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What are the different types of Pilot’s licenses and ratings?

Updated on August 23, 2012
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Manpreet "Prince" Singh is a FAA certificated flight instructor with about 20 years of experience as a pilot and flight instructor.

Pilot Licenses

In one of my previous posts I talked about how to become an airline pilot, and briefly talked about various steps one has to go through to get the airline pilot job. Also read How to pay for your Flight Training. If you have not read that post yet, make sure you do, as the information provided in both these posts covers the steps to become an airline pilot. Here I am explaining the different types of pilot certificates and ratings you will need on your journey towards an airline cockpit.

There are a total of 4 types of pilot licenses (in US we call them certificates):

  1. Student Pilot License (SPL)
  2. Private Pilot License (PPL)
  3. Commercial Pilot License (CPL), and
  4. Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)

Student Pilot License (SPL)

This is the first pilot license one would need to fly an airplane as a pilot-in-command. When you are flying and receiving training from a flight instructor, you do not need any license. However, at some point during your training your instructor would get out of the airplane and would want you to go up on your own. This is called a solo, and the first one is called the first solo. And for this solo, and all the subsequent ones, you need a student pilot license. Typically, you would need this until you reach 40-50 hours of total flight time and get your Private Pilot License (PPL).

An SPL is good for 24 months, and the process to get it is pretty simple. You will also need a Pilot Medical Certificate. Usually you would get both of them together.

Airline Pilot

Airline Pilot
Airline Pilot

Private Pilot PPL and Commercial Pilot CPL

Private Pilot License (PPL)

A Private Pilot License (PPL) is the minimum required for a pilot to take passengers up with him or her. Once you have your PPL, you can take your family and friends up with you whenever you go fly around. You will need to take a written and a practical test to get your PPL. But don’t worry, it is all covered during your training as an SPL holder. A PPL in the United States does not expire. That means, once you have it, you have it forever. Of course if you do something you are not supposed to do, it can be suspended or even revoked. :-).

Commercial Pilot License (CPL)

A Commercial Pilot License (CPL) is what you would need to get a job, and get paid as a pilot. If you want to join the airlines as a pilot, this is the minimum requirement. You will need about 250 hours total flight time to get your CPL. Again there is no expiration date on this license.

Just like your Private, you would need to pass a written and a practical exam to get your Commercial Pilot License.

Airline Transport Pilot ATPL, Multi Engine Rating ME and Instrument Rating IR

Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)

This is the big-daddy of all the pilot certificates or licenses. To be a Captain with an airline, you would need to have an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL). You need to have at least 1500 hours of flight time to qualify for this. This license does not have any expiration date either.

Just to clarify, you need a Commercial Pilot License to get a job with an airline as a co-pilot or a first officer. But to become a Captain eventually, you need an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL).

And then there are Pilot Ratings

Pilot ratings are additional qualifications that you can add to an existing Pilot’s license to enhance your abilities as a pilot. The examples are: Instrument Rating and Multi Engine Rating.

Instrument Rating (IR)

An Instrument Rating (IR) is what’s required to be able to fly an airplane inside and through the clouds, and at times of low visibility. The training involves the pilot to learn how to fly an airplane simply by looking at flight instruments inside the cockpit. If you are on a career path to be an airline pilot then this is a must. IR is a requirement to get a job with an airline, and also to qualify for an Airline Transport Pilot. This is usually obtained after your get your Private Pilot License, and before you get your Commercial Pilot License.

Multi-Engine Rating

Most of your training will be done on single engine airplanes (SE), like Cessna and Piper. However, to qualify for an airline pilot position, you will need to be qualified to fly airplanes with multiple engines. Most airline airplanes have more than one engine. And this training is called Multi-Engine Rating (ME). Most people get their Multi-Engine Rating along with or right after their Commercial Pilot License.

So, I hope now you have some basic knowledge about various pilot licenses or certificates, and the required ratings to be an airline pilot prospect.

If you liked this article, either subscribe to my RSS feed or become a fan by clicking on the link in the top right corner. This would definitely encourage me to write more, and on a regular basis. Thanks.

And if you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below. And if you wish, you can also visit my educational blog by clicking on the links at the bottom of this page.

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    • profile image

      Brook 2 years ago

      What about the Sport Pilot Licence? Or was this article written before the SPL was created?

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      dennis runyoro 3 years ago

      so SPL has expire date

      thanks

    • Skypark profile image

      Skypark 5 years ago from Salt Lake City

      av8erprince,

      Great hub, love all the information. Question: you say that all these licenses don't expire, but don't they require a re-certification every certain amount of time that passes (5 years for example)? Gotta prove you still know how to fly an airplane, right?

      - Anders

      http://skypark.tv/

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      I am not sharing mine ;-)

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      SPL is usually a simple post medical exam fee based. It is a license to learn. Usually your local flight training schools or flying clubs can help you get one.

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      ok I will try to next time. Thanks.

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      Visit the American School of Aviation site link at the bottom of this post to get all that information.

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      It is the same license, just 2 different syllabi.

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      Check out the website links at the bottom of this post.

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      Flying is my passion, teaching flying is my love, so writing about this comes easy for me. Thanks for visiting.

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      yes you can, but DGCA will not convert your CPL to Indian, their requirement is +2 non-medical. I know a lot of pilots, who finished their CPL training in the USA, and then went back to India and took +2 non medical test before converting.

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      Try the links at the bottom of this article. Those sites explain all this in much more detail.

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      Thanks Kosmo. :-)

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      Thanks everyone for all the great comments. Visit the links below to get more information on flight training and pilot licenses.

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      Kevin 5 years ago

      My email is california.ra@gmail.com

    • profile image

      Kevin 5 years ago

      How do u get a spl.

      Dou pay or earn it.

      Thanx if u reply

    • profile image

      ika vitus k 5 years ago

      i am happy with your article.but can you give the required subject to be a pilot.

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      vinu xavier 5 years ago

      i am a graduate in mba. and i wish to do pilot training cource since i dont hav any background related to physics ,maths, and chemistry after my 10th grade. plz reply mi to my email : laly4christ@gmail.com and plz inform mi abt the duration of the cource too. Thank you.

    • profile image

      Student 6 years ago

      I am doing an assignment about Commercial Pilot License and Multicrew Pilot License. Does anyone know what are the main differences between the two licenses?

    • profile image

      dhruv 7 years ago

      my contact number is 8866297962 actually i am going now for cpl training pls suggest me if any one knws about this field pls

      thanks

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      Aera 7 years ago

      Great hub Av8er Prince, Glad to see more pilots getting on here and making hubpages a better place. I wish I could write copy as well as you do:) Keep up the good work fellow Av8er...

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      amanjeet singh 7 years ago

      me a sdt ,,,,, i have done graduate ,, i have maa +1 in non,medical ,, but not +2 .. can i get in there, i mean to admission ,,,, plz answer me ,, at amanjeet.s1986@yahoo.com

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      moses  7 years ago

      Im in high school and want to become a pilot how do i go about doing that . I want to go to a 4 year college and get the whole college experience also like a big state universities is there anyone that you know about r know where i can get more information?

      My email is

      moses2121@live.com

      thanks for your help

    • av8erprince profile image
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      Manpreet Prince Singh 7 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      Thanks for reading Kosmo. I loved your 10 top airplanes one very much.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 7 years ago from California

      Thanks a lot for the pilot info, Av8erprince. Later!