Types of Pilots: Let’s Make Sense of All These Different Pilot Rankings
We’ve all heard there are various types of pilots, like the commercial pilots who fly 1000′s of people over the big airlines every day. But very few lay people realize just how many different pilot rankings there are. This is to educate people reading on the specialized designations out there for both new and experienced pilots depending on flying intentions.
Each of these pilot rankings indicates a certain level of schooling has or is occurring. This schooling includes classroom instruction, oral and written examinations, medical examinations and in-flight practice. A pilot ranking also designates what a person in their given ranking is allowed to do within aviation. For example, a student pilot wouldn’t be allowed to have passengers on board with them, but a private pilot can. Some pilots can fly at night while others cannot. This is all based on the pilot ranking, and relates directly to the amount of training they’ve acquired.
Student Pilot – This is the most novice level where everyone begins, and often occurs concurrently with written course study. At this level, pilots are mainly familiarizing themselves with cockpit instruments, learning to communicate with airports and understanding basic aviation protocol. They are not allowed to fly without a certified instructor, during inclement weather or further than a certain distance from their “home airfield”. This is a very active and important practice phase of flying that every pilot must undertake. It gradually becomes less limited based on instructor approval and experience gained.
Recreational Pilot – These are people who have advanced beyond the student pilot ranking and are free to go solo with up to 1 passenger on board. By default they are confined to a certain distance within the radius of their home airfield, but this radius can be expanded by an appropriate aviation instructor. Recreational pilots are people flying for hobby, and many people only desire to go this far in the pilot rankings.
Private Pilot – Most flyers fall under this pilot ranking, as this is for people who love to fly and wish to have more freedom from the limitations placed on the previous two categories. Private pilots may fly whenever they wish and carry passengers. They still cannot be paid by passengers unless it’s to share common expenses.
Commercial Pilot – These are the most visible pilots to most people; the ones who greet us when boarding a commercial flight. They are paid to fly the larger planes that transport the public. As with any other pilot ranking, their achievement to this level also involves medical exams, minimum flight hours, and various instructor approvals.
Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) – CFI’s are trained to instruct other newer flyers through the pilot rankings, having already acquired their commercial pilot license, along with other more specialized training.
Airline Transport Pilots – This is the highest pilot ranking one can have, and is required for some of the larger multi-engined jets used in commercial flights. They must meet all the the same requirements as every other pilot ranking, and then some. This is the least limited pilot ranking and requires the most amount of training and experience.
As you can see, there are plenty of different pilot rankings around, and you can pursue whichever one best fits your goals and desires. It’s good to have some idea of which route you wish to pursue early on, so you can get any necessary supplemental training as you go.