Introduction to Ultralight Aviation

Pilot Licensing Explained Simply

The following tables should help you to figure out the difference between the most important pilot licenses. There are minor variations in most of the privileges and requirements for the licenses depending on where you live. Nothing major in most cases.

The idea of these tables is to let you see the differences at a glance. If you want full details, there are some notes and links under the tables. Any questions? Please let me know in the comments!

That's What They'll Allow You To Do:

What do you want to do? These licenses will let you do it:
Part 103Sport Pilot Private PilotCommercial PilotATP
Fly during daytime
Fly in the night
Take a passenger with you
Be paid to fly
Fly a Light Sport Aircraft
Fly different types of aircraft
Carry more than 1 passenger
Fly in class E and G airspace
Fly VFR on top without visual reference to the ground
Fly above 10,000 feet MSL or 2,000 feet AGL
Fly by instruments IR RequiredIR RequiredIR Included
Fly for own business purposes
Work for a commercial airline
Be a Captain in a commercial airline

IR = Instrument Rating. More info about it below the next table.

This Is What You Are Required To Do To Obtain The License:

What do they require?Part 103Sport Pilot Private PilotCommercial PilotATP
Fluent EnglishNot requiredRequired RequiredRequiredRequired
Be at least 17 years oldNot requiredRequired. For glider or balloon 16 years is enough.Required. Training can begin at age 16.At least 18 years old is required.At least age of 23 required
Valid medical certificateNot Required.Certificate or driver's licenseThird class medical certification requiredSecond class requiredFirst class required
Flight trainingNot required20 hours for Airplane, Gyroplane, and Airship.
12 hours for Powered parachute.
10 hours for Glider.
7 hours for balloon
At least 40 hours 150 hours of experience required 1,500 hours of experience required
Solo flightNot required5 hours for Airplane and Gyroplane.
3 hours for Airship.
2 hours for Glider or Powered Parachute
Minimum 10 hours100 hours pilot in command100 hours pilot in command
Knowledge TestNot requiredMust passMust passMust pass 14 theoretical examinationsMust pass
Practical TestNot requiredMust passMust passMust passMust pass
Already to hold another licenseNot requiredNot requiredNot required Private Pilot License is required.
In Europe (JAA) it's possible to take a course with IR only.
Commercial Pilot License + Instrument Rating
Cash$0 although training is highly recommendedbetween $2,000 and $6,000between $5,000 and $15,000 $20,000 - $70,000 for all the certificates you'll need to work in commercial airline About $5,000 + the cost for Commercial Pilot License

Instrument Rating - What Is It And Why You Need It?

Instrument Rating is a separate trainging/cerification process required to fly by reference of instruments. It is not included in Private Pilot or Commercial Pilot licenses. Learn more about Instrument Rating here.

Classes and Categories

Regardless of your pilot license you may need to have a specific Type or Class rating for flying your aircraft. For example to fly a helicopter you may need Rotorcraft Category, Helicopter Class. Here is more detailed explanation.

Sources of Information

Following are more sources of information used for the tables above. If you notice any errors in the tables please help us to fix them by commenting.

Questions? Comments? Use the comment form below.

Part 103 regulates flying ultralight aircraft and basically allows you to fly without any license as long as your aircraft classifies as ultralight. See more details.

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This license lets you fly a light sport aircraft.

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This license lets you fly a private airplane of basically any weight as long as you have the category and class. Learn more here

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If you want to be hired as pilot you need at least this license. Instrumental rating may also be required.

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This for those who want to be captains in commercial airlines.

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User comments:

Raymond Williams at Jan, 19 '12 02:59
Great information I like the table of licenses it is
a great way to view. thanks ps. the medical certs
I think they were back wards isnt it 3rd class for
Private..and 2nd class for commercial?
Reply to this comment

Bob at Jan, 19 '12 03:52
Thanks for the feedback Raymond, you are absolutely right. I fixed it along with ATP where first class is required.
Reply to this comment

paddy at Mar, 07 '13 01:31
what lessons are required for the 1 seater if your living in ireland bob
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Bob at Mar, 07 '13 10:21
Hi Paddy, in Ireland this would be called microlight (if it meets the other requirements). You can check nmai.ie for more info
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Patrizia at Dec, 17 '15 15:54
Thanks for your interest Les. We Do Not have a ceiiftred simulator. We do train in the G1000 platform and wouldbe happy to share more information on actual flight time with an instructor. Are you current?Clay Anderson
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