A private pilot is the holder of a private pilot license. With an FAA-issued private pilot license (PPL), a person is able to fly US registered aircraft that meet the same aircraft category and class that their private pilot license designates. Private pilots are not permitted to profit from any flight (except as denoted in 14 CFR FAR Part 91.113). In order to be compensated for flight services, a person must hold a commercial pilot license.
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.
The types of aircraft one may fly depends on what they are certified for, e.g. Airplane Single Engine land. See Categories and Classes for a list.
The recreational pilot license (RPL) is similar to the private pilot license (PPL), but requires less training and has restrictions on the type of airplane that can be flown, as well as where and when.
A Sport Pilot License allows a person to only operate Light-sport aircraft. A sport licence does not list an aircraft category or class ratings, the FAA will provide a logbook endorsement for the category and class of aircraft in which you are authorized to act as pilot in command. They also do not need an FAA Medical.
Just as a Private Pilot, Sport Pilots are not allowed to be compensated for any flight service, and they are also severely limited on when and where they can fly.
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)
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.