, the Airline Transport Pilot License is what you need to fly for the major airlines. To become a commercial airline pilot in the United States or elsewhere, you must complete the first two types of pilot licenses (PPL and CPL). After that, you can earn your Airline Transport Pilot certification (ATP). To earn your commercial ATPL and qualify for airline jobs, you will need to meet the following FAA requirements:

  • Be at least 23 years old.
  • Have a valid drivers license.
  • Pass all tests, exams and flight exams.
  • Log more than 1500 hours of flight time (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.

Certified Flight Instructor

FAA 1500 Hour Rule
In the U.S., the FAA requires commercial pilots to have logged 1,500 hours before they can fly for passenger airlines. For this reason, most domestic pilots become flight instructors. They can earn a living while logging the 1,500 hours they need to move up to the airlines.

Flight Instructor Requirements

A Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) certificate allows you to train student pilots in flying different types of aircraft and in different weather conditions. As a CFI, you can work at an educational institution, an FAA certified flight school, or, your own flight school. While working as an instructor, you will log hours toward the FAA requirement of 1500 hours to fly passenger service for the airlines. In order to become a CFI you will need to meet the following FAA CFI requirements.

  • The FAA requires you to be at least 18 years old and 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.
  • Demonstrate your ability to provide in-depth instruction on spins, spin entry, and spin recovery.

Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument

Next, you’ll want to earn your CFII. 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.

Multi-Engine Instructor

Your MEI certifies you to teach students who want to become certified to fly multi-engine aircraft. MEIs are authorized to endorse multi-engine candidates to take their FAA oral and practical exams. To take your MEI training, you must have already earned your CPL. Additionally, you must take 10 hours of ground school and 10 hours of flight training. As with all ratings, you are required to pass a checkride.

Check Flight School Eligibility!

How long does it take to earn these licenses and ratings?

Pilot License Rating Timeline

Training Times

Training time varies among individuals and flight schools. For instance, 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. Therefore, we can provide reasonable time estimates for training based on our 20+ years of experience. Specifically, our program takes USA student pilots with no experience through all levels of training in approximately 1 year. However, we have had many students complete much more quickly. In fact, some complete in as few as 7 months. International students require less training time. Our students typically complete their ratings in the following time frames:

  • PPL – 3 months
  • IR – 2 months
  • CMEL – 6 weeks
  • CSEL – 6 weeks
  • CFI – 2 months
  • CFII – 3 weeks
  • CMEL Add-On – 2 weeks
  • CSEL Add-On – 2 weeks
  • MEI Add-On – 3 weeks

Rather Watch the Video About Different Pilot License Types?

How much does it cost to earn a pilot license?

This depends on a number of factors, such as which license you want and where you train. For example, here in Florida the nice weather allows pilots to fly on most days, which can shorten the length of a training program. Additionally, the use of flight simulators can reduce the overall price. At Epic, the average cost for a domestic student going from zero training to airline pilot is around $70,000. However, because international students’ requirements are different, the average cost is less than $50,000. Do pilots earn enough to justify the cost of training? These cargo pilots think so…

UPS First Officer Pay
FedEx First Officer Pay

What about type ratings?

Another consideration regarding certification includes type ratings for small aircraft up to jets. The FAA and other regulating agencies determine pilot certifications to fly certain types of aircraft, such as a Boeing 747 or 777. Pilots are required to have additional training beyond their licenses for the reason that all aircraft are different. For example, after you earn your ATPL, Mesa Airlines may offer you a First Officer position. Mesa’s fleet includes the Bombardier CRJ200, CRJ700, CRJ900, and Embraer E175. Mesa, like most airlines, offers additional training to newly hired pilots who need to earn their type ratings. Local aviation authorities determine what aircraft require a type rating. Regardless of which airline you fly for, chances are you will need some type rating training.

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ Types of Pilot Licenses

Q: Do I need to have a college degree to be an airline pilot?

A: Although most airlines do not require a college degree, some do. Also, having a degree moves up your ranking in the selection process. However, the main requirement is your ATPL.

Q: How do I renew my pilot’s license?

A: Technically, a private pilot license never expires. Therefore, renewal is not required. However, you must maintain a current medical certificate. Additionally, if you are carrying passengers, you must log 3 takeoffs and landings within the last 90 days. You are responsible for meeting all currency requirements.

Q: How do I get a replacement license if I lost mine?

A: You can request a replacement certificate online directly from the FAA.

Q: Is there a way to look up pilot information?

A: Yes, The FAA has a site where you can search by name and certificate number.

Q: Do I need a radio license?

A: The FCC issues the Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RR), which is required by most larger airlines.

Q: Do I need a license to fly a drone?

A: Yes. To fly a drone under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule, you need a Remote Pilot Certificate. There is a small fee associated with this.

Q: License vs. certificate? Which is correct?

A: Although many people use the terms interchangeably, there is a distinction. A general rule of thumb is that a license has to be renewed, while a certificate does not. Furthermore, the FAA officially uses “license” for commercial space transportation. Aircraft pilots earn certificates and ratings.

Drone License Facts

Flying for Fun

Recreational License

Recreational pilots are authorized to fly as pilot in command (PIC) in a light, single-engine aircraft without supervision. The FAA requires you to be at least 17 years old to obtain this license. Additionally, they require you to pass a written knowledge test and a practical (flight) test. A recreational pilot certificate requires 30 hours of training hours. Furthermore, 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). Additionally, the FAA does not require recreational pilots to receive training to fly at night. Likewise, the FAA does not require them to take instrument training. The FAA strictly enforces these limitations for recreational pilots.

Sport Pilot Certificate

A sport pilot license certificate authorizes you to fly a light sport aircraft without an FAA medical certificate. The FAA requires sports to have at least 20 hours of flight experience. Additionally, they must pass a relatively simple test. The FAA allows the Sport Pilot 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. Most surprising, you can earn this certificate in as little as two weeks. To begin training, you must be at least 17 years old and proficient in English.

Safety matters!

Master Pilot Award

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, think safety! Learn about the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, and add this to your goals. The FAA presents this special award to pilots who have achieved 50 consecutive years of safe flying. The FAA established the Master Pilot Award in honor of the Wright Brothers. It recognizes all pilots who have safely flown aircraft for 50 straight years. In fact, the FAA presented this award to one of Epic’s flight instructors, Hal Maskiell. We wish you many years of safe flying!

What are the next steps to become a pilot?

Do you want to earn a private pilot license, commercial pilot license, or airline transport pilot license? If so, please contact Epic Flight Academy today for more information. We have trained thousands of domestic and international pilots from India to the UK to Brazil and 80+ other countries and would love to welcome you. In other words, it’s time to chase your dreams!

Pilot License Plates
Once you earn your pilot license, what will your car’s license plate say? BLUE SKY? FLY HI? WINGS? We see all sorts of pilot plates on the road and know without a doubt the driver would rather be flying!

35 thoughts on “Types of Pilot Licenses: From Part-Time Hobby to Lifetime Career and Everything In Between”

  1. Pingback: How Long Does It Take to Become a Pilot? – MojoGrip
  2. Hello. I am From Pakistan. How much time does it take to become from Zero to First Officer and What are the Stages. Please Guide me from start. Also tell me Is Food and Other Living Facilities also included in the Package?

    • Timeline and costs for training can be found here. We do not include food or housing. We do have housing available for international students, but that cost is separate from flight training.

  3. Hi,
    I’m wondering if it’s possible to work a part-time job while attending flight school. How many hours per week does it take to train (in the classroom and homework)? The license/rating timeline graphic was helpful, but I’m looking for more detail in terms of hours per week I would need to dedicate to achieve those timelines. Also, what are typical class schedules?

    • We would not recommend working while attending ground school, because you will need all your free time for studying. However, once that is complete, you should be able to work part-time around your flying/studying schedule.

    • There are several types of certificates and ratings issued by the FAA that are described in this article.

    • In general, there are 7: student, sport, recreational, private pilot (PPL), commercial pilot (CSEL, CMEL), airline transport pilot, and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI, CFII, MEI).

  4. Hy , IAM from Telangana I have been completed 10 class in 2020 and after 12 I want to become an commercial pilot because I was so much interested towards this job so please say me the fees to complete my study in this . Thank you for giving this much for us . It was really inspired us a lot.

  5. Am from india ,my passion is to become a pilot at any cause ,but now i am working as QC inspector in oil and gas, is it worth to get a private license or a commercial license for me.

  6. I have passed diploma in engineering want to become a airlines pilot …which course r suitable for me ….ant qualification and age for that…

  7. Hi in what age is to old to be come a pilot? I close to the 60 range.
    And what would it cost me to go through all the schooling to get a
    Cmel license!

  8. I have a commercial, multi engine pilot’s license, I have not flown in 30 years due to my inability to pass a Class 2 physical. Is there any license I can get to fly just me and my wife?

    • Great question! Someone in this situation could get a sport license and fly sport aircraft with no medical. Or, they could get their Private Pilot License with a Class 3.

  9. I’m currently in grade 12 and I would like to do aviation next year which institutions in South Africa would be best to go to

    • Hello!

      Aviation is an exciting career path, and we would be happy to help you pursue a career as a pilot!

      Epic Flight Academy is an international flight school located in Florida, USA. To train at Epic, you will need to be able to travel to Florida for the duration of your training (approximately 6-10 months). If you are unable to travel to Florida to train at Epic, you could do a Google search for flight academies in your area. However, if you are interested in learning more about Epic Flight Academy, please fill out the contact form at this link so that an Epic Admissions Recruiter can provide you with information and options to attend our flight school!


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    • Thanks for the feedback on our website – we are glad you found the information you were looking for! What is it that you found?

  11. I completed my 12th I am interested in aviation which college or institute is better to get private pilot licence (PPL) I AM FROM ANDHRA PRADESH ,INDIA

    • Hello,

      Thanks for your interest in Epic Flight Academy! We actually have a page that is just for students coming from India. That can be viewed here. Additionally, if you fill out the form at this link, one of our Admissions Representatives will provide you with information and options to attend our flight school.

  12. I’m now not positive the place you are getting your info, however great topic.
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  13. I have just completed 10+2 from india but is interested to be an aviator with faa licence(usa).i have some idea of ” 0 to atpl ” course, for which i need no experience.can i go for it with epicflightacademy. Also, let me know the approx fees to complete my study there. Please email me I’ll truely be grateful.


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