Pilot certification in the United States is required for an individual to act as a pilot of an aircraft.It is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a branch of the Department of Transportation (DOT). A pilot is certified under the authority of Parts 61 and (if training was conducted by an FAA-approved school) 141 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, also known as the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).
An FAA-issued pilot certificate is evidence that an individual is duly authorized to exercise piloting privileges. The pilot certificate is one of several kinds of airman certificates issued by the FAA.
The private pilot certificate is the certificate held by the majority of active pilots. It allows command of any aircraft (subject to appropriate ratings) for any non-commercial purpose, and gives almost unlimited authority to fly under visual flight rules (VFR). Passengers may be carried and flight in furtherance of a business is permitted; however, a private pilot may not be compensated in any way for services as a pilot, although passengers can pay a pro rata share of flight expenses, such as fuel or rental costs. Private pilots may also operate charity flights, subject to certain restrictions, and may participate in similar activities, such as Angel Flight, Civil Air Patrol and many others.
The requirements to obtain a private pilot certificate for "airplane, single-engine, land", or ASEL, (which is the most common certificate) are:
Be at least 17 years old (16 years old for glider or balloon rating)
Be able to read, speak, write and understand the English language
Obtain at least a third class medical certificate from an Aviation Medical Examiner (except for glider or balloon)
Pass a computerized aeronautical knowledge test
Accumulate and log a specified amount of training and experience, including the following:
If training under Part 61, Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section 61.109, requires at least 40 hours of flight time, including 20 hours of flight with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight (i.e., by yourself), and other requirements including cross-country flight, which include Solo requirements:
5 hours of solo cross-country time
One solo cross-country flight of at least 150 nmi (280 km) total distance, with full-stop landings at a minimum of three points and with one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of at least 50 nmi (93 km) between the takeoff and landing locations
Three solo takeoffs and landings to a full stop at an airport with an operating control tower.
3 hours of night flight training
One cross-country flight of over 100 nautical miles (190 km) total distance
10 takeoffs and 10 landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport
3 hours of flight training on the control and maneuvering solely by reference to instruments
3 hours of flight training for cross country flights
If training under Part 141, at least 35 hours of piloting time including 20 hours with an instructor and 5 hours of solo flight, and other requirements including cross-country and night flights
Pass an oral test and flight test administered by an FAA inspector, FAA-designated examiner, or authorized check instructor (Part 141 only)
A commercial pilot may be compensated for flying. Training for the certificate focuses on a better understanding of aircraft systems and a higher standard of airmanship. The commercial certificate itself does not allow a pilot to fly in instrument meteorological conditions. For aircraft categories where an instrument rating is available, commercial pilots without an instrument rating are restricted to daytime flight within 50 nautical miles (93 km) when flying for hire.
A commercial airplane pilot must be able to operate a complex airplane, as a specific number of hours of complex (or turbine-powered) aircraft time are among the prerequisites, and at least a portion of the practical examination is performed in a complex aircraft.
The requirements are:
Be at least 18 years of age
Hold a private pilot certificate
Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language
Accumulate and log a specified amount of training and experience; the following are part of the airplane single-engine land class rating requirements:
If training under Part 61, at least 250 hours of piloting time including 20 hours of training with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight, and other requirements including several "cross-country" flights, i.e. more than 50 nautical miles (93 km) from the departure airport (which include Day VFR and Night VFR 100 nmi (190 km) between points, with a time of at least 2hrs; also one cross country which is done solo 250 nmi (460 km) one way, 300 nmi (560 km) total distance with landings at 3 airports) and both solo and instructor-accompanied night flights
If training under Part 141, at least 190 hours of training time including 55 hours with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight, and other requirements including several cross-country, solo, and night flights
Pass a 100-question aeronautical knowledge test
Pass an oral test and flight test administered by an FAA inspector, FAA-designated examiner, or authorized check instructor (Part 141)
By itself, this certificate does not permit the pilot to set up an operation that carries members of the public for hire; such operations are governed by other regulations. Otherwise, a commercial pilot can be paid for certain types of operation, such as banner towing, agricultural applications, and photography, and can be paid for instructing if he holds a flight instructor certificate (In the case of lighter-than-air, only a commercial pilot certificate is required to teach for that category). To fly for hire, the pilot must hold a second class medical certificate, which is valid for 12 months.
Often, the commercial certificate will reduce the pilot’s insurance premiums, as it is evidence of training to a higher safety standard.
Airline transport pilot
An airline transport pilot (commonly called an "ATP") is tested to the highest level of piloting ability. The certificate is a prerequisite for acting as a pilot-in-command (Captain) in scheduled airline operations.
The minimum pilot experience is 1,500 hours of flight time, 500 hours of cross-country flight time, 100 hours of night flight time, and 75 hours instrument operations time (simulated or actual). Other requirements include being 23 years of age, an instrument rating, being able to read, write, speak, and understand the English language, a rigorous written examination, and being of good moral character.
Number of active pilots
As of the end of 2009, in the US, there were an estimated 594,285 active certificated pilots. This number has been declining gradually over the past several decades, down from a high of over 827,000 pilots in 1980. The numbers include:
72,280 student pilots
234 recreational pilots
3,248 sport pilots
211,619 private pilots
125,738 commercial pilots
144,600 airline transport pilots
21,268 glider-only pilots
15,298 rotorcraft-(helicopter)-only pilots
These numbers are based on the highest certifications held by individual pilots.
There were also 94,863 certified flight instructors (CFIs), and 323,495 pilots overall who held instrument ratings.
An active pilot is defined as one who holds both a pilot certificate and a valid medical certificate, for certifications that require a medical certificate
Other certificates and ratings
A flight instructor certificate authorizes the holder to give training and endorsement for a certificate, and perform a flight review.
An instrument rating is required to fly under instrument flight rules. Instrument ratings are issued for a specific category of aircraft; a pilot certified to fly an airplane under IFR has an Instrument Airplane rating.
An instrument instructor rating authorizes a certified flight instructor to give training and endorsement for an instrument rating.
A multi-engine rating is required to fly an airplane with more than one engine. It is the most common example of a class rating.
A multi-engine instructor rating authorizes a certified flight instructor to give training and endorsement for a multi-engine rating.
United States military pilots are issued an Aviator Badge upon completion of flight training and issuance of a pilot's certificate. Badges for crew or ground positions are also issued to qualified applicants.
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