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One of the most important steps in becoming a pilot is obtaining is pilot certification, also known as a pilot license. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in every county issues pilot certifications that dictate the type of aircraft the license holder can fly as well as how far and when the pilot can fly. There are six types of pilot certificates in the United States ranging from sport pilot certificates to airline transport pilot certificates, each with different requirements.

Sport Pilot

This is the easiest pilot license to obtain. A sport pilot certificate requires a minimum of 20 hours of flight time experience, including 5 hours of solo flight and 15 hours of flight training from an instructor, as well as completing FAA knowledge and practical tests. A sport pilot is limited to light-sport aircraft (LSA) with no night flights and altitude limits. There are no restrictions on the distance a sport aviator can fly, however, and the license can be earned in as little as two weeks.

Recreational Pilot

A recreational pilot is authorized to fly light, single-engine aircraft without supervision and independently of a flight school. The pilot is restricted to daytime flight within 50 nautical miles of the origination airport. A recreational pilot can’t fly into towered or controlled airports. This license requires 30 hours of flight time experience, including 2 hours of cross-country flight and 3 hours of solo flight, as well as a student or sport license.

Private Pilot

Private pilots can fly into most airports alone and with others in the plane virtually anywhere in the United States but there are restrictions, including a ban on being compensated for flying or flying in incliment weather. This license requires 20 hours of flight training and 10 hours of solo flying, including 3 takeoffs and landings at an airport.

Commercial Pilot

Pilots who want to be paid for flying must have at least a commercial pilot license. A commercial pilot can’t operate scheduled airliners but can fly tow banners, charters, and more. A commercial pilot must have at least 250 hours of recorded flight time, a second-class medical certificate from the FAA, and pass FAA written and checkride flight exams.

Flight Instructor

Many pilots obtain this license as a step toward becoming an airline transport pilot and it involves gaining advanced knowledge in commercial pilot topics. To qualify for a flight instructor license, a pilot must have a commercial pilot or airline transport pilot license and pass advanced FAA exams.

Airline Transport Pilot

This is the most advanced pilot certification and it’s designed for commercial pilots who want to fly for scheduled airlines. This license requires at least 1,500 hours of flying experience and a passing score on the FAA ATP practical test.