The Ultimate Guide To Types Of Pilot Licenses In The USA

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Are you thinking of enrolling in an aviation school? Or you’re just interested in the process of pursuing a flying career? Whether you’re eager to take the skies or you’re just curious about how to become a pilot in the USA – This guide discusses all the FAA pilot licenses administered to airmen and women in the USA.

Before we dive in here’s a quick overview of the Pilot License Types in the USA:

  1. Private Pilot License
  2. Commercial Pilot License
  3. Airline Transport Pilot License
  4. Certified Flight Instructor License
  5. Sport Pilot License
  6. Recreational Pilot License

Each license type has specific requirements, like flying hours, current certificates, ratings, and medical information. It’s worth mentioning here that pilot licenses, or certificates, are not the same thing as ratings.

A pilot license often referred to as a pilot’s license is a license – much like a driving license – that allows a person to fly an aircraft. While ratings are endorsements that expand the privileges of your license/certificate and let you do cool things with that license. They include things like your aircraft category, category/class rating, “type rating” for aircraft, and additional operating privileges for your license/certificate.

Private Pilot License

The Private Pilot License is the most basic, yet the most popular, type of pilot certificate in the USA. If you’re wishing to fly your friends and family with you as a pilot in command, this license type will grant you that privilege. The Private Pilot license type is the prerequisite certification for any future pilot and it allows you to pilot aircraft in almost any VFR condition, fly at night, and carry several passengers.

In order to obtain your FAA Private Pilot License, you must pass the written tests, the FAA check-ride, and hold a valid driver’s license.

This license type is the go-to certificate for anyone who’s seeking recreational flying.


  • Log a minimum of 35 hours of varied flight time
  • 2nd Class Medical Certificate
  • You must be at least 18 years old


Pilots with this type of license are not allowed to fly for commercial purposes.

Commercial Pilot License

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The Commercial Pilot Type Allows pilots to be paid for their flying services. So if you’re looking to make a career out of flying, the commercial pilot license will help get you there, as this pilot certificate will allow you to fly for hire.

Commercial pilots must undergo training to fly specialized aircraft with retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable-pitch controller. This training requires more precision and knowledge of professional flight operations.

Obtaining this certificate is not the last step to becoming an airline pilot, but it does open up a wide range of fly-related opportunities.


  • Log a minimum of 35 hours of varied flight time
  • 2nd Class Medical Certificate
  • You must be at least 18 years old


As mentioned above, pilots with this license type are not qualified to fly for an airline, but it gives you the opportunity to pilot corporate jets, tours, crop dusters, and more.

Airline Transport Pilot License

The Airline Transport Pilot License is the pinnacle of pilot licenses and the goal for most career pilots. This is the highest level of certificate one can obtain that allows you to fly for major airlines. This is one of the most common career pilots and is certainly the certificate with the most requirements. Normally, if you start off with zero hours, it takes around 2 years to complete your Airline Transport Pilot Certificate.
If you’re to make the most out of your flying career, this is the ideal pilot license type to


  • First Class medical
  • At least 1500 hours total flight time in most cases
  • Commercial Pilot Certificate with Instrument Rating (because of this, your instrument rating is not listed on your certificate if you hold an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate.)
  • An Airline Transport Pilot Certification Training Program must be completed.
  • Be at least 23 years old


Excluding briefings and debriefings, an ATP may not instruct in aircraft and simulators:

  • For more than 8 hours in any 24-consecutive-hour period; OR
  • For more than 36 hours in any 7-consecutive-day period.

Certified Flight Instructor License

This pilot license type gives you the ability to instruct in airplanes and allows you to take advantage of the large need for flight instructors across the world. As a Certified Flight Instructor, you can train student pilots in flying different types of aircraft in different weather conditions. This certification allows one to teach at flight schools, become a private instructor, and even teach at an airline.

If you are really serious about a career as a pilot, pursuing a flight instructor license should be your main aim. This type of pilot career will give you the opportunity to pass on the flying knowledge you have acquired to new pilots, veteran pilots, and aspiring pilots.


  • Complete all additional CFI training coursework
  • Log more than 15 hours of Pilot In Command (PIC) time while supervising a student pilot
  • Pass all additional written CFI exam
  • Complete an instrument (IR) course
  • Obtain an endorsement from your CFI stating that you have completed learning the basics and fundamentals of how to be a certified flight instructor.

Sport Pilot License

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The Sport Pilot License is issued to sport pilots who are looking to operate an aircraft with a max gross takeoff weight of 1320 pounds. This is the easiest and least restrictive pilot certificate that one can obtain as the time requirements are far less than what is needed for a full FAA license. If you’re looking to fly in light aircraft, at low altitudes in your local area, a Sport Pilot License is your ideal choice.


  • Must hold a Valid Driver’s License or at least a Class 3 Medical
  • 20 hours minimum flight time logged
  • Be at least 17 years old (of 16 for glider or balloon)


Pilots with this type of license have limited privileges. As mentioned previously, they can only pilot aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 1320 pounds carry no more than one passenger and fly only during the daytime up to 10,000 feet MSL (sea level). Furthermore, pilots with the Sport License can fly only Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) and are not eligible for additional ratings.

Recreational Pilot License

If you’re looking to fly aircraft that are heavier than the ones used for sports pilot training without having to undergo advanced training, this is the type of pilot license you
should pursue. So if you’re looking to fly for leisure in your local area the Recreational pilot license is
your ideal choice.


  • 30 hours of logged flight time, out of which 15 hours should be under the guidance and instruction of a professional instructor
  • Be at least 17 years old
  • Pass a required oral and practical flight test administered by a FAA-designated examiner
  • Hold either a student or sport pilot certificate


Pilots with this type of license are not allowed to fly to an airport further than 50 nm from the departure point without an instructor or an endorsement. They’re also not allowed to carry more than one passenger and can’t fly above 10.000 ft MSL.

Pilot Ratings & Endorsements

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The above pilot license types come with at least one rating that grants the pilots additional aeronautical privileges. Let’s take a look at some of the FAA Pilot Ratings and Endorsements.

FAA Ratings

Instrument Rating

The Instrument Rating allows a pilot to operate an aircraft in inclement weather with limited visibility, such as rain, clouds, fog, and limited night visibility. Instrument ratings are the most popular ratings among private pilots, and they are typically taken as the next step in their training.

Multi-Engine Rating

The Multi-Engine Rating is the second rating in the training process that can be attached to a Private, Commercial, or ATP license type. While one can choose to train in a multi-engine aircraft first, the training would be much more challenging as it is more practical and efficient to train in a single-engine aircraft from the outset. The majority of students complete their certifications in single engines and then add a rating in multi-engines.

FAA Endorsements

As with the FAA Ratings, FAA Endorsements may also be added to your pilot license, granting you additional aeronautical privileges. Unlike the certificates and ratings, endorsements do not require an exam. All they require is at least one hour of theoretical training, as well as a minimum of one hour of flight training. There are three FAA endorsements:

High-Performance Endorsement

Pilots with the High-Performance Endorsement can fly aircraft with an engine thrust of 201 horsepower or more. The endorsement can be achieved by completing theoretical training and flight training for one hour each. A pilot will receive his endorsement into the logbook if all maneuvers, take-offs, and
landings are successful.

Complex Endorsement

To qualify as a “complex” aircraft in The United States, an aircraft must have retractable landing gear and variable pitch propellers. Training in this type of aircraft consists of one hour of theoretical training and one hour of flight training.

Tailwheel Endorsement

The Tailwheel Endorsement permits a pilot to fly a “tailwheel” type aircraft. An aircraft of this type has two main wheels forward and a small wheel behind the tail. Tailwheel aircraft are operated differently from tricycle nose landing gear aircraft. Due to this, in order to obtain the FAA endorsement, one must perform at least five flights to become proficient in a tailwheel aircraft and earn the Tailwheel Endorsement.
Are You Ready For Take-Off?

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Still not sure which of the above certifications best suits your needs? Here’s a hint: Start defining your Pilot Goals by deciding on the type of aircraft you’d like to fly. It’s also important to consider your intended aviation activity. Hoping that the guide helps you to make a more informed decision and ensures that you kick off your piloting career with the right training.

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