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Pilot Certificates – What You Need to Know

Pilot Certificates – What You Need to Know

Pilot Certificates – What You Need to Know



By Brandon Martini



Have you ever watched a plane soaring through the sky and wondered what it takes to pilot such a powerful machine?The answer to that question is that it depends. There are multiple levels of pilot certificates, depending on the type of plane you fly, the number of hours you have logged, and if you intend to fly for a career or sport. Even some potential career opportunities at each upper level of certification comes with extensive training. Let’s dive into each certificate’s privileges and limitations – even some potential career opportunities available at each level! FAA calls it a pilot certificate and pilot license interchangeably.




Understanding Different Types of Pilot Certificates



Flying is a passion for many, and turning that love into a career or hobby begins with getting the right pilot license. Each type of FAA issued pilot licenses, also known as certificates, has its own privileges, limitations, and requirements.

The Student Pilot Certificate 
To begin your journey as a pilot, you must obtain the Student Pilot Certificate. If you’ve gotten your driver’s license, then you already know the process but it won’t be exactly the same.
To start training for a private pilot certificate you need the following prerequisites:  

In order to solo during your student pilot certificate phase, you must be properly endorsed, you must be at least 16-years-old (or 14 if operating gliders or balloons), and you must be able to write and speak in the English language sufficiently enough to communicate with Air Traffic Control (ATC) personnel effectively.Flying without an instructor present is prohibited unless you’ve done the above prerequisites and you have also passed their aviation medical exam administered by an FAA-approved Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) first. This ensures they meet certain health standards necessary for safe flight operation.




Delving into the Private and Commercial Pilot Certificates



The PPL and CPL are two essential licenses in the aviation industry, both of which serve distinct purposes for a pilot’s career. Both serve unique roles in a pilot’s career path.

Private Pilot Certificate (PPL)
A Private Pilot Certificate, or PPL, gives pilots freedom to fly. It lets them navigate any aircraft for non-commercial purposes. But it isn’t handed out easily. There are requirements to meet before you can get this certificate. You need to pass written exams and demonstrate your skills during flight tests. Additionally, acquiring this certificate means committing yourself to a minimum number of flight hours.
Instrument Rating (IR)
If you ever want to advance in your career or have the ability to fly in clouds, you will need what is called an Instrument Rating. The Instrument Rating is obtained by meeting certain FAA training and testing requirements which are noted in the FAA’s regulations. The Instrument Rating is by far one of, if not the most, ratings to get on your journey to become a commercial pilot. It will teach you to be a better and more precise pilot and will be a requirement to be hired into 99.9% of all jobs.
Commercial Pilot Certificate (CPL)

If earning money from flying appeals to you, then getting a Commercial Pilot Certificate (CPL) should be on your radar. Unlike with PPL holders who just fly for fun or personal reasons, commercial pilots often find themselves working in entry-level aviation jobs after obtaining their certificates. CPL allows you to earn from flying. However, the requirements are stricter here. Prospective commercial pilots must complete more extensive training programs which include ground school as well as requirements stated in the commercial pilot certification standards Airman Certification Standards (ACS). Passing exams, meeting minimum flight qualification hours, and being medically fit are among the hurdles. But they’re just stepping stones in your journey towards soaring through the skies.




Flight Instructor Certificates and Their Importance



A key step in the journey of advancing your career as a pilot is getting your flight instructor certificate. This isn’t just another box to tick; it’s an opportunity to refine your skills, gain invaluable experience, and help shape future pilots. Although a flight instructor certificate is not required to get a job, it is the most common way to get your Airline Transport Pilot certificate (ATP) requirements.

The Process of Becoming a Certified Flight Instructor
To become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), you need more than just flying skills. Be prepared to dedicate time and effort, as well as stay committed to continuous education. It starts with having at least a Commercial Pilot or ATP Certificate. Then comes the intensive flight training. You’ll practice advanced maneuvers until they’re second nature. But remember, proficiency in the maneuvers is not enough; you must also be able to effectively communicate them. In addition to flight proficiency, candidates are expected to pass two written exams-one on the fundamentals of instruction and the other is key competency areas in regard to flight training. After passing your written test, your ability both in airman knowledge and instructing techniques will be evaluated by an FAA examiner who has the ability to issue flight instructor certificates. This process ensures competent instructors who can confidently mold novice pilots into professionals. If teaching students on Multi-Engine aircraft or teaching students how to obtain an Instrument Rating interests you, then obtaining your Multi-Engine Instructor Rating (MEI) or Instrument Instructor Rating (CFII) could prove beneficial, too. Safety must be a priority for all certified flight instructors, which is why bi-annual proficiency checks are mandated by the FAA called flight instructor refresher course (FIRC).
The Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate
Think of the ATP Certificate is the culmination of your hard work in aviation. It represents the pinnacle of a pilot’s training and is a must-have for those eyeing lucrative positions with scheduled airlines. This certificate may be the only one you don’t have to pay for yourself; most airlines will help cover the cost.
The Importance of The ATP Certificate
In simple terms, this certificate allows you to be in the cockpit of your dream job. But remember, great power comes with significant responsibilities… and stringent requirements. Obtaining an ATP certificate usually is the most difficult training you will do since first learning how to fly. Airlines typically pay for this type of training for you, but there is a high washout rate. You must take the studying and flying part of this certificate very seriously. The ATP Certificate is required by all Part 121 air carriers.
Fulfilling Requirements: A Journey Not for The Faint of Heart

To qualify for an ATP certificate issued by FAA, pilots must meet some demanding criteria: You should have logged minimum hours flying time amounting to 1500 hours if you’re over 23 years old. That’s like watching ‘Top Gun’ around 1000 times back-to-back without breaks. Think you can handle it? If you can, then you’re on the right track! If you’re 21-23, you need either 750 hours in the military or 1250 hours with an aviation degree. This is called a restricted ATP and there are stringent requirements on how to obtain it. You also need to pass written and oral exams to prove that your knowledge of air navigation, meteorology (because inclement weather is more than just a slight inconvenience at 35,000 feet), FAA regulations, and other related topics is up-to-par. But it doesn’t stop there. Pilots will also need to pass a first-class medical exam given by an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME), although a first-class medical exam is only required if you would like to exercise the privileges of an ATP certificate for a Part 121 air carrier.








What is the best pilot certificate to get?


● The “best” pilot certificate depends on your goals. If you aim for a career in aviation, pursue a Multi-Engine Airline Transport Certificate.



How many certifications/ratings are there for pilots?


● Pilots can earn four main certificates: Private, Instrument, Commercial, and Airline Transport Pilot Certificates.



What is the hardest certificate to get as a pilot?


● The Airline Transport Pilot Certificate often poses the most challenges due to its high flight hour requirements and stringent exams.




Overall, understanding different types of pilot certifications helps chart your course in aviation. With each certificate comes new skills, responsibilities and thrilling experiences! Keep aiming higher!

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