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FAA Certificates/Ratings

The FAA issues several different types of certificates:

Flight Instructor
Ground Instructor
Flight Engineer

Pilot Certificates. There are four types of pilot certificate. Each requires greater skill and confers greater operating privileges upon the holder. They are:

Student Pilot - allows the holder to pilot an airplane by themselves only with the permission of an instructor. The holder may not take passengers and may go only to destinations approved by that instructor, if any.
Recreational Pilot - the holder may fly himself and one passenger in a local area but needs permission from an instructor before he flies to any new area. This license is perfect for someone who will only be flying locally on sightseeing flights out of his own airstrip or in non-congested areas. (Not available in gliders or hot air balloons)
Private Pilot - the holder may fly himself and passengers to other destinations. The only restriction placed upon the private pilot is that he may not make any financial gain through his flying. If he flies with others he may split the cost of flying with them, but may not profit from the flight.
Commercial Pilot - the holder may be paid for piloting services. Generally this means acting as pilot in command of a cargo flight, an air taxi (FAR Part 135) flight, a local sightseeing flight, or 
Airline Transport Pilot - the holder may act as captain or first officer of an FAR Part 121 scheduled airline flight.  This type of license is only applicable to the Airplane, Rotorcraft-Helicopter, and Powered-Lift categories (see below).

Category and Class Ratings. All except the student and recreational pilot certificates can have the following ratings on them indicating which kinds of airplanes the pilot is qualified to fly:


Class ratings

Instrument Ratings

Instructor Ratings


Single-engine land


Airplane single-engine


Single-engine sea




Multi-engine land


Airplane multi-engine


Multi-engine sea
























Free Balloon











So there are ten class ratings, three instrument ratings, and eight instructor ratings that can be added to a pilot certificate.  Every pilot certificate must have at least one class rating in order to be issued.  And the majority of all private pilot certificates have only one: airplane single-engine land.

Flight Engineer Certificate. The holder may act as flight engineer aboard an FAR part 121 scheduled airline flight.  The flight engineer is the third person in the cockpit of an aircraft, e.g., 727, 747, that requires a crew of three.  Because all new airplanes since the mid-1970s have been designed with two-person cockpits (to save money, not because it's safer!), these jobs are becoming less common.

Dispatcher Certificate. The holder may act as a dispatcher for a FAR part 121 scheduled airline.

Mechanic Certificate. There are three different ratings that this can contain:

Airframe mechanic
Powerplant mechanic
Inspection Authorization

Flight Instructor Certificate.  The holder may give dual instruction to student pilots and licensed pilots. Before obtaining a flight instructor certificate in a given category and class, a person must already hold a commercial (or airline transport) pilot certificate in that category and class.  Like a pilot certificate, the flight instructor certificate must be issued with at least one category or class rating.

Instruction in Balloons and Airships.  There are no flight instructor ratings for lighter-than-air aircraft.  Instruction in this category may be given by any commercial pilot who holds a balloon or airship class rating.

Ground Instructor Certificate.  The holder may teach ground school classes for profit. In order to obtain this rating the applicant must pass a multiple-choice test on the subject being taught.  The ratings that apply to this license are:
- Basic Ground Instructor
- Advanced Ground Instructor
- Instrument Ground Instructor

Surprisingly enough, a person does not need to hold a pilot certificate to become a ground instructor.

For more information on pilot certificates and ratings, email me or see the aviation web site of Dr. Irvin N. Gleim.