David H. Hersman
Certified Flight Instructor
Home: (304) 392-2035
Cell and Text: (304) 661-2534
Updated: July 5, 2016.
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. Beginning April 1, 2016, student pilots will get their plastic "student pilot certificate" directly from the FAA district office, and it will no longer be issued by the Aviation Medical Examinar in conjunction with the Third Class Medical Certificate. He must have the student 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 this 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 so 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 AOPA web site revealed that as of July 2011, there were only about 210 Recreational Pilots in the United States. This number had been well over 300 for several years, but seems to have dropped after 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.
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 Administrator (FAA) regarding allowing 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 looks like these changes will be extended to many Private Pilots as well. As of February 22, 2016, we are waiting for the House of Representative to act on this.
I recommend you watch the "AOPA Live" weekly web TV news updates, either on your computer, or as a ROKU channel. 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.
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.