Pilot licensing and certification

Pilot licensing or certification refers to permits on how to operate aircraft that are issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in each country, establishing that the holder has met a specific set of knowledge and experience requirements. This includes taking a flying test. The certified pilot can then exercise a specific set of privileges in that nation's airspace. Despite attempts to harmonize the requirements between nations, the differences in certification practices and standards from place to place serve to limit full international validity of the national qualifications. In addition, U.S. pilots are certified, not licensed, although the word license is still commonly used informally.[1] Legally, pilot certificates can be revoked by administrative action, whereas licensing (e.g., a driver's license) requires intervention by the judiciary system.

In the United States, pilot certification 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 the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).[2]

In Canada, licensing is issued by Transport Canada.

In most European countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Greece, and many others, licenses, where required, are issued by the national aviation authority according to a set of common rules established by the European Aviation Safety Agency known as EASA – Flight Crew Licensing (EASA-FCL).


Brevet de pilote aéronaute 1904
Balloon pilot's licence issued by the Aéro-Club de France to Mr. Tissandier.

Pilot licensing began soon after the invention of powered aircraft in 1903.

The Aéro-Club de France was founded in 1898 'to encourage aerial locomotion'. The Royal Aero Club followed in 1901 and the Aero Club of America was established in 1905. All three organizations, as well as representatives from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland founded the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) in 1905 as an international governing body for aeronautics. However, certificates or ratings from them were not initially mandatory.[3]

The Aéro-Club de France began issuing certificates in 1910, although these were awarded retroactively to 7 January 1909. The first certificates were to established pioneers, among them Frenchman Louis Bleriot, Henry and Maurice Farman (UK) and the Wright Brothers (US).[4]

The Royal Aero Club in the UK also began the issue of its first certificates in 1910. Among the earliest recipients of the first aviation certificates were: J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon, who conducted the first flight by a British pilot in Britain; Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls-Royce; Claude Grahame-White, who flew the first night flight; and Samuel Cody, pioneer of large kite flying.[5]

British and French certificates were recognized internationally by the FAI.

The Aero Club of America began issuing licenses in 1911, although these were not mandatory, and were more for prestige and show. The first recipients were Glenn Curtiss, Frank Purdy Lahm, Louis Paulhan and the Wright brothers.[6] The requirement for an Aero Club ticket was to ascend in the machine and fly a course of a figure-eight at a given height. Individual states sometimes posed a mandate for a license[7] but it wasn't a Federal cause until 1917.

General structure of certification

Pilots are certified to fly aircraft at one or more named privilege levels and, at each privilege level, are rated to fly aircraft of specific categories. In the US, privilege levels of pilot certificates are (in order of increasing privilege):[1][8]

  • Student: Cannot fly solo without proper endorsement from a certificated flight instructor (CFI). Passenger carrying is prohibited.
  • Sport: Cannot carry more than one passenger, authorized to fly only light-sport aircraft and are limited to daytime flying only. If an individual elects to receive additional instruction, some of the limitations may be removed.
  • Recreational: May fly aircraft of up to 180 horsepower (130 kW) and 4 seats in the daytime for pleasure only.
  • Private: May fly for pleasure or personal business. Private pilots cannot be paid, compensated to fly, or hired by any operator.
  • Commercial: Can be paid, compensated to fly, or hired by operators and are required to have higher training standards than private or sport pilots.
  • Flight instructor: Flight instructors are commercial pilots who have been trained and can demonstrate various teaching techniques, skills and knowledge related to safely teaching people to fly.
  • Airline transport pilot: ATPs, as they are called, typically qualify to fly the major airliners of the US transit system. ATPs must qualify with a range of experience and training to be considered for this certificate.

Pilot privileges are further broken down into category, class, and type ratings.

A category is defined as "a broad classification of aircraft," which a pilot may be rated for:[8][9]

A class is defined as "a classification of aircraft within a category having similar operating characteristics":[8]

In addition, a type rating is required for particular aircraft over 12,500 pounds, or aircraft that are turbojet-powered.[8] Further endorsements are required for high-performance (more than 200 horsepower), complex (retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable-pitch propeller), or tailwheel-equipped aircraft, as well as for high-altitude operations.

Most private pilot certificates are issued as "private pilot: airplane single-engine land," which means the pilot may fly any single-engine, land-based airplane they are qualified in. A pilot is only qualified in the category and class of aircraft in which they successfully complete their checkride (for example, a pilot who takes a commercial pilot checkride in a multi-engine, land-based aircraft and passes, may only exercise the privileges of a commercial pilot in multi-engine, land-based aircraft; the pilot may not exercise the privileges of a commercial pilot in single-engine or sea-based aircraft without passing the appropriate parts of a checkride in those particular categories of aircraft).

Pilots of powered aircraft typically attain ratings in this order (with minimum time required in parentheses):

  • Private pilot (35–45 hours of flight time, 40 in the U.S.)
  • Instrument rating (40–50 hours of instrument time, 40 in the U.S.)
  • Commercial pilot (200–250 hours of flight time, 250 in the U.S.)
  • Commercial pilot who is a co-pilot in an airliner (250 hours of flight time + multicrew rating, not allowed in the U.S.)
  • Airline transport pilot (ATP) (1200–1500 hours of flight time, 1500 in the U.S.)

Note: Hours can often be earned concurrently and are cumulative. For example, after acquiring a private certificate, a pilot can get an instrument rating with an additional 30–40 hours of training (if, e.g., 10 hours of instrument time was logged during private training, which would count towards total aeronautical experience gained). In the course of the commercial pilot training, most pilots also receive their high-performance and complex endorsements, as well as get a multiengine rating before applying for the airline transport pilot licence.

Private pilot

The majority of pilots hold a private pilot license. To obtain a private pilot license, one must be at least 17 years old and have a minimum of 35–45 hours of flight time, including at least 20 hours of dual instruction and 10 hours of solo flight. Pilots trained according to accelerated curricula outlined in Part 141 of the Federal Aviation Regulations may be certified with a minimum of 35 hours of flight time.[2] Private pilots may not fly for compensation or hire. However, they may carry passengers as long as the pilot has the appropriate training, ratings, and endorsements. Private pilots must have a current Class III medical exam, which must be renewed every 24 or 60 months (depending on age). In addition, private pilots must re-validate their pilot certificates every 24 months by undertaking a flight review with a certificated flight instructor (CFI).[10]

Instrument rating

An instrument rating is technically not a pilot certificate, but an add-on rating that allows a pilot to fly in weather with reduced visibility such as rain, low clouds, or heavy haze. When flying in these conditions, pilots follow instrument flight rules (IFR). The training provides the skills needed to complete flights with less than the required VFR minimums. In the US, all pilots who fly above 18,000 feet above mean sea level (MSL) (a lower limit of Class A airspace) must have an instrument rating.[2]

This rating requires highly specialized training by a certificated flight instructor (CFI) with a special instrument instruction rating (CFII), and completion of an additional written exam, oral exam, and flight test. Pilots applying for an instrument rating must hold a current private pilot certificate and medical, have logged at least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot-in-command, and have at least 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time including at least 15 hours of instrument flight training and instrument training on cross-country flight procedures.[10]

Commercial pilot

Commercial pilots can be paid to fly an aircraft. To obtain a commercial pilot license, one must be at least 18 years old and have a minimum of 250 hours of total flight time (190 hours under the accelerated curriculum defined in Part 141 of the Federal Aviation Regulations). This includes 100 hours in powered aircraft, 50 hours in airplanes, and 100 hours as pilot-in-command (of which 50 hours must be cross-country flight time). In addition, commercial pilots must hold an instrument rating, or otherwise they would be restricted to flying for hire only in daylight, under visual flight rules (VFR), and within 50 miles of the originating airport.[2][10]

Airline transport pilot

Airline transport pilots (ATP) must be at least 23 years old and have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time, including 500 hours of cross-country flight time, 100 hours of night flying, and 75 hours in actual or simulated instrument flight conditions. ATPs must also have a commercial certificate and an instrument rating. ATPs may instruct other pilots in air transportation service in aircraft in which they are rated. ATPs must have a current Class I medical exam (which is more stringent than Class II or Class III), which must be renewed every six months or one year (depending on age). Like all pilots, they must re-validate their certificates every 24 months with a flight review.[2][10]

Multi-crew pilot license

MPL pilots must be at least 18 years old, have a minimum of 250 hours of flying training, and 750 hours of theoretical knowledge instruction. Developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), requirements for the multi-crew pilot license (aeroplane) (MPL(A)) were included in the 10th edition of Annex 1 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Personnel Licensing), which superseded all previous editions of the Annex on 23 November 2006.[11] MPL is a significant development as it is based on competency-based approach to training professional pilots.[12] It represents the first time in 30 years that ICAO had significantly reviewed the standards for the training of flight crew.

Other licenses, ratings, and endorsements

Other licenses include:

  • Sport pilot certificate (United States only), used for light-sport aircraft, a category that was designated in 2004. These aircraft are larger and faster than US ultralights, and carry more fuel and often one passenger in addition to the pilot. The ultralight category of aircraft in the US requires no specific training and no certification.[2] Unlike all other pilot categories, special medical certification is not required for a sport pilot.
  • Night rating, enables the private pilot to fly at night. A total of 5 hours' night flying (including at least 3 hours of dual instruction), 1 hour cross-country navigation, 5 solo flights and 5 full-stop landings are required to gain this rating in some countries. In the US, there is no night rating; pilots must have received instruction in night flying before they can take the practical test for the private rating.
  • The pilots can add other various ratings when they qualify for them, i.e. either satisfy training requirements or pass appropriate tests.
  • Unmanned Aircraft System (Drone) pilots are required to obtain a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating when operating commercially (US).

See also


  1. ^ a b Certification Certificates and ratings, rather than a "license".
  2. ^ a b c d e f FAA Regulations FAA Regulations and Parts
  3. ^ "The Postal History of ICAO". icao.int.
  4. ^ "Liste Alphabétique de Pilotes-Aviateurs" [Alphabetical List of Pilot-Aviators]. L'Aérophile (in French). Paris. 1 January 1911. p. 36. Retrieved 2013-12-07.
  5. ^ "Progress: A Pictorial Review in "Flight" Photographs" (PDF). Flight. Vol. XXII no. 1. London: Reed Business Information. 3 January 1930. pp. 34–37. Retrieved 2010-05-31.
  6. ^ America, Aero Club of (1 June 2018). "Aero Club of America". Douglas Taylor & Company – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Licenses For Aviators; Foss Signs Bay State Law Forbidding Flights Without Permits, The New York Times, 18 May 1913
  8. ^ a b c d "14 CFR Part 61 "Certification," Subpart A—General, Section 61.5 "Certificates and ratings issued under this part"". US Code of Federal Regulations, Federal Aviation Regulations. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
  9. ^ ultralight category of aircraft in the US requires no specific training and no certification. Examples include powered parachute, and weight-shift-control aircraft. However, sporting groups give extensive training and certification for these aircraft.
  10. ^ a b c d "Training & Safety: Your tools to being a safer pilot". flighttraining.aopa.org. 29 March 2016.
  11. ^ "Section K – Multi-crew pilot licence" (PDF). www.caa.co.uk. UK Civil Aviation Authority.
  12. ^ Kearns, Suzanne; Mavin, Timothy; Hodge, Steven (2015). Competency-Based Education in Aviation: Exploring Alternate Training Pathways. Ashgate Publishing Limited. ISBN 1-4724-3856-6.

External links

Asaichi Tamai

Asaichi Tamai (Japanese: 玉井浅一) (December 25, 1902 – December 10, 1964) was a colonel in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.

Commercial pilot license

A commercial pilot license (CPL), is a type of pilot licence that permits the holder to act as a pilot of an aircraft and be paid for his/her work.

The basic requirements to obtain the license and the privileges it confers are agreed internationally by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). However the actual implementation varies quite widely from country to country. According to ICAO, to be eligible for a commercial pilot license, the applicant must;

be able to read, speak, write, and understand English

already hold a private pilot license

have received training in the areas of a commercial pilot

successfully complete the relevant written exams.To proceed in obtaining a commercial pilot license, the applicant must first obtain first-class medical certification. The JAA has several approved courses leading to the issue of a JAA commercial pilot's license with an instrument rating without first obtaining a private pilot's license. Upon completing those prerequisites the applicant will then receive an exam from the governing aviation body that consists of an oral and practical flight test from an examiner. Applicants for a CPL (aeroplanes) must also have completed a solo cross-country flight of at least 300 nm with full-stop landings at two airfields other than the pilot's airfield of origin.

Different types of commercial pilot certificates or licenses are issued for the major categories of aircraft: airplanes, airships, balloons, gliders, gyroplanes and helicopters. As noted below, depending on the issuing jurisdiction these may all be on the same document.

A certificate/license will contain a number of sub-qualifications or ratings. These specify in more detail the actual privileges of the license, including the types of aircraft that can be flown (single-engine or multiengine), whether flight under instrument flight rules is allowed (instrument rating), and whether instructing and examining of trainee pilots can be done (instructor or examiner rating). It may be possible to show these ratings at different levels.

Some JAA states (but not the United States) restrict the use of the title "Captain" to CPL holders and above.

Fenland Airfield

Fenland Airfield (ICAO: EGCL) is located 6 nautical miles (11 km; 6.9 mi) southeast of Spalding in Lincolnshire, England.

Fenland Aerodrome provides general aviation operations and is a UK Civil Aviation Authority licensed aerodrome that permits the airfield to be used for take-off and landing of aircraft engaged in flights for the purpose of public transport of passengers or for the purpose of instruction in flying which is conducted by Fenland Flying School.The airfield provides a wide range of facilities to pilots and pilot students from throughout Lincolnshire and its neighbouring counties Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, including a restaurant service, aircraft refueling for "fly-in" visitors, aircraft charter, aircraft maintenance services by licensed onsite aircraft maintenance and avionics technicians, and has its own fleet of United Kingdom (G) and United States (N) registered light aircraft such as types Cessna 150M, F152A, 172M, 337 Super Skymaster, Piper PA-34-200 Seneca, Mooney M20E, M20F and Socata TB20. Annually the aerodrome also stages various public air display shows and other public events around aviation. The aerodrome is also close by to RAF Holbeach Air Weapons Range located along the Lincolnshire coastline on the Wash.

Flight instructor

A flight instructor is a person who teaches others to fly aircraft. Specific privileges granted to holders of a flight instructor qualification vary from country to country, but very generally, a flight instructor serves to enhance or evaluate the knowledge and skill level of an aviator in pursuit of a higher pilot's license, certificate or rating.

Harry Bruno

Harry Augustine Bruno (7 February 1893 – 1978) was a promoter of aviation and boating, and a pioneer public relations professional.

Oxford Aviation Academy

CAE Oxford Aviation Academy (OAA), part of CAE Inc., is the largest ab initio flight training network in the world and it provides integrated aviation training and resourcing services. Professional airline pilots have been trained at Oxford Aviation Academy flight school since 1961.

OAA operates 125 training aircraft, 64 simulators and 10 training centres delivering a portfolio of aviation training courses. OAA's 3 ab initio airline pilot training schools have trained more than 26,000 professional pilots over the past 50 years. OAA's 7 type training centres offer approved airline pilot, cabin crew and maintenance engineer training on a wide range of aircraft types including Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, BAE Systems and Embraer.

Oxford Aviation Academy includes the former Oxford Aviation Training—a commercial pilot training school based at London Oxford Airport in the United Kingdom—and Phoenix Goodyear Airport in the United States; the former SAS Flight Academy, the former GECAT and the former BAE Systems Woodford, UK Training Centre, all of which are majority owned by STAR Capital Partners of London with a minority stake of less than 20% retained by GE Commercial Aviation Services.

The Airline Pilot Programme First Officer course is a full-time, Integrated Joint Aviation Authorities/European Aviation Safety Agency (JAA/EASA) course leading to the award of a 'Frozen' (becoming unfrozen when the candidate has completed 1500 hours in a multi-pilot environment) Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL).

Pilot licensing in Canada

Pilot licensing in Canada is administered by Transport Canada under the Aeronautics Act and the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs).

Other than when flying a hang glider or paraglider, a person may only operate a Canadian-registered aircraft or act as a flight crew member in Canada with a licence or permit issued by Transport Canada.

At the end of 2008 there were 64,932 Canadian licences and permits held, giving Canada the second largest population of licensed pilots in the world.The first Canadian private pilot's license was issued to James Stanley Scott on January 24, 1920, and the first Canadian transport license was issued to Douglas G. Joy on April 1, 1939.

Private pilot licence

A private pilot licence (PPL) or, in the United States, a private pilot certificate, is a type of pilot licence that allows the holder to act as pilot in command of an aircraft privately (not for remuneration). The licence requirements are determined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), but implementation varies widely from country to country. According to the ICAO, it is obtained by successfully completing a course with at least 40 hours (45 in Europe) of flight time, passing seven written exams, completing a solo cross country flight (minimum cumulative solo flight time is 10 hours), and successfully demonstrating flying skills to an examiner during a flight test (including an oral exam). In the United States, pilots can be trained under Title 14 of federal code part 141, which allows them to apply for their certificate after as few as 35 hours. However, most pilots require 60–70 hours of flight time to complete their training. The minimum age for a student pilot certificate is 14 for balloons and gliders, and 16 for powered flight (airplanes, helicopters, and gyroplanes). The minimum age for a private pilot certificate is 16 for balloons and gliders, and 17 for powered flight (airplanes, helicopters, and gyroplanes). Pilots can begin training at any age and can solo balloons and gliders from age 14, and powered aircraft from age 16.

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