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. With a private pilot license (PPL), a pilot is allowed to fly aeroplanes of the category and class that the license designates, in addition fly a category and class airplane up to 12,500 pounds. Private pilots are not permitted to profit from any flight (except, in the USA,[1][2] [3]). In order to be compensated for flight services, a pilot must hold a commercial pilot license.

Private pilots are only allowed to fly in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) under Visual Flight Rules (VFR)unless they obtain an instrument pilot rating (IFR.) See instrument rating.

ICAO License levels[edit]

Private pilot[edit]

Cessna 172 Taking off from runway.
A typical Private Pilot airplane. A Cessna 172M.

A "private pilot's license" is the lowest class license defined by ICAO. ICAO defines three classes of pilot's license: Private, Commercial, and Airline Transport Pilot. These three levels are essentially the same worldwide, and most countries recognize those issued by most other countries.

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 pilots may use their airplane for the purpose of commuting to and from work; 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. Usually, a newly minted private pilot is certified to fly all planes in the generic category single engine piston, often abbreviated SEP. This includes the Cessna 172, PA-28, Diamond DA40, Robin DR400 and similar planes. More complex types, like those with retractable undercarriage or variable pitch props, require additional training and licensing.

Other ICAO license levels[edit]

After gaining the PPL, pilots can continue to gain the Commercial pilot license which is required for any revenue-earning flying, such as air-taxi, glider towing, paradropping, aerial photography. The next and last step up is the ATPL which is required to be the captain of an airliner.

Sub-ICAO licenses[edit]

Apart from the three levels of license defined by ICAO, many countries define their own licenses for other categories of aeroplanes. Glider licenses, for example, are a national competency. The United States defines recreational pilot and Sport Pilot licenses. In Europe, EASA has defined an LAPL for aeroplanes in the corresponding category; but ultralight and glider licenses are still regulated by national authorities, i.e. different for each country.

Basic requirements[edit]

In the United States, a person must have a minimum of 40 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 and 65 hours[citation needed].

Prior to being allowed to solo a powered aircraft, the student pilot must obtain a Student Pilot Certificate which is obtained as part 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 years of age before they are allowed to solo. Students for a glider rating may be only 14 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.


  1. ^ 14 C.F.R. 14 &PART= 2 &SECTION= 61 2. 61
  2. ^ "Private pilot privileges and limitations: Pilot in command. [14 CFR 61.113]". Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  3. ^