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Pilot Certificate Options

In aviation we might refer to the prized possession as a pilot certificate, but it’s actually a license to learn. What follows are the different levels of pilot certificate.


All pilots start out as students. With the proper training, the student pilot certificate allows you to work toward the first big milestone in aviation: the solo. That’s right, a solo is when your instructor cuts you loose to fly on your own. It will be one of the most exciting and memorable moments of your life. After additional training, you earn either your private, recreational, or sport pilot certificate, which allows you to take one or more passengers for rides.


Almost all pilots in the United States earn a traditional private pilot certificate. It’s what most people think of when we say that someone has their “private.” It has the fewest limitations and, with additional training, can be upgraded to include more advanced capabilities such as flying in bad weather, flying an airplane with two or more engines, or flying professionally.


The recreational pilot certificate is a more limited form of the private certificate. It’s a great way to earn your wings if you’ll be flying close to your home airport during the daytime with no more than one passenger. It requires less effort and money to earn than the private; however, most people who start down this path eventually go on to earn the private certificate anyway. If you become a recreational pilot, additional training and experience will allow you to easily upgrade to a private pilot certificate.


Light Sport AircraftThe sport pilot certificate was introduced in 2004. It’s perfect for people who want to get back to—or want to start with—the basics of flying. Sport pilots fly smaller, lighter, less-complex, one- or two-seat airplanes. Sport pilots can only fly a special limited class of aircraft known as light sport aircraft (LSA). LSAs are popular around the world and are now being manufactured and sold in the United States. Because of their newness, not every flight school will have light sport aircraft available. Sport pilots are not required to have medical certificates. With additional training and a medical certificate, you can easily upgrade to a higher level of certificate.

Certificate comparison chart

Click the image below to launch the chart.


With extensive training, the instrument rating can be added to the private pilot certificate, which enables you to fly in clouds and bad weather by using references to instruments. Beyond that is the commercial pilot certificate if you want to fly for hire and certificated flight instructor, which allows you to teach other people to fly. At the highest level is the airline transport pilot certificate. It’s required for airline, corporate, and charter pilots.

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