6 Different Types Of Pilot Certifications

Private Pilot Certificate

One of the most confusing things for student pilots is the number of different types of pilot certificates and ratings there are. And unless someone tells you that there’s a difference between a certificate and a rating, you might think they’re all the same. I’m here to tell you that they’re not. A pilot certificate, which is often referred to as a pilot’s license, is different from a rating.

Here are the six types of U.S. pilot certificates a person can obtain.

Sport Pilot

A sport pilot is the easiest and least restrictive certificate a student can obtain. It’s meant for those pilots who wish to fly in light aircraft only, at low altitudes in their local area. Sport pilot certificates can be earned in one of multiple categories: Airplane, powered parachute, glider, rotorcraft and lighter-than-air.

Sport pilots are limited to just one passenger, and are prohibited from flying at night, above 10,000 feet, or in Class B, C or D airspace.

The advantage to a sport pilot certificate is that it only requires 20 hours of logged training time, and most applicants are not required to obtain an FAA medical certificate.

Recreational Pilot

The introduction of the sport pilot certificate makes the recreational pilot certificate much less common of a choice than the sport pilot or private pilot certificate, but it can be a good option for pilots who want to fly heavier aircraft than those used for sport pilot training, but who don’t necessarily want to move on to more advanced training.

The recreational pilot certificate requires at least 30 hours of logged flight time, including 15 hours of dual instruction. Recreational pilots are limited to flights less than 50 nautical miles from their departure airport, can only fly during the day and must stay out of controlled airports (class B, C and D airspace).

Private Pilot

Private Pilot Certificate

The most common pilot certificate is the private pilot certificate. Because the training requirements are more intensive than that of the recreational or sport pilot, private pilots are allowed to do much more, like fly at night and at controlled airports.

Private pilots can also fly any aircraft in the category allowed. For instance, most private pilots are certified for the category “Aircraft-Single Engine Land,” which means they can fly any single engine land airplane (as long as they also have the appropriate ratings and endorsements, like those needed for a high-performance aircraft or complex aircraft.)

Private pilots, like recreational and sport pilots, are not allowed to fly for commercial purposes, and must not be compensated for pilot services.

Private pilot training consists of multiple maneuvers and at least 40 hours of flight time, 20 of which must be with an instructor.

Commercial Pilot

The commercial pilot certificate allows a pilot to be paid for their flying services. Since there are separate regulations for scheduled flights, commercial pilots must also abide by any additional federal aviation regulations pertaining to commercial flying operations.

Becoming a commercial pilot means learning how to fly complex aircraft, which have retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable-pitch propeller. Commercial flight training also demands more precision and knowledge about professional flight operations.

Flight Instructor

For those that want to gain hours or go into a career as a pilot, a flight instructor certificate is the next step for many. Although some pilots bypass the flight instructor certificate, many choose to instruct as a way to build experience while getting paid to fly.

Becoming a flight instructor involves learning a bit about instructional design, learning theory, and going into all commercial pilot topics much more in depth. The flight instructor certificate allows pilots to share their knowledge of flight with others while gaining necessary experience to move on to an airline

Airline Transport Pilot

The airline transport pilot (ATP) is the most advanced pilot certificate one can obtain, and it’s necessary for those who want to fly commercial airliners for a living. All commercial airlines now require a pilot applicant to have an ATP certificate. To become eligible for an ATP certificate, a pilot must have logged at least 1,500 hours, be at least 23 years old, and A restricted ATP with lower requirements is available for some pilots, like military pilots and students graduating from approved universities.

These are the different types of pilot certificates (or licenses, as many people call them.) These should not be confused with ratings or endorsements, which are separate training requirements that allow a pilot with a certain type of certificate to perform additional types of flying, such as instrument flying. You can think of these as extras that are added on to a certificate.  More on ratings later.

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Erica Martin

Flight Department Administrator at Phoenix East Aviation
Writer and a Flight Department Administrator at Phoenix East Aviation. Studied at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
22 Comments
  • Olatunji
    Posted at 05:29h, 14 November Reply

    What is the difference between the pilot certificate obtained in England and the one obtained in th US?

    • Phoenix East Aviation
      Posted at 08:53h, 17 November Reply

      Yes, The certificates here are under FAA.

  • Sheeba Robinson
    Posted at 05:37h, 14 November Reply

    Dear sir/madam

    Hi good morning

    I had viewd your website and notice you are a good company to support and give training for those student pilots who wants to becomes a commercial pilots. I am the one of them who is struggling to find a very good instructor who can trained me properly to be an airline pilot.

    I had already passed 9 ground exam in February this years including meteorology, navigation, air law, landing, rating, radio using, flight preparation, some others.

    At very first time I failed meteorology then in June this year I re sit in exam and I passed with 80% grading all other eight I passed in different level 100%80%and 85%.

    All 9 exam I successfully passed and hoping now to join a good helpful flying traing instructor who can trained me to becomes a good commercial pilot.

    I am uk resident but have no problem at all to start my training in the USA. I will get visa easily to travel in USA.

    Please send me all information regarding my flying training course ASAP.

    I hope I will get your prompt response and I also hope I will hear you soon.

    Kind regard

    Lady Sheeba Robinson

    Mobile,+44 7886269275

  • Amjad Osman
    Posted at 08:43h, 14 November Reply

    Dear all,
    I am a 36 year old Sudanese male who likes to obtain atpl
    please provide me with all the requirements an the fees in order to proceed
    I live in dubai and I-20 is required for visa purpose.
    Kindly feel free to contact me at all times on 00971504939696

    • Phoenix East Aviation
      Posted at 08:51h, 17 November Reply

      Please Contact Our Admission Officers for the the requested information, Thank you!

  • Keddon williams
    Posted at 09:31h, 14 November Reply

    That was some very useful information. I only thought there was only the Private and commercial licence. Thanks for the heads up. I would love to enroll for the Private Pilot license at Phoenix East but i am in Jamaica and i am low on cash. Any advise?

  • ELIFURAHA MALEMA
    Posted at 12:27h, 14 November Reply

    I am Malema from Tanzania. I am request total fees up to CPL. Please can you send to my e-mail. Thanks have a nice job

  • thizwihangwi sarinah tshiovhe
    Posted at 12:42h, 14 November Reply

    hi. i need this opportunity

  • Eshaan
    Posted at 13:26h, 14 November Reply

    hmm… useful information. i knew about it all though.

  • Boye David Awuley
    Posted at 14:14h, 14 November Reply

    My name is Boye David Awuley from Ghana. My dream is to become a pilot but to be able to finance my training is another task to undertake. However, I am preparing to offer private pilot training and I want to find out from you how much it will cost me to achieve this goal. You can also reach me on +233242281906 for further interrogation. If there are scholarship packages for individuals like that you can let me know.

    • Phoenix East Aviation
      Posted at 08:50h, 17 November Reply

      Please Contact Our Admission Officers for the the requested information, Thank you!

  • nasser saad al kl khaid
    Posted at 14:18h, 14 November Reply

    270 hrs

  • kelvin andrew kesse kobbina
    Posted at 18:51h, 14 November Reply

    The hints and explanations are accurate is I presume…keep it up, cool stuff.

  • Michael uzoigwe
    Posted at 00:39h, 15 November Reply

    Please I want to know the cost of commercial Pilot. Thanks

    • Phoenix East Aviation
      Posted at 08:50h, 17 November Reply

      Please Contact Our Admission Officers for the the requested information, Thank you!

  • Isaack Fungo
    Posted at 01:12h, 15 November Reply

    Its very inspiring i wish to be there to pursue a career as a commercial pilot

  • Ibrahim Atim Anyamikegh
    Posted at 02:15h, 15 November Reply

    Hi
    I have a dream of becoming a Pilot, I studied computer science in my degree. I have no flying knowledge. Can I know the cost of running the certification of airline transport pilot… And the requirement and cost of each of the certificate.

    Thanks

    • Phoenix East Aviation
      Posted at 08:49h, 17 November Reply

      Please contact Our Admission Officers for the Requested Details Please, Thank you Ibrahim

  • Mohammad sakil Shaikh
    Posted at 18:42h, 10 May Reply

    Can I join at the age of 44.?

    • Phoenix East Aviation
      Posted at 06:19h, 11 May Reply

      Yes you can Mohammad!

  • Ahmed
    Posted at 00:00h, 06 March Reply

    Hello , I have 3 questions
    Question 1 : I have done Cambridge GCE-O levels {equivalent to High School Diploma in USA]*.
    I am planning to join a Flight academy where I earn my FAA PPL+IR+MER+CPL+CFI and I will build flight hours of around 1500. This concludes that I would have a FAA CPL with 1500 hours so on just base of my O levels degree + proper Pilot licence can I gain any employment with any Airline in home country Pakistan or in any Gulf countries?

    Question 2: Which license is considered to be the best for Piloting , is it the FAA ,EASA , Canadian or South African Pilot License ?

    Question 3 : Basically how hard is the ATPL theory exams & how about the check rides ?

  • Matt Georgiyesh
    Posted at 17:02h, 05 April Reply

    What is the difference between a private pilots license and a private pilots certificate?

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