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David H. Hersman

Certified Flight Instructor
Home: (304) 392-2035
Cell and Text: (304) 661-2534
Email: David@EaglesWings.net

Serving the beautiful Greenbrier Valley since 1984

Updated: April 16, 2019

Eagles' Wings Flight Training                                

Pilot Certificates, Privileges, and Limitations

    This is a brief summary, or over-view, of this subject. It is meant to be an introduction only. For full details you should consult the Federal Aviation Regulations, Part 61. If you have questions, please feel to contact me:


NOTE: The pronoun "he" is used in this web site in the generic sense, meaning all people. It is in no way an inference that pilots should all be men. My primary instructor was a very competent woman, Ruth Tolley Gwinn. Later, in preparation for my instrument rating, commercial license, and instructor's certificate, I received many hours of instruction from Merry Casto. Since then, I have taught many teenage girls, ladies of all ages - even at a couple grandmothers!

 Whoever you are, welcome to the air!

    A young person, under US law, may begin taking flight training at any age, but must be at least 16 years old to qualify for a Student Pilot Certificate. In  2016, student pilots began getting plastic "student pilot certificate" directly from the FAA district office. They are no longer issued by the Aviation Medical Examinar in conjunction with the Third Class Medical Certificate. You apply online, and receive it in the mail. He must have the student certificate, and a Third Class Medical Certificate to fly solo in a powered aircraft. Solo means to fly alone, as the only occupant of the aircraft. A student pilot cannot act as "pilot in command" of an aircraft carrying any passenger. The purpose of the Student Pilot Certificate is to receive training, and allow solo experience, in preparation for a higher class license.

    Since the PRIVATE PILOT'S LICENSE is considered to be the "standard license," let me mention that first. The Private Pilot license allows one to fly unlimited distances, day or night, fly airplanes with any number of seats (usually this will be 2, 4, or 6), and carry any number of passengers. The aircraft can be flown in furtherance of a business - just as long it is not a flying business. An Instrument Rating can be added to allow flights in restricted visibilities such as clouds, smog, haze, and heavy precipitation.

    For decades, the Private Pilot Certificate has been the "standard" pilot's license. Most trainees continue to go for this option. See: Private Pilot Requirements.

   There are a couple "lower" license categories which require somewhat less training, experience, and cost, but of course they do not grant the same priviledges as a Pricvate Pilot's License. There is surely a level of license to meet your needs.
    The Recreational Pilot Certificate was established in the 1989 to allow a less expensive, and "easier to obtain" basic pilot license for those who want to fly for recreation only. It allows the pilot to fly, day time only, in aircraft having up to four seats, but only one passenger may be carried at a time. The holder of such a license must stay within 50 nautical miles of his home airport, unless he has had additional training in cross-country navigation. He may not fly at night, or without visual reference to the ground, and may not fly in furtherance of a business.

    A recent inquiry to an
FAA web site revealed that as of end of 2018, there were only about 144 Recreational Pilots in the United States. This number had been well over 300 for several years, but has steadily declined since the Sport Pilot Certificate became available in 2004. It has never been a very popular option, despite a few regulatory changes to make it more attractive. Some have used it as an advantageous stepping stone toward the Private Pilot's license.  

    The Light Sport Pilot Certificate allows pilots to fly 2-seat aircraft weighing up to 1320 pounds, maximum cruise speed of 120 knots, and some other basic limitations. In most cases a medical certificate in not required.  Many people who already had a higher class of license may continue flying aircraft in this category, using only their driver's license as medical certification. Other new pilots may not need any medical certificate except a valid driver's license. These new regulations went into effect September 1, 2004, and statistics show that there have been no increase in accident rates caused by the fact that these Sport Pilots are not required to have FAA-issued medical certificates. Many older Classic airplanes can be flown in the Sport Pilot category as well as a great number of very modern aircraft, such as this CTLS pictured below. CTLS stands for Composite Technology Light Sport.

John Stackie David Hersman CTLS Pence SpringsCTLS instrument panel WV77











I gave the owner, John Stockie, instruction in this airplane for his Sport Pilot Certificate.


CLICK HERE for more information about Sport Pilot Aircraft and Pilot Certificates.


CLICK HERE for more information regarding how many pilots have had various levels of license through the years.


    In 2012, the Aircraft Owners and Pilot's Association (AOPA), and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and others, petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow an "exemption" for Recreational Pilots to flying without Third Class Medical Certificates. Similar petitions had been turned down before, as early as 2006. The FAA "sat on" the proposal for over 2 years, and finally Congress got into the act. To make a long story shorter, in December 2015, the United States Senate passed the Pilot's Bill of Rights 2, which includes "Third Class Medical Reform," and it was signed into law in 2016, went into effect May 1, 2017. These changes included BASIC MED certification for Private Pilots and Flight Instructors. As of April 2019, almost 2 years into this program over 45,000 pilots are flying with Basic Med certification.  

    I recommend you watch the "AOPA Live" weekly web TV news updates, either on your computer, as a ROKU channel, or on YouTube. Theses are always entertaining and informative.

    AN INSTRUMENT RATING allows pilots with the proper training to fly in clouds and restricted visibilities, such as fog, smog, and heavier precipitation, in some specified conditions. This requires more extensive training, an additional knowledge test, and a practical test. Recreational and Sport Pilot Certificate holder are not eligible for an Instrument Rating.

     A Commercial Pilot Certificate requires more training, but allows one to fly for hire - for pay. Contrary to popular belief, among non-aviators, this does not qualify you to fly all kinds of jets, nor hold every kind of flying job! It could be considered as a very important step in that direction.

    In the United States all pilots are encouraged to get additional training, and obtain instrument proficiency, and/or a commercial pilot's license. The additional training and experience will help you become a better, safer, and more versatile pilot.

    Persons wishing to fly large aircraft for hire, such as airliners or passenger jets, must have at least 1500 hours of flying time, and obtain an Airline Transport Pilot certificate.

    To fly any jet aircraft, or aircraft weighing over 12,500 pounds, a pilot must also have a Type Rating for that make and model of aircraft.

    Since this Web site caters to many in the "new to aviation" category, we will focus our attention, at this time, on the Requirements to obtain a Private Pilot Certificate.






David Hersman flight instructor 1941 Taylorcraft

This 1941 Taylotcraft is an example of an older airplane that can be flown in the "Light Sport Aircraft" category. A holder of a higher class license may choose to downgrade his own flying privileges without any formal paperwork changes.

 Many more modern recent designs are also in the Light Sport Aircraft category. See the two pictures of a 2009 CTLS in content area at the left.