Private Pilot license: What can I fly?

by | FAQs for Beginners

When people start thinking about getting their private pilot license, they often wonder what can I fly? But perhaps a more useful question is, who can I fly?

The most common levels of pilot licenses are private pilot and commercial pilot. Commercial pilots can be paid to fly, while the FAA has very strict rules about accepting any kind of compensation as a private pilot.

Since private pilots are operating in the same airspace as commercial aircraft and the military, the standards they must meet are high. Air traffic controllers can’t tell what certificate a pilot holds, so private pilots can fly into any airport during the day and at night. With an instrument rating, private pilots can fly at night as well.

The FAA allows aircraft as large as 12,500 lbs to be flown by single pilot (that’s as large as a 30-passenger DC-3 airliner), although your insurance company will probably have something to say about you flying yourself and thirty friends without a lot of additional training and a second pilot.

When you have a private pilot license, you can also fly your own personal jet aircraft. The FAA requires pilots of all jet aircraft to have type rating training for the specific make and model of jet you are flying. Because of the speeds and altitudes your personal jet will fly, to get a type rating you need to fly to the same standards as airline transport pilots, even if you have a private pilot license.

You can also get a private pilot license to fly seaplanes and helicopters, as well as gliders and hot air balloons. Unless you’re planning to pursue a career in aviation, there’s very little you can’t do with a private pilot license.

There are few legal limits for people holding a private pilot license. However, insurance companies are more likely to insist on their own requirements before you get into your personal airliner and takeoff. 

Most insurance companies want to see either a minimum number of total hours of flight time, or they will insist you have a mentor pilot sit next to you during your first year or so while you transition into your new airplane. Depending on the aircraft’s capabilities, they will probably also want you to have an instrument rating, and regularly scheduled recurrent training.

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