FAA – Federal Aviation Administration License

Pliot Licences & Ratings


Pilot certification in the United States is required for an individual to act as a pilot of an aircraft. It is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a branch of the Department of Transportation (DOT). A pilot is certified under the authority of Parts 61 and 141 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, also known as theFederal Aviation Regulations (FARs).
An FAA-issued pilot certificate is evidence that an individual is duly authorized to exercise piloting privileges. The pilot certificate is one of several kinds of airman certificates issued by the FAA.

General structure of certification

A pilot is certificated to fly aircraft at one or more named privilege levels and, at each privilege level, rated to fly aircraft of specific categories. Privilege levels of pilot certificates are, in order of increasing privilege:[1]

  • Student Pilot: an individual who is learning to fly under the tutelage of a flight instructor and who is permitted to fly alone under specific, limited circumstances
  • Sport Pilot: an individual who is authorized to fly only Light-sport Aircraft
  • Recreational Pilot: an individual who may fly aircraft of up to 180 horsepower (130 kW) and 4 seats in the daytime for pleasure only
  • Private Pilot: an individual who may fly for pleasure or personal business, generally without accepting compensation
  • Commercial Pilot: an individual who may, with some restrictions, fly for compensation or hire
  • Airline Transport Pilot (often called ATP): an individual authorized to act as pilot in command for a scheduled airline

Categories of aircraft for which a pilot may be rated are:[1][2]

Most aircraft categories are further broken down into classes. If a category is so divided, a pilot must hold a class rating to operate an aircraft in that class:[1]

  • The Airplane category is divided into single-engine land, multi-engine land, single-engine sea, and multi-engine sea classes
  • The Rotorcraft category is divided into helicopter and gyroplane classes
  • The Lighter-than-air category is divided into airship and balloon classes
  • The Powered parachute category is divided into powered parachute land and powered parachute sea
  • The Weight-shift-control category is divided into weight-shift-control land and weight-shift-control sea

A student pilot certificate does not list category or class ratings but is instead endorsed by a flight instructor to confer privileges in specific makes and models of aircraft.
type rating is required in a specific make and model of aircraft if the aircraft weighs more than 12,500 lb (5,700 kg) at takeoff or is powered by one or more turbojet engines. The Boeing 747Beechcraft Super King Air 350, and the Hawker Hunter are examples of aircraft that require type ratings.[1]
A pilot can separately add an instrument rating to a Private or Commercial certificate. An Airline Transport Pilot implicitly holds an instrument rating, and so the instrument rating does not appear on an ATP certificate. Instrument ratings are issued discretely for Airplane and Powered Lift categories and the Helicopter class.[1]Glider and airship pilots may operate under Instrument Flight Rules under certain circumstances as well.[3] An individual may hold only one pilot certificate at one time; that certificate may authorize multiple privilege levels distinguished by aircraft category, class or type. For example, an Airline Transport Pilot certificate holder may be permitted to exercise ATP privileges when flying multi-engine land airplanes, but only Commercial Pilot privileges when flying single-engine land airplanes and gliders. Similarly a Commercial Pilot holder with a glider rating may have only Private Pilot privileges for single-engine land airplanes.
The FAA may impose limitations on a pilot certificate if, during training or the practical test, the pilot does not demonstrate all skills necessary to exercise all privileges of a privilege level, category, class or type rating. For example, a holder of a DC-3 type rating who does not demonstrate instrument flying skills during the practical test would be assigned a limitation reading, “DC-3 (VFR Only)”.
To obtain a certificate or add a rating, a pilot usually has to undergo a course of training with a certificated instructor, accumulate and log specific aeronautical experience, and pass a three-part examination: a knowledge test (a computerized multiple-choice test, typically called the “written test”), an oral test, and a practical test carried out by either an FAA inspector or a Designated Pilot Examiner.
Another form of authorization is an endorsement from a flight instructor that establishes that the certificate holder has received training in specific skill areas that do not warrant a full test, such as the ability to fly a tailwheel-equipped, high-performance, complex, or pressurized airplane.
Pilot certificates other than student pilot certificates do not expire, although they may be suspended or revoked by the FAA.[4] However, a pilot must maintain currency— recent flight experience that is relevant to the flight being undertaken. To remain current, every pilot has to undergo a flight review with an instructor every 24 calendar months unless he gains a new pilot certificate or rating in that time or satisfies the flight review requirement using an alternate approved means. For most types of certificate, he must also undergo a medical examination at intervals ranging from six months to five years, depending on the pilot’s age and desired flight privileges. Other currency requirements apply to the carriage of passengers or to flight under instrument flight rules (IFR).
A medical certificate is not necessary to fly a glider, balloon, or light-sport Aircraft. An ultralight aircraft may be piloted without a pilot certificate or a medical certificate.
In addition to pilot certificates, the FAA issues separate airman certificates for Flight Engineers, Flight Instructors, Ground Instructors, Aircraft Dispatchers, Mechanics, Repairmen, Parachute Riggers, Control Tower Operators, Flight Navigators, and Flight Attendants.[5]

Pilot training

Most pilots in the U.S. undergo flight training as private individuals with a flight instructor, who may be employed by a flight school. Those who have decided on aviation as a career often begin with an undergraduate aviation-based education. Some pilots are trained in the armed forces, and are issued with civilian certificates based on their military record. Others are trained directly by airlines. The pilot may choose to be trained under Part 61 or Part 141 of the FARs. Part 141 requires that a certified flight school provide an approved, structured course of training, which includes a specified number of hours of ground training (for example, 35 hours for Private Pilot in an airplane). Part 61 sets out a list of knowledge and experience requirements, and is more suitable for students who cannot commit to a structured plan, or for training from freelance instructors.

Knowledge tests

Most pilot certificates and ratings require the applicant to pass a knowledge test, also called the “written test”. The knowledge test results are valid for a period of 2 years, and are usually a prerequisite for practical tests. Resources available to prepare for the knowledge test may be obtained from pilot supply stores or vendors. The exceptions where a knowledge exam is not required for a practical test are for some add-on ratings after the initial license, such as a powered aircraft pilot adding an additional category rating at the same license level.[6]
In order to take knowledge tests for all pilot certificates and ratings, the applicant must have a sign-off from a ground or flight instructor. These are usually given by an instructor who has taught a ground school course, provided ground instruction or reviewed the applicant’s self-study preparations.
Under certain circumstances, sign-off’s are not required for certain Flight Instructor or Airline Transport Pilot knowledge tests.

Practical tests

All pilots certificates and ratings require a practical test, usually called a “check ride”. For each practical test, the FAA has published a Practical Test Standards document which is expected to be used by the applicant to prepare, by the flight instructor to teach and evaluate readiness for the exam, and by the examiner to conduct the exam. A practical test is administered by an FAA Inspector or an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. The check-ride is divided into two parts: the oral exam followed by a flight test in the aircraft. Upon successful completion of the practical test, the examiner will issue a temporary airman certificate with the new license or rating.
In order to take practical tests for all pilot certificates and ratings (except Airline Transport Pilot), the applicant must have proper logbook endorsements from their flight instructor.

Becoming a professional pilot

In aviation, a pilot’s level of income and experience are closely related. There are multiple ways to gain the experience to be hired by a scheduled air carrier. Air carriers generally require that the pilots they hire have hours of experience far in excess of the legal minimum. This experience is often gained using these common methods:

  • Military training
  • Independent training followed by becoming a part- or full-time instructor.
  • A college-level aviation program, in which a bachelor’s degree (commonly in Aviation Science or a related field) is conferred upon the completion of both flight and classroom coursework. Frequently, upperclassmen are employed as flight instructors for other students.
  • Banner towing, traffic reporting, sky diver pilot, fire patrol, pipeline patrol, aerial photography, glider towing, or other “odd jobs” in aviation are fairly low-paying and require only the legal minimum experience.