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  • Writer's pictureshishir gupta

A Simple Guide to Different FAA Pilot Certifications and Ratings

Updated: Apr 19

Whether you dream of flying for a major airline or want to pilot a small plane for weekend adventures, the first thing you need to do is understand the various certifications and ratings issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This article aims to provide a short purview into the world of pilot licenses in the US to help you chart your course.

We'll begin with the Private Pilot License (PPL). This is where your journey in the cockpit starts. To get your PPL, you must be at least 17 years old and hold a Third Class Medical Certificate. After completing ground school for theory and flight training, you'll have to pass a written knowledge test and a practical test, commonly referred to as a checkride. The checkride includes both an oral exam and a flight test. Moreover, you need to log a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, which includes at least 20 hours of flight instruction and 10 hours of solo flight.

Moving up the ladder, we have the Commercial Pilot License (CPL). With the CPL, you can get paid to fly, opening doors to various career opportunities. You must be 18 years old, hold a Second Class Medical Certificate, and have a minimum of 250 flight hours to apply for a CPL. This license involves more advanced ground school and flight training than the PPL. The examination process is similar to the PPL, with a written knowledge test and a checkride.

Next, we delve into the Instrument Rating (IR), a significant milestone for any pilot. The IR permits you to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), allowing you to operate an aircraft in low visibility conditions using flight instruments. You'll need a minimum of 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, including a cross-country flight of at least 250 nautical miles, to qualify for this rating.

For those who wish to operate aircraft with more than one engine, the FAA offers the Multi-Engine Rating (MER). There's no additional written test or specific flight hour requirement for the MER, but you must demonstrate proficiency through a practical test.

If teaching others to fly ignites your passion, you might consider becoming a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). CFIs must be at least 18 and hold a Third Class Medical Certificate. You'll need to go through additional ground and flight training to learn how to teach student pilots effectively. This certification involves both a written knowledge test and a checkride. This route is the most common and valuable time-building pathway aspiring professional pilots take in the US.

Building on the CFI, there's the Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument (CFII) and the Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI). The CFII allows you to instruct pilots aiming for their instrument rating, and the MEI permits you to teach multi-engine flying. Both these certifications require you to demonstrate proficiency through a checkride.

Upon building experience, you can apply for the Restricted-Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (R-ATP), depending on certain conditions. R-ATP applicants must be at least 21 and hold a First Class Medical Certificate. If you have military connections, you can apply with 750 flight hours. If you have a bachelor's degree in aviation from specifically approved universities (e.g., Purdue University, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University), you can apply with 1000 flight hours. R-ATP allows you to act as a co-pilot but not pilot-in-command until you receive your full ATPL in large transport carriers.

Finally, for those who aspire to fly large transport aircraft in airlines, the highest pilot certification level is the Airline Transport Pilot License (ATP). You must be 23 years old, hold a First Class Medical Certificate, and have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours to qualify for an ATPL.

If you need help with your assessment preparation, our Airline Entry Training will be useful for you. Our Easy-LPC program also provides revalidations and renewals at various locations. Please contact us at

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