A Guide to Obtaining Different Pilot Licenses

Becoming a pilot is a lifelong dream for many people. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 135,300 airline and commercial pilots employed in 2021. With that said, the journey to becoming a pilot is a challenge and isn’t possible without first earning a pilot license.

No matter what type of aircraft you wish to fly, there’s a specific process you must follow to obtain the necessary pilot licenses. This includes private pilot licenses, commercial pilot licenses and more.

Private Pilot License (PPL)

First things first, all aspiring pilots must obtain a Private Pilot License (PPL). In order to pursue a PPL, you must be at least 17 years old and hold a medical certificate.

You will then need to go through a ground school program and receive practical flight training where you will log a minimum of 40 flight hours, including 20 hours with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight time.

After your ground school and flight training, you must pass the FAA Private Pilot Knowledge Test and then the Practical Test, commonly known as the checkride.

Instrument Rating

Once you’ve obtained your Private Pilot License, you can pursue additional ratings, such as the Instrument Rating. This rating allows you to fly in different weather conditions like rain and snow.

To be eligible for an Instrument Rating, you must already hold a PPL and meet certain flight time requirements. After this, you must complete a ground school program focusing on instrument flight rules (IFR) and navigation.

Finally, you must accumulate a minimum of 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot-in-command, including at least 10 hours of instrument training.

After this, you must successfully pass the FAA Instrument Rating Knowledge Test, which includes an oral exam and an in-flight evaluation.

Commercial Pilot License (CPL)

If you are at least 18 years old with a minimum of 250 total flight hours and you’re interested in a career as a professional pilot, you’ll need to earn a Commercial Pilot License (CPL).

In order to obtain your CPL, you must hold a PPL and Instrument Rating. Your 250 flight hours must include 100 hours of pilot-in-command time and 50 hours of cross-country flight.

The last step in obtaining your CPL is to pass the FAA Commercial Pilot Knowledge Test and the Practical Test.

Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)

If you’re looking to serve as the captain of a commercial airliner, the Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) might be right for you.

All those who wish to pursue an ATPL must be at least 23 years old and have logged a minimum of 1,500 flight hours. While there is no formal ground school requirement for the ATPL, you’ll need to study advanced aviation topics in preparation for the knowledge test.

By this stage, you should have significant flight experience, but you may need additional training or experience to meet the total flight hour requirements.

You will then need to pass both the FAA Airline Transport Pilot Knowledge Test and the Practical Test to successfully obtain your ATPL.

Additional Ratings

In addition to the main pilot licenses mentioned above, you can also pursue additional ratings to further your knowledge.

  • Multi-Engine Rating: Allows you to pilot aircraft with multiple engines.
  • Seaplane Rating: Allows you to operate seaplanes on water surfaces.
  • Certified Flight Instructor (CFI): Must be earned by flight instructors before they can teach and guide aspiring pilots.
  • Airline Transport Pilot License with Type Rating: Required by specific types of commercial aircraft, in addition to an ATPL.

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