What are the different types of Pilot’s licenses and ratings?
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):
- Student Pilot License (SPL)
- Private Pilot License (PPL)
- Commercial Pilot License (CPL), and
- 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.
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.
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.
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