Pilot License Levels : What’s the Difference?

by | FAQs for Beginners

Pilot License Levels : What’s the Difference?

There are five pilot license levels, which can be split into two groups. One group of licenses is intended for pilots who are paid to fly. The other group of licenses is for pilots who only intend to fly for themselves.

Get paid to fly

The first group of pilot license levels includes the Commercial pilot license and the Airline Transport Pilot license. While most people thing of pilots only being paid to fly airliners, there are many flying jobs that can be done by commercial pilots.

Commercial license

The kinds of jobs pilots at the commercial license level can do includes everything from flying corporate jets, medical flights, pipeline patrol, agricultural (spraying), tuna spotting (fishing), cattle herding. traffic and news reporting, flying small passenger charter aircraft, search and rescue flying, flying police patrols, and flying helicopters and water bombers during fire season. Many pilots like to get a commercial pilots license because it makes them better pilots (and it’s a fun rating to add on).

Airline Transport License

The Airline Transport Pilot or ATP license level is required to fly most airliners. Pilots earning an airline transport pilot license are held to a higher standard and must fly more precisely than other pilot levels. All pilots who fly jets, regardless of their pilot license level, are expected to fly to the same standard as airline transport pilots.

Fly for fun

The second group of pilot license levels includes the Private pilot license and the Recreational and Sport Pilot licenses. Of these the most common is the Private Pilot License, which allows you to do almost anything that your insurance company agrees to! 

As the requirements and standards for earning a Private pilot license have risen making it more expensive, attempts to create a more affordable pilot license level have been made. The first was the Recreational pilot license level. Recreational pilots are limited  to staying within 50 miles of their home airport and they can’t fly into airports with a control tower, or at night. 

Recreational license

The recreational pilot level is the least popular of all the license levels because it the most restrictive, but it has more requirements to earn than the Sport Pilot license level.

Sport Pilot license

The Sport Pilot license level is different from the other pilot license levels because people with a Sport Pilot license are only allowed to fly Light-Sport Aircraft. The aircraft must have fixed landing gear, are limited to a top speed of 120 knots (about 138 mph), and can only have two seats. Sport Pilots can only carry one passenger, and are also limited to flying during the day and staying out of airports with control towers. 

Private license

Pilots at the Sport Pilot and Recreational pilot levels can take additional training to fly at night and in more complicated airspace to airports with control towers. However, many student pilots feel by the time they’ve completed and passed the additional training they may just as well get a license at the Private pilot license level.

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