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What is a Private Pilot License?


A Private Pilot License (PPL) is the most sought after type of pilot certification. In the United States, a Private Pilot License is actually called a Private Pilot Certificate and is similar to what a driver's license is for automobiles. By earning a private pilot license, you can legally fly an aircraft. Private pilots are trained to navigate small aircraft by themselves. Flight training includes aircraft maneuvers, navigation, emergency procedures and cross-country flight planning. While people may seek the license for hobby or sport reasons, a private pilot certification is the first major milestone on the road to becoming an airline pilot.


What Can I Do With a Private Pilot License?


Since the private pilot certificate allows you to fly in and out of all civil airports, a licensed pilot may partake in activities ranging from flying to a nearby airport for lunch, to traveling across the country or even around the world without ever stepping foot on an airliner. A private pilot can take friends and family for rides, practice maneuvers, or become involved in many of the wonderful programs that introduce people to flying.


What Kind of Aircraft Can I Fly With a Private Pilot License?


Private pilots are allowed to fly any aircraft for which they are appropriately rated. ”Appropriately rated“ refers to the successful training in a specific category and class rating of aircraft. An example of ”category“ would be ”airplane“ or ”helicopter“ while an example of ”class rating“ would be ”single-engine land“ meaning the aircraft has one engine and is limited to operations on land rather than on water. So, upon completion of your Private Pilot Certificate rated for ”airplane, single-engine land“ although you may have trained in a Cessna 172 you are allowed to act as pilot-in-command (PIC) in any aircraft that is a single-engine land airplane, a Piper Archer for example. Acting as pilot-in-command means you have the final authority and responsibility for the operation of the aircraft and the safety of the flight. Some aircraft may require additional authorization to act as PIC, known as receiving an endorsement, such as tailwheel or high-performance aircraft.


Can I Get Paid to Fly With a Private Pilot Certificate?


No, you may not act as pilot-in-command of an airplane for compensation or hire, nor an aircraft carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire. However, you may act as PIC of an aircraft and receive pro rata share, or an equal portion, of the operating expenses (fuel, oil, airport expenditures, and rental fees only) from others onboard the aircraft, as long as you do not pay less than the pro rata share. With a private pilot certificate, you can act as pilot-in-command of an aircraft towing a glider, fly for charity, non-profit, or community events, or assist in search and location operations and be reimbursed for fuel, oil, airport expenses, and rental fees.An aircraft salesman who also holds a private pilot certificate and has at least 200 hours may act as pilot-in-command while demonstrating an aircraft to a customer. Also, you may even act as a test pilot (with certain limitations).


How Long Does It Take to Earn a Private Pilot License?


The amount of time required to earn a private pilot certificate varies and largely depends on weather, availability, finances, and how often a student is available to fly. In a fast-paced program, a pilot certificate can be earned in approximately three months. For other students who are only able to fly once in a while a pilot certificate could take a couple years.



What Are the Eligibility Requirements for a Private Pilot Certificate?


In order to receive a private pilot certificate, all candidates will be evaluated by an FAA examiner during a practical test consisting of an oral portion and a flight portion. An instructor will need to provide training to the candidate and ensure the student meets all aeronautical experience requirements prior to applying for the practical test. Prior to the practical test, students must also complete a written knowledge exam. All candidates must be at least 17 years of age on the date of the practical test to be eligible. In addition, they must be able to read, speak, write, and understand English.

Reference 14 CFR §61.103 for the entire list of eligibility requirements.


Private Pilot License Requirements


To earn a private pilot certificate, a pilot must:

  • Be 17 years of age

  • Read, speak, write and understand the English language

  • Hold a U.S. student pilot certificate, sport pilot certificate, or recreational pilot certificate

  • Receive flight training and a logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor

  • Meet the aeronautical experience requirements for the aircraft rating sought

  • Pass a practical test for the aircraft rating sought

Reference 14 CFR §61.103 for a complete listing of all requirements.

Aeronautical Experience


According to federal regulations, you must meet the following aeronautical flight experience requirements to earn a private pilot license. At a minimum, private pilot candidates qualified for the practical test will have logged 40 hours of flight time that includes 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor as well as 10 hours of solo flight. The training must include:

  • 3 hours of cross-country flight training

  • 3 hours of night flight training consisting of:

    • One cross country flight over 100 nautical miles 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 control and maneuvering solely by reference to instruments

  • 3 hours of flight training with an authorized instructor in preparation for the practical test within the preceding 2 calendar months from the month of the test

  • 10 hours of solo flight time consisting of:

    • 5 hours of solo cross-country time

    • One solo cross country flight of 150 nautical miles total distance with full stop landings at three points and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight line distance of more than 50 nautical miles between takeoff and landing locations

    • Three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower

Reference 14 CFR §61.109 for more details on flight time requirements.

Take the Private Pilot Checkride (FAA Practical Test)


Once you have received the required flight training, you are eligible for the FAA Practical Exam, also known as a checkride. The exam must be administered by a designated FAA examiner and consists of an oral and flight exam. If you are successful with the oral exam, the examiner will administer the flight exam. Upon the successful completion of both, the examiner will help you fill out your FAA paperwork and you will receive a temporary private pilot certificate to use until you receive your official FAA certificate.

Private Pilot License Medical Requirements


In order to exercise the privileges of a private pilot license, you must hold a third-class medical certificate, which can be obtained through an aeromedical examiner (AME). This should be done early on in training as you will not be able to solo an airplane without your medical certificate. Certificates must also be renewed periodically. If you are under the age of 40, this is every 60 months. While if you are over the age of 40, you must renew your medical certificate every 24 months.

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