When most people talk about having their pilot license, they are referring to the private pilot license or PPL. It allows you to act as the “Pilot in Command” of an aircraft for non-commercial purposes.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) governs the requirements for obtaining the license, however they are implemented quite differently from country to country. In the United States the implementation of the requirements is overseen by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).
What is a Private Pilot License?
Compared to the sport or recreational pilot certificate, having a private pilot license poses far fewer restrictions on the types of aircraft you can fly and also the places you can fly or destinations you might seek out.
Legally you must be 17 years old or over to obtain your pilot license however this doesn’t mean you can’t start your training much earlier. There is no age restriction on when you can start your pilot training, so long as you can touch the rudder pedals. You will not be able to fly solo however until you are at least 16 years of age. Going solo is part of the steps involved in getting your full license.
The private pilot license offers a lot more opportunities than the recreational certificate, however on the flip side it has a few more requirements and demands. On this page we’ll discuss the following:
- What a private pilot license offers
- Steps to obtaining your license
- License Requirements – Time and Tests
- Private Pilot License Cost
Private Pilot License Requirements
Under international ICAO law, a full private pilot license is achieved once a course is completed which includes a minimum of 40 hours logged flying time (in some countries such as Spain and the UK this is 45 hours). Additionally, a passing mark is required in 7 written exams, a minimum of 10 hours solo cross country flying (time is cumulative) and the successful demonstration of flying skills to an accredited examiner. This final flight test will also include an oral exam.
Don’t be daunted by the thought of exams and tests. Many people have completed their license before you and with the right pilot training you will feel confident to pass with flying colors too.
Although 40 hours of logged flight time is the minimum required (35 if training under Title 14 of federal code part 141 in the US) most pilots will require between 50 and 70 hours of flying time to be confident enough to complete their certification tests.
Medical Requirements for Private Pilot
As a private pilot you will only be required to complete a third class medical certification. This is the least involved in medical examinations for pilots. The third class medical is required by any student pilot exercising solo flying privileges and anyone wishing to obtain a recreational or private pilot certificate. In order to qualify you must meet the following requirements:
- Mental State: you must not have any diagnosis of severe personality disorder, psychosis, or bipolar disorder.
- Near Vision: with or without correction a score of 20/40 or better must be obtained in each eye separately. This is measured at a distance of 16 inches (410 mm).
- Color Vision: you must demonstrate the necessary level of color perception in order to perform air man duties in a safe manner.
- Distant Vision: with or without correction you must obtain a score of at least 20/40 or better in each eye separately.
- Your blood pressure reading must be under 155/95 (systolic/diastolic).
- The two years prior to your medical must have been free of any alcohol dependence or dependence on any pharmacological substance.
- Hearing: demonstrate a successful pass of an audio metric test. Alternatively this may be demonstrated by being able to hear a regular conversational voice in a quiet room at a distance of no less than 6 feet with your back turned to the examiner.
- Ear, Nose, and Throat: be free of any ear condition or disease which may cause vertigo or a disturbance of speech or equilibrium.
If you are over the age of 40 your third class medical will expire two years from the date of issue on the last day of the month it was issued. If you are under the age of 40 same conditions apply, however your medical will remain valid for five years from the date of issue.
Limitations and Add-ons – Can I Fly a Jet?
Having your private pilot license gives you almost unlimited freedom to wander the friendly skies, however there are some restrictions in place which limit where and when you can fly.
Immediately after your private pilot certificate is issued, you are qualified to be pilot in command of any single engine plane with fixed gear (undercarriage) with a power output of less than 200 HP in VFR (Visual Flight Rule) conditions, either during the day or hours of darkness. Many of these limitations can be overcome with additional training and ratings being added to your license.
Some of the different ratings available to the private pilot are:
- Instrument Rating (IFR)
- Multi Engine Rating
- Tail Wheel
- Retractable Landing Gear
- Single Engine Sea
- Jet Rating
- Aerobatic Rating
Non Fare Paying Passengers
As previously mentioned, having a private license allows you to carry non-fare paying passengers. With this said, it is acceptable to split the costs of running the aircraft for the flight with your passengers if that’s the arrangement you come to i.e. your passengers may make a contribution to the cost of fuel and hire of the aircraft etc. without you being in violation of the law.
Visual Flight Rules (VFR)
Visual Flight Rules are a group of rules under which a pilot must operate his or her aircraft. They stipulate that weather conditions must be generally clear enough for the pilot to see where the aircraft is flying. To be more specific, the meteorological conditions must be above the basic VFR weather minimums.
These are specified in the rules of the aviation authority relevant to the specific country the pilot is flying (FAA in the United States). At all times the the pilot must be able to fly the aircraft using visual references to the ground, and avoiding other aircraft and hazards (mountains, bridges etc) visually.
If you do not have an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) rating and the weather is below VFR minimum levels you are not permitted to fly. In order to overcome this limitation, pilots are required and IFR rating and to use instrument flight rules, which allow the operation of the aircraft through referencing the flight instruments rather than using visual references.
Private Pilot License Cost
Flying is still a highly affordable hobby and form of transport for most people. Of course the total cost will be dictated by where you intend to take your license and what ratings you require. For a more detailed look at the costs involved in obtaining your license, check out our information on flying lessons.
There are limitless opportunities and options when it comes to becoming qualified as a pilot with numerous ratings and variations allowing you do almost anything in a plane.
As always, PilotsWanted.com recommends your first step should be an introductory lesson or flight with your local aero club or pilot training school. After this, you will know for sure that flying is for you and you’re motivated to go through the steps required to get your private pilot license.