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Most people do not understand that there are different types of pilot licenses or different levels of flying. This article should help you figure out which area or goal you should shoot for it you are just starting to explore that journey.

Pilot License Types:

These are the different types of pilot licenses that you can get. Everyone starts as a private pilot so that is where we will start

  • Private Pilot license

  • Commercial pilot license

  • Instrument rating

  • Multi engine rating

  • Certified flight instructor certificate

  • Certified Instrument flight instructor certificate

  • Airline transport pilot

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So how does it work?

Each pilot license or rating has a two part section to it. The first is the written material or the knowledge you need to know for that license and the second is the practical or performance part of learning how to operate the airplane according to those sets of rules. Gone are the days where you had to physically go to a class and learn the requirements in order to take the written exam. Now you can almost always purchase a course or attend virtually to satisfy the ground school requirements. We will now explain the types of pilot licenses there are.

Where do you start?

Everyone starts at the private pilot level. It is the beginning pilot license or the first step in the aviation journey. After you get your private pilot license then you can move on towards the other licenses. Getting the private pilot certificate usually involves about 40 hours of flight time as well as passing the written exam. Once you take your check ride you are good to move on to the next step. A check ride is like a driving test, you are tested on all the requirements for that pilot license.

Private Pilot license

This pilot license is the beginning pilot license that we mentioned earlier. It basically has no benefits except for being able to go fly for fun by yourself or with friends and family. You are not allowed to be compensated for any flying while operating an aircraft. That is the limitation of this certificate. You can fly, you just cant do it professionally. Private pilots are not allowed to fly into any weather conditions that are not in the realm of "visual flight rules" This basically means you are restricted to good weather conditions. It is the first pilot license you will get.

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Commercial Pilot License

The commercial pilot certificate can be the next rating or license that you work on. Its a toss up between commercial or the instrument rating. The main difference is the commercial pilot license allows you to fly for hire or compensation. If you are pursuing a career in aviation, it is a must have pilot license in order to apply for any pilot position. This pilot license has the same requirements, a ground school and written knowledge test completion and a completed course of flying the plane.

Instrument Rating

The instrument rating pilot license is all about flying the aircraft solely in reference to the instruments in the cockpit. This is another level of flying and when you complete this rating you are free from a lot of constraints that the weather brings to private pilots. When you fly in reference to instruments it means you can basically go from one place to the other all in reference to your instruments. This opens up a whole new world and is a skill used daily for commercial pilots. If your goal is to fly for a living, this pilot license is essential.

Multi Engine Rating

The multi engine rating is an add on certificate that allows you to fly aircraft with multiple engines. This usually means twin engine aircraft. The flying is mostly geared towards learning what to do when you lose one of the engines. You will spend a lot of time on this skill and be tested on it as well. If you move on towards a commercial pilot job, this will be something you do over and over during your career. This pilot license will allow you to log the coveted multi engine time.

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Certified Flight Instructor

The instructor rating allows you to teach other prospective pilot candidates how to fly. It is quite rewarding if you enjoy helping others and have some teaching skills. This step is just like the others and follows the ground school and flight school parameters. It has a check ride as do the other ratings or certificates and allows you to find more work since there is always a need for good instructors. Most flight instructors are eager to move on once they build time, however this is a very good pilot license to have.

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Certified Instrument Flight Instructor

This is an advanced pilot license instructor rating which allows you to teach instrument rating students. This rating gives you a wider audience to market too and has all the same requirements. A wider audience means more students, you do not want to limit the amount of students you have because you do not have all the ratings you need.

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Airline Transport Pilot

The airline transport pilot (ATP) is the top of the pile in regards to the licenses for pilots. It is the highest you can go and is also the most challenging. This is the final destination. Same requirements in regards to written tests and by this time you are pro at taking check rides. Once you reach this level, the only thing left is to start earning type ratings, which we will discuss next. The airline transport pilot rating is required to be a captain.

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Type Ratings

A type rating is an individual rating for a particular aircraft. It is attached to your ATP certificate once you complete the check ride. So if you are going to fly the Boeing 737, you would take the 737 type rating training and checkride. These are aircraft specific and almost always done by airlines or companies that require them.

They are pricey and most places include this type of training as part of your employment. If you are going to the airlines, you will be assigned a specific aircraft as your assignment along with a base. So if it is the 737, you would go to 737 school and learn that airplanes systems and standard operating procedures that are just for that plane. Different plane, different type rating. Some pilots collect them over their careers. They are a lot of work.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are actual questions received and often asked on this site and on the internet. Now that you know the different types of pilot licenses you can expand your knowledge.

What are the three types of pilots?

As you can see from the descriptions above there really is not three different types of pilots, there are different levels. Private pilots and instrument pilots fall into the non professional pilots or pilots who cannot receive compensation. Once you attain the commercial pilot rating then you can legally start making an income from your skill set

How many type ratings can a pilot get?

There is no limit, if you are addicted to training and love being in the books, you could easily bid a new aircraft type every couple of years. It really depends on what your lifestyle looks like. My opinion is he who has the least amount of type ratings has the best seniority and has the most time off of anyone.

What are the differences between a CPL and PPL?

This is covered in the first question and there is no need to repeat that.

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What are the different types of type ratings?

Any aircraft weighing in more than 12,500lbs requires a type rating. That is an exhaustive list of aircraft. Type ratings get added into a special section on your airline transport pilot certificate. There are a lot of types of pilot type rating.

What is a category 3 pilot?

There is no such thing as a category 3 pilot. There are three classes of medical certificates which may be what people are asking. First class medicals are the most stringent and are held by professional pilots and captains in most airlines. Second class medical certificates are usually held by first officers at 121 carriers. Third class medical certificates are usually for student pilots that are learning to fly.

What are the different types of airline pilots?

Airline pilots are trained to a specific aircraft under the type rating description made earlier. Each crew, captain and first officer are specifically trained on the type of aircraft they are flying. Airline pilots are referred to as professional pilots when in referencing types of pilot.

What does it take to get a job with a part 135 carrier?

Part 135 carriers are smaller carriers that do not operate under the part 121 regulations. They have their own specific operating procedures and tend to fly smaller non jet aircraft, although that is not always the case. Most likely the minimum required hours of flight time are also lower and generally start around 12oo hours total time. These minimums are set mostly by insurance companies.

What are the flight time requirements for a Part 121 carrier?

Each carrier is different and again insurance companies rule the world. However during certain times of pilot shortages, those minimum will vary in order to fill demand. See the carrier you are interested in to get an exact number. Keep in mind that number may fluctuate.

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What is the most valuable flight time that I can have?

The best or most marketable flight time you can have in your logbook will be multi engine time. Multi time is very much sought after in regards to insurance companies standards. Most companies fly multi engine aircraft and there for want pilots with that kind of experience.  The best multi engine time can also be multi engine turboprop or turbojet time.

Does turbine time make a difference in getting hired somewhere?

Turbine time is very valuable experience. Multi engine turbine time is even better. A company will look with favor on someone who has 200 hours of Beech King Air time over someone who has 200 hours of Cessna Caravan time. They both are turbines but the King Air is a multi engine aircraft.

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Do flight instructors work as professional pilots?

Yes flight instructor pilots are referred to as instructor pilots in part 135 and part 121 carriers. Instructor pilots generally work in the training center facility and are responsible for both classroom instruction as well as simulator instruction.  These jobs are great positions if you do not wish to fly as a line pilot and avoid all the rat race of working in the system.

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