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Type rating word soup

What’s in your wallet?

I often ask private pilot applicants at the beginning of their oral exam, “After you pass your checkride, you will be issued a certificate that says you are rated to fly single-engine land airplanes. Will you then be legal to act as PIC in any and all single-engine landplanes?”

Illustration by Andrew Baker
Zoomed image
Illustration by Andrew Baker

Most applicants will correctly list the most relevant groups of aircraft that will require additional training: complex, tailwheel, and so on. The sharpest will also add, “and anything with a jet engine or over 12,500 pounds will also require a type rating.”

For a single-engine pilot these distinctions are nearly academic; the Cirrus Vision Jet is the only single-engine jet in production, and civilian non-jet singles over 12,500 pounds are oddities of Soviet manufacturing or special-use agriculture application aircraft. For the multiengine pilot, however, the field of aircraft requiring a type rating encompasses roughly 200 designations, from pistons to turboprops and pure jets. Each of these ratings can cover a dozen or more commercial variants that can be flown under that one type rating; keeping straight the formal type ratings and what models are covered confuses even the most savvy jet pilot.

A conversation I’ve frequently had starts with the following query: “Hey, what Gulfstream type rating is it that you have?” My reply of “G-VII” is often answered with “Oh cool! The G-700, huh? Just saw a picture of it, looks like a great plane.”

One type rating...

Cessna Citation CJ3+. Cessna Citation CJ, CJ1, CJ1+, CJ2, CJ2+, CJ3, CJ3+, CJ4, and M2: Despite widely differing systems, performance, and avionics, all are covered by the CE-525 type rating. Cessna Citation CJ4 Cessna Citation M2 Cessna Citation CJ3+ Cessna Citation CJ4 Cessna Citation CJ

This in turn leads to a lengthy explanation that no, actually, the G-700 isn’t certified yet and may not be (the rumor mill says will not be) covered by the G-VII type rating. The G-VII covers the G-500 and G-600 (which is not covered by the G-VI type rating—that’s for the G-650!), while the G-700 will probably be typed on a pilot’s certificate as a G-VIII. Clear as mud, right?

There is a good bit of seeming capriciousness in the FAA’s choices on what models a type rating covers, and when to spin off a new type. Take the examples of two of the most successful light jet families: the Cessna CJ line and Embraer’s Phenoms. The Phenom 100 and 300 each require a separate type rating: EMB-500 and EMB-505, respectively. This is despite that fact that the systems and flight deck of each model are largely identical, with just a handful of added switches for the 300 to control the slightly more complex hydraulic and air systems.

Contrast the CE-525 type rating which covers every CJ model from the original Citation Jet built in the early 1990s to the in-production M2, CJ3+, and CJ4. The line has featured avionics by every major manufacturer including Honeywell, Universal, Rockwell Collins, and Garmin, and has seen engineering evolution to the point that the CJ4 has nearly no commonality with the original Citation Jet in terms of the major systems. Yet a pilot trained in a CJ1 can legally act as pilot in command in a CJ4 without any further training or checking (of course insurance underwriters will have a different opinion).

Even within a manufacturer’s family the lines that separate type ratings often feel arbitrary. The cockpit, systems, and performance of the last Citation built that was covered by the CE-500 type rating—the CE-560 Encore+—are remarkably similar to that of the CJ3, yet each requires a separate type rating to fly. The aforementioned G-700 will share most systems and cockpit design with the G-500/600, but again will require a new rating. The Embraer Legacy 450 and 500 and Praetor 500 and 600, by contrast, all share a type rating.

Further confusing are differences in how the privilege to operate a jet as a single pilot is spelled out on a type rating. A pilot with “CE-510” on their certificate can only operate a Cessna Mustang with a qualified second-in-command (SIC); if they had passed a checkride demonstrating single-pilot proficiency their type rating would instead be “CE-510S.” The same is true for Eclipse or Premier pilots—the “S” suffix spells out the right to operate as a single pilot. Contrast with a Phenom 100 or HondaJet pilot—the “EMB-500” or “HA-420” rating implies the pilot can fly single pilot, otherwise a limitation would be added to the rating that a second in command is required. Clear, right?

Finally, a unique FAA twist to the type rating soup is the “SIC Privileges” type rating. Most of the world has long required both the PIC and SIC of an aircraft requiring a type rating carry the appropriate rating on their certificate. In contrast, the FAA allows an aircraft to be flown by an SIC with only the appropriate class rating—airplane multiengine land, most commonly. So that FAA-certificated pilots can operate outside of the United States without hassle, the FAA created what is essentially a type rating in name only for SICs. By completing a (very) short flight in the airplane in question and some vaguely defined self-study (“Become familiar with...Operational procedures applicable to the powerplant, equipment, and systems, performance specifications and limitations, normal, abnormal, and emergency operating procedures, flight manual [and] placards and markings”), a pilot can receive a type rating on their certificate that is limited to “SIC Privileges Only,” with no practical test required.

Neil Singer
Neil Singer is a corporate pilot, designated examiner, and instructor in Embraer Phenoms and Cessna Citations. He has more than 10,000 hours of flight time with more than 20 years of experience as an active instructor.

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