Private pilot

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Picture of a Flight Computer and protractor used in the Private Pilot course

A private pilot is the holder of a Private Pilot License. They are able to fly to almost anywhere in the world, but are limited in the type of aircraft that they can fly. They are also not permitted to profit from any flight or advertise their services, although they may have their expenses partially, or in some countries, completely covered by the passengers.

Although most Private Pilots can only fly under the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) during the day and night, an instrument ratings can also be obtained.

License levels[edit]

A "private pilot's license" is typically the lowest class license of airman's certificate issued to an individual by that person's government of residence. Typically, there are three classes of pilot's license: Private, Commercial, and Airline Transport Pilot. These three levels may be titled or labeled differently in other countries, but are essentially the same worldwide.

The private license allows individual citizens to operate non-commercial aircraft for personal or recreational purposes. Most typical among these types are the aircraft manufactured by Cessna, Piper and Beechcraft, in addition to hundreds of amateur, or experimental built aircraft models. They generally seat two to six people and have engines in the 60 to 300 horsepower range. Private individuals may use their airplane for the purpose of commuting to-and-from a job. However, they may not carry passengers or freight for hire. In some cases, a group of persons may share costs of taking a trip ("splitting the gas"), but they may not pay the pilot for his/her services.

Initial private pilot ratings are usually: Airplane, Single Engine Land; Airplane, Multi-engine land; Seaplane; Private Pilot Helicopter; Private Pilot Balloon; Private Pilot Glider; and Private Pilot Gyrocopter.

A private pilot usually is restricted to "visual" flight only (VFR, or flight in 'clear' weather), however may obtain an Instrument endorsement to permit flight in inclement weather.

A commercial pilot may be directly compensated for his/her services, and may work for a licensed "operator", but cannot offer services for hire from the general public. The "commercial" pilot may carry passengers, but may not work as Captain for a commercial airline or carry passengers for scheduled operations. The commercial license is typically for corporate flight departments, executive charter flights, aerial photography, sightseeing tours, crop dusting, banner towing operations, pipeline and construction work, etc. In certain countries, the CPL is also required for towing gliders and/or dropping parachutists. Commercial pilots may also pursue Certified Flight Instructor certification in order to provide flight training.

An airline transport pilot may carry passengers and cargo for regularly scheduled flight operations without any restrictions (other than being approved for each type aircraft they are approved to fly).

In the United States, there are two licenses below the private pilot, called the "Recreational Pilot" and "Sport Pilot". Pilots in these categories are limited to flying single engine aircraft with a maximum gross weight of 1,320 pounds, allowed to carry only one passenger at a time, and may not fly for hire. There are other aircraft limitations that apply. This license is aimed at accommodating those who only seek to fly for recreational pursuit within a limited geographical area.

Lastly, it should be noted that (still under US legislation) persons who fly aircraft categorized as "ultralights" (typically under approximately 300 pounds) under the Federal Aviation Administration's Part 103 regulations, do not require any license at all, however they are obligated to follow the rules as published. Other countries have their own definitions of ultralight aircraft, and licensing associated.

Basic requirements[edit]

In the United States, a person must have a minimum of 40 (forty) hours of flight instruction in order to obtain a private pilot's license. The forty hours is divided between time spent with the instructor actually in the aircraft ("dual instruction") and with the student practicing maneuvers and cross country flights alone ("solo"). While there are some persons who have obtained their license with only the minimum hours required, most successful candidates complete their checkride between 50 to 65 hours.

Prior to being allowed to solo a powered aircraft, the student pilot must obtain a Student Pilot Certificate which is part-and-parcel of the FAA's Airman's Medical Certificate. During private pilot training, the student must be able to meet the requirements of a third class medical.

Also, students for a powered license (fixed or rotary wing) must be 16 (sixteen) years of age before they are allowed to solo. Students for a glider rating may be only 14 (fourteen) years old.

For all classes of license, and each category, there are requisite ground instruction for each category aircraft. The ground instruction prepares the student for their first flight and includes (but is not limited to...) the following; knowledge about aircraft systems, pre-flight inspections, pilot's duties, cross-country navigation, air-to-ground radio technique, weight-and-balance computations and emergency procedures, among others. Prior to being allowed to take "the checkride" (the assessment flight by an FAA examiner to determine applicant's readiness to be issued a license), the applicant will have to take and pass a written examination on the ground school curriculum.

Completing the checkride (powered)[edit]

During "The Checkride", the FAA examiner will first review the applicant's test scores and logbook entries. S/he will then conduct an oral exam, that being a question-and-answer period, over numerous operational, safety and emergency practices. If the examiner then feels that the applicant is adequately prepared for the checkride, they will move to the aircraft. The examiner will watch the applicant conduct the pre-flight of the aircraft, often asking questions like "Why do you watch the control wheel in the cockpit when you move the flight surfaces?" or "What is the minimum safe levels for fluids in that chamber?"

Assuming that the applicant again successfully satisfied the examiner that they were adequately prepared to continue, they will enter the aircraft. The examiner will usually give the applicant a list or oral briefing on what they want the applicant to do during the flight. For example, "I want you to prepare for a VFR flight to Podunck County Airport at an altitude of 3,500 feet, and explain to me what steps you're taking along the way." The examiner will then begin to assess the applicant as they proceed. At some point, however, the examiner may suddenly throw in distractors such as loss of radio communications, loss of instruments, flight into non-visual weather condition, or other emergency situations that the applicant must then respond to, all the while continuing the safe operation of the flight. After the emergency maneuvers are completed, the examiner will then have the applicant make several different landing approaches as well as different take off modes.

Once the examiner is satisfied that the applicant has met all of the minimum requirements to be a pilot, they will direct the applicant to return to the home field, and then they will issue the applicant a Temporary Airman's Certificate. The applicant may then enjoy all the privileges of the private pilot airplane, single engine land certificate.

Note, that in the United States, an airman's certificate is good for life. However, there are certain recurring training requirements before a pilot may exercise their license on a continuing basis.(i.e. the biennial flight review). Also, pilots in the Private, Commercial and Airline categories must meet the FAA aeromedical requirements for that particular license. Recreational Pilots and persons flying under Part 103 are only required to have a current driver's license to demonstrate compliance with medical qualification to act as pilot-in-command.