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Pilot Certificates & Ratings

Introduction:

Pilot Certificates:

  • The type of intended flying influences what type of pilot's certificate is required
    • Eligibility, training, experience, and testing requirements differ depending on the type of certificates sought
  • Each type of pilot's certificate has privileges and limitations that are inherent within the certificate itself
  • However, other privileges and limitations may be applicable based on the aircraft type, operation being conducted, and the type of certificate
  • For example, a certain certificate may have privileges and limitations under 14 CFR part 61 and part 91
    • Privileges: define where and when the pilot may fly, with whom they may fly, the purpose of the flight, and the type of aircraft they are allowed to fly
    • Limitations: the FAA may impose limitations on a pilot certificate if, during training or the practical test, the pilot does not demonstrate all skills necessary to exercise all privileges of a privilege level, category, class, or type rating
  • Endorsements, a form of authorization, are written to establish that the certificate holder has received training in specific skill areas. Endorsements are written and signed by an authorized individual, usually a certificated flight instructor (CFI), and are based on aircraft classification. [Figure 1-21]
  • The following certificates are issued under part 61 to an applicant who satisfactorily accomplishes the training and certification requirements for the certificate sought:
  • The Student Pilot:

    • The first step in becoming a pilot is to select a type of aircraft. FAA rules for obtaining a pilot’s certificate differ depending on the type of aircraft flown. Individuals can choose among airplanes, gyroplanes, weight-shift, helicopters, powered parachutes, gliders, balloons, or airships. A pilot does not need a certificate to fly ultralight vehicles
    • Basic Requirements:

      • A student pilot is one who is being trained by an instructor pilot for his or her first full certificate, and is permitted to fly alone (solo) under specific, limited circumstances. Before a student pilot may be endorsed to fly solo, that student must have a Student Pilot Certificate. There are multiple ways that an aspiring pilot can obtain their Student Pilot Certificate. The application may be processed by an FAA inspector or technician, an FAA-Designated Pilot Examiner, a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), or an Airman Certification Representative (ACR). If the application is completed electronically, the authorized person will submit the application to the FAA’s Airman Certification Branch (AFS-760) in Oklahoma City, OK, via the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA). If the application is completed on paper, it must be sent to the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), who will forward it to AFS-760. Once the application is processed, the applicant will receive the Student Pilot Certificate by mail at the address provided on the application
      • The aforementioned process will become effective on April 1, 2016. The new certificate will be printed on a plastic card, which will replace the paper certificate that was issued in the past. The plastic card certificate will not have an expiration date. Paper certificates issued prior to the new process will still expire according to the date on the certificate; however, under the new process, paper certificates cannot be renewed. Once the paper certificate expires, the Student Pilot must submit a new application under the new process. Another significant change in the new process is that flight instructors will now make endorsements for solo privileges in the Student Pilot’s logbook, instead of endorsing the Student Pilot Certificate
    • To be eligible for a Student Pilot Certificate, the applicant must:
      • Be at least 16 years of age (14 years of age to pilot a glider or balloon)
      • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language
    • Medical Certification Requirements:
      • The second step in becoming a pilot is to obtain a medical certificate (if the choice of aircraft is an airplane, helicopter, gyroplane, or an airship). (The FAA suggests the individual get a medical certificate before beginning flight training to avoid the expense of flight training that cannot be continued due to a medical condition.) Balloon or glider pilots do not need a medical certificate, but do need to write a statement certifying that no medical defect exists that would prevent them from piloting a balloon or glider. The new sport pilot category does not require a medical examination; a driver’s license can be used as proof of medical competence. Applicants who fail to meet certain requirements or who have physical disabilities which might limit, but not prevent, their acting as pilots, should contact the nearest FAA office. Anyone requesting an FAA Medical Clearance, Medical Certificate, or Student Pilot Medical Certificate can electronically complete an application through the FAA’s MedXPress system available at https://medxpress.faa.gov/
      • A medical certificate is obtained by passing a physical examination administered by a doctor who is an FAA-authorized AME. There are approximately 6,000 FAA-authorized AMEs in the nation. To find an AME near you, go to the FAA’s AME locator at www.faa.gov/pilots/ amelocator/. Medical certificates are designated as first class, second class, or third class. Generally, first class is designed for the airline transport pilot; second class for the commercial pilot; and third class for the student, recreational, and private pilot. A Student Pilot Certificate can be processed by an FAA inspector or technician, an FAA Designated pilot examiner (DPE), an Airman Certification Representative (ACR), or a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). This certificate allows an individual who is being trained by a flight instructor to fly alone (solo) under specific, limited circumstances and must be carried with the student pilot while exercising solo flight privileges. The Student Pilot Certificate is only required when exercising solo flight privileges. The new plastic student certificate does not have an expiration date. For airmen who were issued a paper certificate, that certificate will remain valid until its expiration date. A paper certificate cannot be renewed. When the paper certificate expires, a new application must be completed via the IACRA system, and a new plastic certificate will be issued
    • Student Pilot Solo Requirements:
      • Once a student has accrued sufficient training and experience, a CFI can endorse the student’s logbook to authorize limited solo flight in a specific type (make and model) of aircraft. A student pilot may not carry passengers, fly in furtherance of a business, or operate an aircraft outside of the various endorsements provided by the flight instructor. There is no minimum aeronautical knowledge or experience requirement for the issuance of a Student Pilot Certificate, however, the applicant must be at least 16 years of age (14 years of age for a pilot for glider or balloon), and they must be able to read, speak, write and understand the English language. There are, however, minimum aeronautical knowledge and experience requirements for student pilots to solo
  • Sport Pilot:

    • To become a sport pilot, the student pilot is required to have flown, at a minimum, the following hours depending upon the aircraft:
      • Airplane: 20 hours
      • Powered Parachute: 12 hours
      • Weight-Shift Control (Trikes): 20 hours
      • Glider: 10 hours
      • Rotorcraft (gyroplane only): 20 hours
      • Lighter-Than-Air: 20 hours (airship) or 7 hours (balloon)
    • To earn a Sport Pilot Certificate, one must:
      • Be at least 16 years old to become a student sport pilot (14 years old for gliders or balloons)
      • Be at least 17 years old to test for a sport pilot certificate (16 years old for gliders or balloons)
      • Be able to read, write, and understand the English language
      • Hold a current and valid driver’s license as evidence of medical eligibility
    • When operating as a sport pilot, some of the following privileges and limitations may apply:
      • Privileges:
        • Operate as pilot in command (PIC) of a light-sport aircraft unless otherwise stipulated (see below)
        • Carry a passenger and share expenses (fuel, oil, airport expenses, and aircraft rental only)
          • You must pay at least half the operating expenses of the flight
        • Fly during the daytime using VFR, a minimum of 3 statute miles visibility and visual contact with the ground are required
      • Limitations:
        • Prohibited from carrying more than one passenger
        • Prohibited from flying in Class A airspace
        • Prohibited from flying in Class B, C, or D airspace until you receive training and a logbook endorsement from an instructor(FAR 61.325)
        • No flights outside the United States without prior permission from the foreign aviation authority
        • May not tow any object
        • No flights while carrying a passenger or property for compensation or hire
        • Prohibited from flying in furtherance of a business
        • At night
        • To demonstrate the aircraft in flight to a prospective buyer if you are an aircraft salesperson
        • In a passenger-carrying airlift sponsored by a charitable organization
        • At an altitude of more than 10,000 feet MSL or 2,000 feet AGL, whichever is higher
        • When the flight or surface visibility is less than 3 statute miles
        • Without visual reference to the surface
        • If the aircraft:
          • Has a VH greater than 87 knots CAS, unless you have met the requirements of §61.327(b)
          • Has a VH less than or equal to 87 knots CAS, unless you have met the requirements of §61.327(a) or have logged flight time as pilot in command of an airplane with a VH less than or equal to 87 knots CAS before April 2, 2010
        • Contrary to any operating limitation placed on the airworthiness certificate of the aircraft being flown
        • Contrary to any limit on your pilot certificate or airman medical certificate, or any other limit or endorsement from an authorized instructor
        • Contrary to any restriction or limitation on your U.S. driver's license or any restriction or limitation imposed by judicial or administrative order when using your driver's license to satisfy a requirement of this part
        • As a pilot flight crewmember on any aircraft for which more than one pilot is required by the type certificate of the aircraft or the regulations under which the flight is conducted
    • The sport pilot certificate does not list aircraft category and class ratings. After successfully passing the practical test for a sport pilot certificate, regardless of the light-sport aircraft privileges you seek, the FAA will issue you a sport pilot certificate without any category and class ratings. The Instructor will provide you with the appropriate logbook endorsement for the category and class of aircraft in which you are authorized to act as pilot in command
  • Recreational Pilot:

    • To become a recreational pilot, one must:
      • Be at least 17 years old
      • Be able to read, write, speak, and understand the English language
      • Pass the required knowledge test
      • Meet the aeronautical experience requirements in either a single-engine airplane, a helicopter, or a gyroplane
      • Obtain a logbook endorsement from an instructor
      • Pass the required practical test
      • Obtain a third-class medical certificate issued under 14 CFR part 67
    • As a recreational pilot, cross-country flight is limited to a 50 NM range from the departure airport but is permitted with additional training per 14 CFR part 61, section 61.101(c). Additionally, recreational pilots are restricted from flying at night and flying in airspace where communications with ATC are required
    • The minimum aeronautical experience requirements for a recreational pilot license involve:
      • 30 hours of flight time including at least:
        • 15 hours of dual instruction
        • 2 hours of en route training
        • 3 hours in preparation for the practical test
        • 3 hours of solo flight
    • When operating as a recreational pilot, some of the following privileges and limitations may apply:
      • Privileges:
        • Carry no more than one passenger;
        • Not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with a passenger, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenses, or aircraft rental fees
        • A person who holds a recreational pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft on a flight within 50 nautical miles from the departure airport, provided that person has received training in accordance with FAR 61.101(b)
        • A person who holds a recreational pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft on a flight that exceeds 50 nautical miles from the departure airport, provided that person has met the requirements of FAR 61.101(c)
        • A person who holds a recreational pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft in Class B, C, and D airspace, at an airport located in Class B, C, or D airspace, and to, from, through, or at an airport having an operational control tower, provided that person has met the requirements of FAR 61.101(d)
      • Limitations:
        • A recreational pilot may not act as PIC of an aircraft that is certificated for more than four occupants or has more than one powerplant
        • That is certificated:
          • For more than four occupants;
          • With more than one powerplant;
          • With a powerplant of more than 180 horsepower, except aircraft certificated in the rotorcraft category; or
          • With retractable landing gear;
        • That is classified as a multiengine airplane, powered-lift, glider, airship, balloon, powered parachute, or weight-shift-control aircraft;
        • That is carrying a passenger or property for compensation or hire;
        • For compensation or hire;
        • In furtherance of a business;
        • Between sunset and sunrise;
        • In Class A, B, C, and D airspace, at an airport located in Class B, C, or D airspace, or to, from, through, or at an airport having an operational control tower;
        • At an altitude of more than 10,000 feet MSL or 2,000 feet AGL, whichever is higher;
        • When the flight or surface visibility is less than 3 statute miles;
        • Without visual reference to the surface;
        • On a flight outside the United States, unless authorized by the country in which the flight is conducted;
        • To demonstrate that aircraft in flight as an aircraft salesperson to a prospective buyer;
        • That is used in a passenger-carrying airlift and sponsored by a charitable organization; and
        • That is towing any object
      • A recreational pilot may not act as a pilot flight crewmember on any aircraft for which more than one pilot is required by the type certificate of the aircraft or the regulations under which the flight is conducted, except when:
        • Receiving flight training from a person authorized to provide flight training on board an airship; and
        • No person other than a required flight crewmember is carried on the aircraft
      • A person who holds a recreational pilot certificate, has logged fewer than 400 flight hours, and has not logged pilot-in-command time in an aircraft within the 180 days preceding the flight shall not act as pilot in command of an aircraft until the pilot receives flight training and a logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor, and the instructor certifies that the person is proficient to act as pilot in command of the aircraft. This requirement can be met in combination with the requirements of §§61.56 and 61.57 of this part, at the discretion of the authorized instructor
      • A recreational pilot certificate issued under this subpart carries the notation, “Holder does not meet ICAO requirements"
      • For the purpose of obtaining additional certificates or ratings while under the supervision of an authorized instructor, a recreational pilot may fly as the sole occupant of an aircraft:
        • For which the pilot does not hold an appropriate category or class rating;
        • Within airspace that requires communication with air traffic control; or
        • Between sunset and sunrise, provided the flight or surface visibility is at least 5 statute miles
      • In order to fly solo, the recreational pilot must meet the appropriate aeronautical knowledge and flight training requirements of §61.87 for that aircraft. When operating an aircraft under the conditions specified in paragraph (i) of this section, the recreational pilot shall carry the logbook that has been endorsed for each flight by an authorized instructor who:
        • Has given the recreational pilot training in the make and model of aircraft in which the solo flight is to be made;
        • Has found that the recreational pilot has met the applicable requirements of §61.87; and
        • Has found that the recreational pilot is competent to make solo flights in accordance with the logbook endorsement
  • Private Pilot:

    • A private pilot is one who flies for pleasure or personal business without accepting compensation for flying except in some very limited, specific circumstances. The Private Pilot Certificate is the certificate held by the majority of active pilots. It allows command of any aircraft (subject to appropriate ratings) for any noncommercial purpose and gives almost unlimited authority to fly under VFR. Passengers may be carried and flight in furtherance of a business is permitted; however, a private pilot may not be compensated in any way for services as a pilot, although passengers can pay a pro rata share of flight expenses, such as fuel or rental costs. If training under 14 CFR part 61, experience requirements include at least 40 hours of piloting time, including 20 hours of flight with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight. [Figure 1-22]
    • Private Pilot Privileges and Limitations:

      • (a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b) through (h) of this section, no person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire; nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft
      • (b) A private pilot may, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft in connection with any business or employment if:
        • (1) The flight is only incidental to that business or employment; and
        • (2) The aircraft does not carry passengers or property for compensation or hire
      • (c) A private pilot may not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees
      • (d) A private pilot may act as pilot in command of a charitable, nonprofit, or community event flight described in §91.146, if the sponsor and pilot comply with the requirements of §91.146
      • (e) A private pilot may be reimbursed for aircraft operating expenses that are directly related to search and location operations, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees, and the operation is sanctioned and under the direction and control of:
        • (1) A local, State, or Federal agency; or
        • (2) An organization that conducts search and location operations
      • (f) A private pilot who is an aircraft salesman and who has at least 200 hours of logged flight time may demonstrate an aircraft in flight to a prospective buyer
      • (g) A private pilot who meets the requirements of §61.69 may act as a pilot in command of an aircraft towing a glider or unpowered ultralight vehicle
      • (h) A private pilot may act as pilot in command for the purpose of conducting a production flight test in a light-sport aircraft intended for certification in the light-sport category under §21.190 of this chapter, provided that:
        • (1) The aircraft is a powered parachute or a weight-shift-control aircraft;
        • (2) The person has at least 100 hours of pilot-in-command time in the category and class of aircraft flown; and
        • (3) The person is familiar with the processes and procedures applicable to the conduct of production flight testing, to include operations conducted under a special flight permit and any associated operating limitations
  • Commercial Pilot:

    • A commercial pilot may be compensated for flying. Training for the certificate focuses on a better understanding of aircraft systems and a higher standard of airmanship. The Commercial Pilot Certificate itself does not allow a pilot to fly in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), and commercial pilots without an instrument rating are restricted to daytime flight within 50 NM when flying for hire
    • A commercial airplane pilot must be able to operate a complex airplane, as a specific number of hours of complex (or turbine-powered) aircraft time are among the prerequisites, and at least a portion of the practical examination is performed in a complex aircraft. A complex aircraft must have retractable landing gear, movable flaps, and a controllable-pitch propeller. See 14 CFR part 61, section 61.31(e) for additional information. [Figure 1-23]
  • Airline Transport Pilot:

    • The airline transport pilot (ATP) is tested to the highest level of piloting ability. The ATP certificate is a prerequisite for serving as a PIC and second in command (SIC) of scheduled airline operations. It is also a prerequisite for serving as a PIC in select charter and fractional operations. The minimum pilot experience is 1,500 hours of flight time. In addition, the pilot must be at least 23 years of age, be able to read, write, speak, and understand the English language, and be “of good moral standing.” A pilot may obtain an ATP certificate with restricted privileges enabling him/her to serve as an SIC in scheduled airline operations. The minimum pilot experience is reduced based upon specific academic and flight training experience. The minimum age to be eligible is 21 years. [Figure 1-24]

Instructor Certificates:

  • There are two types of instructor certificates, flight, and ground:
    • Flight Instructor Ratings:

      • The following ratings are placed on a flight instructor certificate when an applicant satisfactorily accomplishes the training and certification requirements for the rating sought:
        • Aircraft category ratings:
          • Airplane
          • Rotorcraft
          • Glider
          • Powered-lift
        • Airplane class ratings:
          • Single-engine
          • Multiengine
        • Rotorcraft class ratings:
          • Helicopter
          • Gyroplane
        • Instrument ratings:
          • Instrument -- Airplane
          • Instrument -- Helicopter
          • Instrument -- Powered-lift
        • Sport pilot rating
    • Ground Instructor Ratings:

      • The following ratings are placed on a ground instructor certificate when an applicant satisfactorily accomplishes the training and certification requirements for the rating sought:
        • Basic
        • Advanced
        • Instrument

Pilot Certificate Ratings:

  • The following ratings are placed on a pilot certificate (other than student pilot) when an applicant satisfactorily accomplishes the training and certification requirements for the rating sought:
  • Aircraft category ratings:

    • Airplane
    • Rotorcraft
    • Glider
    • Lighter-than-air
    • Powered-lift
    • Powered parachute
    • Weight-shift-control aircraft
  • Airplane class ratings:

    • Single-engine land
    • Multiengine land
    • Single-engine sea
    • Multiengine sea
  • Rotorcraft class ratings:

    • Helicopter
    • Gyroplane
  • Lighter-than-air class ratings:

    • Airship
    • Balloon
  • Weight-shift-control aircraft class ratings:

    • Weight-shift-control aircraft land
    • Weight-shift-control aircraft sea
  • Powered parachute class ratings:

    • Powered parachute land
    • Powered parachute sea
  • Aircraft type ratings:

    • Large aircraft other than lighter-than-air
    • Turbojet-powered airplanes
    • Other aircraft type ratings specified by the Administrator through the aircraft type certification procedures
    • Second-in-command pilot type rating for aircraft that is certificated for operations with a minimum crew of at least two pilots
  • Instrument ratings (on private and commercial pilot certificates only):

    • Instrument—Airplane
    • Instrument—Helicopter
    • Instrument—Powered-lift

References: