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Main Types of Pilot Certifications in the United States

Are you dreaming of flying in the clouds? With so many different types of pilot certifications and ratings available, it can take time to decide which one is best for your career aspirations. Whether you’re an aspiring student or an experienced veteran looking to fly commercial airliners, there are a variety of certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that can help you reach your goals. In this blog post, we’ll explore six main types of pilot certifications in the United States and provide information on what each entail. Get ready – because once these licenses are unlocked, skies are no limit!

Overview of the Different Types of Pilot Certifications in the United States

Aspiring pilots have a wide range of options when it comes to pursuing their dream of flying, and the first step is obtaining a certification that reflects their level of training and experience.

In the United States, there are several different types of pilot certifications that you can pursue, each one with its own set of requirements, privileges, and limitations. From a private pilot certificate to a commercial pilot certificate, the aviation industry offers a range of qualifications that allow pilots to operate different types of aircraft and pursue various paths.

Whether you have your sights set on flying for a major airline or simply want to explore the world as a hobby pilot, understanding the different types of pilot certifications can help you chart the course to your aviation goals.

Prerequisites for Obtaining Pilot’s Licenses

There are some prerequisites for continuing your aviation education, with the first being that you must obtain a student pilot certificate first and foremost. From there, you can continue your training to obtain a variety of other licenses, including:

  • Sport Pilot
  • Recreational Pilot
  • Private Pilot
  • Commercial Pilot
  • Certified Flight Instructor
  • Airline Transport Pilot

The type of license you’ve earned also dictates what type of aircraft you can fly, and whether or not you can do so for monetary compensation. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular types of pilot licenses people earn in the United States.

Student Pilot Certificate

The first leg of your journey to become a pilot includes earning a student pilot license. Once obtained, you can begin logging additional flight hours to put toward other classifications. As a student pilot, you won’t be flying alone until you’ve reached certain milestones, but you’ll get a real taste of what it’s like in the cockpit.

Guidelines for Student Pilots

  • Must be at least 16 years old
  • Medical certificate from aviation medical examiner (AME)
  • No solo flights without a flight instructor endorsement
  • No passengers except instructor(s)
  • Cannot accept payment for flights

Once you’ve bagged a student pilot license, you can explore additional flight training options.  The student pilot certificate allows pilots-in-training to operate an aircraft without an instructor onboard (solo) – a training requirement for all certificates.

Recreational Pilot Certificate

Becoming a recreational pilot is something that many aviation enthusiasts dream of. With a recreational pilot certificate, you can take to the skies and explore the world from a unique perspective.

This type of certification allows you to fly for pleasure or personal business, but not for compensation or hire. The process to obtain this certificate takes dedication and hard work. You must meet certain requirements, such as obtaining a medical certificate and student pilot certificate, as well as passing a written knowledge exam.

Guidelines for Recreational Pilots

  • Requires minimum of 30 hours flight time as a student pilot
  • Restrictions on flight in controlled airspace
  • Can carry one additional passenger
  • Cannot fly at night
  • Must fly within 50 nautical miles of departure airport

With determination and a love for flying, earning your recreational pilot certificate could be the start of a thrilling new adventure. The sky’s the limit!

Private Pilot Certificate

The Private Pilot Certificate (PPL) is often the next steppingstone after earning a student pilot certificate or recreational flying license. Imagine being able to pilot your own aircraft and soar through the skies, seeing the world from a new perspective. There’s a reason this certificate is the most commonly awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

With this certificate, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the principles of aviation and develop the necessary skills to fly solo. It’s not just another certification, it’s a door that opens up to endless possibilities. Whether you’re looking to pursue a career in aviation or simply enjoy the freedom of being up in the air, the Private Pilot Certificate is the perfect place to start and turn your dreams into reality.

Guidelines for Private Pilots

  • For pilots ages 17+
  • Must have a valid driver’s license/government ID
  • Requires a minimum of 35 hours (Part 141) or 40 hours (Part 61) of flight time
  • FAA Third-Class Medical Certificate
  • Can carry additional passenger(s)
  • Can pilot single-engine or multi-engine aircraft (additional training required)
  • Cannot accept payment for flights

If you’re interested in flying for supplemental or full-time income, earning a private pilot license is a prerequisite for continuing your flight education and taking the next step.

Commercial Pilot Certificate

Earning a commercial pilot Certificate (CPL) opens the door, or skies, to a career in aviation, allowing pilots to fly aircraft for compensation or hire. To obtain this certification, one must have a private pilot certificate and pass an extensive flight check with a designated FAA examiner. It’s important to note that most commercial flight operations also require the pilot to be instrument rated as well.  The training is rigorous, but the rewards are incomparable.

Once earned, the certificate opens up a world of opportunities for aspiring pilots, from flying cargo planes to working as a commercial airline pilot at 10,000 feet.

Guidelines for Commercial Pilots

  • For pilots aged 18+
  • Must have a private pilot license (PPL) first
  • FAA Second-Class Medical Certificate
  • Requires 190 (Part 141) to 250 (Part 61) flight hours
  • Cannot yet fly for Part 121 flight operations (commercial airlines, for example)
  • Can accept payment for flights

Within the commercial pilot sphere, you can receive a single-engine or multi-engine rating. It can open up the possibilities for the types of aircraft you can pilot. Whether you’re flying cargo or passengers, the commercial license allows you to get paid for your services, which can be a rewarding experience.

Airline Transport Pilot Certificate

Becoming an airline transport pilot (ATP) is no easy feat. As one of the most advanced types of license available, it takes time, dedication, and a whole lot of hard work. But for those who have the passion and determination to make it happen, the rewards are endless.

As an airline transport pilot, you’ll have the opportunity to fly for major airlines, transport passengers all over the world, and experience the thrill of soaring through the skies at tens of thousands of feet in the air.

But to reach this level of achievement, you’ll need to work your way up through flight training, including earning your PPL, CPL, and instrument rating. This rigorous certification process involves a combination of flight experience, rigorous training, and exams, all designed to ensure that you have the skills and knowledge necessary to safely operate complex commercial aircraft.

Guidelines & Requirements for Airline Transport Pilots

  • Minimum age of 21 (Restricted ATP) or 23 (Non-Restricted ATP)
  • FAA First Class Medical Certificate
  • 1,500 hours of flight time minimum
  • A valid driver’s license/government ID
  • PPL, CPL, and instrument rating training first

While it might seem like a daunting task, the end result is more than worth it for those who truly love to fly.

How to Get Into Flight School

If you have always had a passion for aviation, then getting into flight school is the first step towards achieving those goals. While it may seem intimidating, with the right preparation and mindset, you can make it happen.

The first step is to research flight schools and find one that matches your needs, goals, and budget. FLT Academy is an excellent choice because we offer options for financing your education. We also have enrollment specialists who can help determine whether or not you meet the criteria for becoming a pilot. For example, you’ll need to pass medical exams to ensure you’re in good health to safely pilot an aircraft.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Pilot License?

Depending on the type of license you want to earn, how often you are training, and a multitude of other factors, training to become a pilot can take months or years. For those looking to fast-track their training, FLT Academy offers both accelerated and less-accelerated training options, so the timeline will vary for each student pursuing particular certificates.

For motivated students who are training 3-5 times per week, you can realistically expect to need the following amount of time to earn some of the most common types of pilot licenses:

  • Private Pilot – 3 to 12 months
  • Commercial Pilot – 3 months to 2 years
  • Airline Transport Pilot – 3 to 5 years

Further Information for Aspiring Pilots

Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help make your dream of flying a reality. Through flight schools with ground training, flight hours, and virtual flight simulators, aspiring pilots can learn the ins and outs, ups and downs of flying that they need to pursue their passion.

Whether you’re interested in recreational flying, aiming to become a private pilot, or ultimately becoming an airline captain, the process of obtaining your pilot certification begins with educating yourself and planning your next steps. With this in mind, use the resources and further information provided in this post to form an actionable plan for achieving your pilot license goals. Join the incredible world of aviation and be part of humanity’s journey through the wild blue yonder!