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 training.


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 permitted by

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.

Flight Instructor

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 address.

"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."

Pilot Logbooks

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.

Part 61 contains the regulations pertaining to pilot certification.

Part 91 contains general flight rules.

§ 61.113 Private pilot privileges and limitations: Pilot in command.

§ 61.60 Change of address.

§ 61.51 Pilot logbooks.