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Becoming a Pilot: Get Your License

Posted September 23, 2010

For one to become a pilot, he/she must have a pilot certificate or commonly referred to as a pilot license. But what are the different types of certificates for becoming a pilot?

There are four (4) types of pilot certificates that the FAA may issue.  The Student Pilot Certificate, Private Pilot Certificate (PPL), Commercial Pilot Certificate (CPL), and the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (ATP). These certificates are issued following specific regulations.

Student Pilot Certificate

The Student Pilot Certificate is not necessary for a pilot trainee during dual flight instruction time. However, it is the first certificate needed prior to flying solo. Therefore it is needed for flight during your private pilot training early on.  Upon issuance, this certificate will expire after 24 months. A Pilot Medical Certificate is required to be issued a student pilot certificate.

Private Pilot Certificate (PPL)

Private Pilot Certificate is the minimum requirement for a pilot to take passengers with him/her during a flight. Unlike the student pilot certificate, a PPL does not have an expiration date, however a Bi-annual Flight Review (BFR) must be conducted to remain current. Basically, upon issuance of this certificate, you can ask your family and friends to be your passengers indefinitely. As a requirement to get your PPL, you need a minimum of 40 flight hours, take a written exam, and take a practical exam administered by the FAA.

Commercial Pilot Certificate (CPL)

This particular certificate is required for a pilot to get paid to fly. Like the private pilot certificate, you need to take a written and practical exam and have at least 250 hours of flight time, 100 of which must be Pilot-in-Command.

Applicants for this type of pilot certificate must already have the private pilot certificate plus additional dual training with a flight instructor.  They must also have at least 50 hours of cross-country time in which varying requirements are outlined in FAR 61.129.
Like the PPL, a CPL does not have an expiration date.

Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (ATP)

Airline Transport Pilot Certificate’s is the highest certificate a pilot can have during their entire flight career. It is required before becoming a Captain in the airlines. The flight time requirement is 1500 hours, which include specifics for night, cross-country and instrument times outline in FAR 61.159.  An ATP is different from a CPL. You need hold a CPL in order to be paid to fly and to be a co-pilot in the airlines, but an ATP is required for those who want to become Captain of that aircraft.  The ATP does not have an expiration date either.