The recreational pilot certificate may be right for you if you plan to fly for fun in your local area. It generally takes less time to earn than the private pilot certificate, and can serve stepping stone should you decide to move on to the private pilot certificate later.
The recreational pilot certificate requires fewer training hours than the private certificate and can be earned in as few as 30 hours as compared to the 40 hours needed for the private. The reasoning behind this is that as a recreational pilot you receive fewer hours of cross-country navigation training because you must remain within 50 nautical miles of your home base unless you have additional endorsements. You also won't have to learn to fly in airspace requiring communications with air traffic control. And night operations and flight by reference to instruments, which are part of the private pilot training, are eliminated from the recreational pilot's curriculum.
Because of the reduced training requirements, recreational certificate holders are subject to certain limitations and restrictions. As a recreational pilot, you can carry only one passenger in single-engine aircraft of 180 horsepower or less with up to four seats. It won't be a problem finding aircraft that meet the aircraft type requirements. Most general aviation aircraft that are inexpensive to rent or purchase fall into the above-mentioned categories.
As a recreational pilot, your flying must be during daylight hours in good weather. Is there anyone who doesn't like blue sky and sun? You can fly no higher than 10,000 feet unless you happen to be flying over terrain, such as a mountain, that is higher than 10,000 feet.
To remove a limitation—for instance, to fly cross-country or in airspace that requires communication with air traffic control—you can receive extra training and a logbook endorsement from an instructor. An endorsement might look like this:
Endorsement for a recreational pilot to conduct solo flights for the purpose of obtaining an additional certificate or rating while under the supervision of an authorized flight instructor: FAR § 61.101(h)(i).
I certify that I have given Mr./Ms. ______________________ the ground and flight instruction required by FAR § 61.87 in a __________________.
I find that he/she meets the aeronautical knowledge and flight training requirements of FAR § 61.87 and is competent to conduct a solo flight on __________ under the following conditions:
One way to discover if either the 50-mile limitation or airspace restriction will really bother you is to take a trip to your local airport and ask a flight instructor, pilot, or student pilot to open up an aviation map of the area and point out the 50 mile region. Take a close look, with their help, at what areas you'll be able to fly over, around, and through. You can find useful information on the nation’s airports in AOPA's online airport directory.
Flying, like any skill, needs to be practiced. To encourage frequent practice so you won't become rusty, the holder of a recreational pilot certificate with fewer than 400 hours of logged flight time must make three takeoffs and three landings every 90 days in order to be able to carry passengers. Although private pilots have the same requirements, there are some differences. Unlike a private pilot, if you go more than 180 days without logging any flight time, you'll need to take an instructor with you to establish your currency. He or she will need to endorse your logbook, certifying that you are proficient. Even for a private pilot, six months is a long time to go without flying, but it can happen to any of us with busy schedules and bad weather. It's always a great opportunity to spend time with an instructor who can help you improve your skills.
Who's the best candidate for the recreational pilot certificate? Let's imagine two people, Cliff and Jackie, and think about how each might benefit from a recreational pilot certificate. Cliff wants to learn to fly because it looks like fun, and he has always wanted to do it. Cliff is 45 years old, with an established career, a wife, and a child. He and his wife don't have much spare time, but they do have some discretionary income.
Jackie is 15 years old. She is still in high school and hasn't decided what she would like to do yet. She thinks she will be going to college and is holding down a part-time job to help pay for her future education.
Both Cliff and Jackie are good candidates for the recreational pilot certificate. It may take one of them longer to earn the certificate than the other, but the total time and money it takes to acquire their recreational certificates should be less than to earn a private pilot certificate.
Because Cliff doesn't have much spare time in his schedule, he will appreciate getting the recreational certificate with fewer flight hours than it would take to get the private pilot certificate. After he receives his recreational license, he can easily build the additional experience needed to get the private pilot certificate later. Meanwhile, he is enjoying doing something he has always wanted to do.
Jackie needs to watch what she spends. She is thinking of a career in aviation, perhaps aeronautical engineering. The fewer training hours required for the recreational certificate should require less money, yet she will have a leg up on other students should she decide to pursue a professional career in aviation. No matter what career she finally chooses, adding a pilot's license to her resume will show that she has a high level of commitment and the ability to set and achieve goals. It's a terrific resume enhancer. Remember, AOPA has information on flying careers as well as information on scholarships and loans.