A number of pilot certificates are available from the Federal Aviation
Administration, each with its own privileges and limitations. Detailed
information for each is available in the Federal Aviation Regulations, or FARs.
FAR Part 61 contains the regulations pertaining to pilot certification.
Below is a brief summary of the different pilot certificates.
A student pilot certificate allows a student the ability to gain solo flight
experience, which is a prerequisite for other pilot certificates. When a
student is flying with a flight instructor, the flight instructor is acting as
the pilot in command of the flight. However, when flying solo, the student
must act as the pilot in command of the flight, since he or she is the only one
on board. Obtaining a student pilot certificate is as simple as requesting
one through the FAA. Since a medical certificate is also required to solo,
the FAA allows aviation medical examiners to issue the student a student pilot
certificate and medical certificate at the same time. As a result, your
first medical certificate usually also acts as your student pilot certificate,
since the two documents are issued on the same piece of paper.
A sport pilot certificate allows a person to act as pilot of a light sport
aircraft. A light sport aircraft is lightweight, simple, and carries no
more than two occupants. A sport pilot certificate does not require as
much training time, but carries restrictions, such as daytime flight only and no
flying in the furtherance of a business. This type of pilot certificate is
suitable for someone who's aviation interests lay within these restrictions.
The recreational pilot certificate requires more training than the sport pilot,
but not as much as the private pilot certificate. The recreational pilot
is allowed to fly an aircraft certified for up to four occupants, with a
powerplant having as much as 180 horsepower. However, the recreational
pilot is still limited to carrying only one passenger and is limited to daytime
flying. A recreational pilot may not fly cross-country without additional
A private pilot may fly in furtherance of a business, as long as the flight is
only incidental to that business and is not commercial in nature. He or
she may also act as a pilot for community fundraising and charitable events, as
FAR Part 91
, which contains general flight rules. A private
pilot is also permitted to fly at night and cross-country.
Private pilots are not permitted to act as the pilot in command of an airplane
for compensation or hire. A pilot is considered to be compensated if he or
she pays less than the pro rata share of the flying expenses. In other
words, if a private pilot went flying with a friend, the two could split the
costs of the flight. However, if the friend paid 51% or more of these
costs, the private pilot would be considered compensated by the friend. If
the pilot and three friends went flying, then all four persons could split the
flying costs. In this case, the pilot would be compensated if he or she
paid less than 25% of the flying expenses.
There are a number of exceptions to this limitation, such as a pilot who is
flying for charitable purposes, assisting with search and rescue operations, or
showing an airplane for sale to a prospective buyer.
Commercial pilot certification requires additional training and experience after
certification as a private pilot. A commercial pilot may carry persons or
property for compensation or hire. However, most commercial operations are
governed by regulations which require additional training and flight experience
before the commercial pilot is considered qualified for that specific operation.
Airline Transport Pilot
To obtain an airline transport pilot certificate, the pilot must first hold a
commercial pilot certificate and be rated for instrument flying. The ATP
certificate is required for a pilot to act as the pilot in command for some
commercial operations, such as scheduled airline operations.
To become a flight instructor, the pilot must first hold a commercial or ATP
certificate. A flight instructor
certificate allows a pilot to provide flight and ground instruction.
Change of Address
It is illegal to fly on your pilot certificate for more than 30 days after you
have moved, unless you have notified the FAA of your new permanent mailing
"The holder of a pilot, flight instructor, or ground
instructor certificate who has made a change in permanent mailing address may
not, after 30 days from that date, exercise the privileges of the certificate
unless the holder has notified in writing the FAA, Airman Certification Branch,
P.O. Box 25082, Oklahoma City, OK 73125, of the new permanent mailing address,
or if the permanent mailing address includes a post office box number, then the
holder's current residential address."
Your pilot logbook documents your flight experience. You must log flight
time to show you have met the flight experience requirements of the certificate,
rating, or authorization you seek to obtain. Additionally, you must log
any flight experience that shows you meet the recency of flight requirements.
Different types of flight times are often required. A few of these types
of flight time have conditions which must be met in order to be legally logged
as that type.
This regulation also requires student pilots to carry their logbooks during solo
cross countries, since it contains the evidence that the student pilot has been
found qualified to make the cross country flight. The pilot logbook or any
other required documents must be presented upon request to the FAA, the NTSB, or
law enforcement officer.