What Can You do With a Private Pilot License

Pilots · 8 min read · May 04, 2022
what can you do with a private pilot license

If you already got your private pilot license (PPL) – or you are simply wondering if it is worth obtaining one – you probably already know that the question of what can you do with a private pilot license is an extremely common one among such aviation enthusiasts.

However, as you also probably know, there are some things that a private pilot license would allow you to do in some countries – but not in other jurisdictions.

One of the reasons for such kind of restrictions is a well-known fact that there are no unified international requirements to obtain a private pilot license in one country which would be equally valid anywhere abroad – as such kind of license issued by national authorities usually permits one of another kind of private pilot activities within the limits of national airspace of a single country or some unified jurisdiction.

Such as countries carrying out standardization, certification, and regulation, according to the standards and guidelines of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency

However, there are of course some basics

Most of them are set as the specific requirements for obtaining a private pilot license by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), yet, such requirements are implemented differently by the Civil aviation authorities of different countries.

For example, ICAO requires the future holder of a Private Pilot License (PPL) to complete at least 40 hours of flight time, which, of course, includes extensive flight training mid-air. However, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency requires European private pilots to have no less than 45 hours of flight time in regard to such flight training.

Two small aircraft

Other common basics required by ICAO are implemented in more or less the same way around the world and include complex flight training, passing seven written exams, successfully demonstrating aircraft operating skills to an examination instructor during a practical test, and completing a solo cross-country flight. Such, of course, do not necessarily mean flying across the whole country – but, rather, performing a solo flight with a cumulative duration of at least 10 hours.

Yet, for example, the UK regulations (which still are aligned with both International Civil Aviation Organization as well as to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency) include the requirement of at least 25 hours of dual flight instruction and a solo flight of at least 150 nautical miles, including full stop landings at two aerodromes which should not be the same as the departure airfield.

The same regulations also explicitly state at least 10 hours of supervised solo flight time and at least 5 hours of solo cross-country flight time – with an option of up to 5 hours of instruction in a simulator.

But still, to get you some idea of what you can do with a private pilot license, we will list some of the most common things – along with some less well-known suggestions to think about in such a context. And again – if some of the things listed you would be able to do only in some jurisdictions, we will of course do our best to clarify that additionally to avoid any uncertainty.

1. Take a business trip

It is no secret at all that a lot of private pilots obtain their licenses only to take business flights themselves. At least from time to time. And you do not have to be an aircraft salesman or a millionaire to do so, however, a private pilot certificate would do.

While this is a common practice in the United States, you can do so virtually anywhere in the world. Apart from taking business flights from time to time, a bit less common practice is also related to routine flights on a fixed route to save time otherwise spent on day-long road trips.

2. Get to places you would not be able to reach otherwise

And sometimes even a time to save is not the question. Some people acquire a private pilot license for more-or-less bush-flying-related business activities.

In other words, you should consider getting a private pilot license if you are thinking of reaching places a normal road trip will not even take you to because of the lack of infrastructure.

And do not forget that in such a situation you will be able to get there virtually anytime you want to – if only you will have a suitable plane and a private pilot license!

An aircraft flying high through a dark cloudy sky.

3. Fly cross-country

Returning to the concept mentioned above, we should remind our readers that the definition of cross-country flight varies widely depending on the country.

For example, in countries under the jurisdiction of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), a cross-country flight is defined as “a flight between a point of departure and a point of arrival following a pre-planned route, using standard navigation procedures.” And that is an exact quotation from the official Journal of the European Union for EASA members.

But what about other jurisdictions?

However, for instance, in Canada, there is no official definition of a cross-country flight, at least, according to the Canadian Aviation Regulations.

Yet, there is a common consensus among the private pilots, which is reflected in the way the pilot’s logbook is filled.

Here, the term “cross-country flight” is commonly used, and is, on its part, for example, reflected in the requirement to file a flight plan beyond 25 nautical miles of the airfield of departure for such flights.

It is also related to the necessity to carry an Emergency Locator Transmitter for that kind of flight – as well as in the stipulations found in the Commercial License Requirements for travel between two different airfields.

Yet, it virtually does not matter in which jurisdiction you would want to fly cross-country – as long as you have a valid private pilot’s license which is recognized in the state your cross-country flight is about to take place.

4. Feel free to join a flying club

Also known as a ‘flight club” – as well as under more different, yet similar names, such an organization is primarily a perfect way to use your private pilot skills without turning to an aircraft salesman in order to own an aircraft yourself.

While some flying clubs unite a group of private pilots who collectively either co-own or co-rent out airplanes, the legal status of such unions may vary widely. Some of them even unite airline pilots or just the ones passionate about tow gliders.

Does that mean that you can join just any such club?

Some, especially smaller ones, which consist mainly of a group of close friends, each of which usually holds a private pilot’s license himself – or herself – are not accepting any new members after starting.

Other clubs, on their part, are complex organizations with hundreds or even thousands of members – and a lot of airplanes to choose from if you want to take a flight and do not own a plane yourself.

Could you look forward to taking a flight training that way?

The activities of such clubs are not coming down to flying the airplanes only either. With a lot of events, some of which are not even exactly directly related to flying, such organizations could be even a starting point in the pilot’s career for those who just began to think about obtaining any kind of pilot license.

A small bi plane flying through a mountainous region in the evening.

5. Private pilots can even engage in some social services or Search and Rescue operations

Another thing about a private pilot’s license that you probably already know is that its holders can not perform any commercial flight activities, which basically means that such a private pilot can not get paid for any flying-related services he or she performs and monetize any flying skills in such away. Let alone, operate, let’s say even a single-engine land airplane that is designated to carry passengers commercially.

However, that does not necessarily mean that a private pilot license owner can not be useful as an aircraft operator

In fact, instead of paid pilot services, many private pilots participate in volunteering activities, such as disaster relief or search and rescue missions.

A lot of non-profit organizations in different corners of the world – along with even governmental agencies in some force majeure situations, rely on the help of private pilots (and even cover their operating expenses) for general reconnaissance, fire-spotting, search and rescue, and other related activities where such pilots can be – and usually are – able to provide great help and significant assistance.

6. Allow yourself to take your skills to a next level

While obtaining a private pilot license is just enough for a lot of pilots worldwide, for some, it is just the first step in their pilot career towards other goals. The next one for such a private pilot is usually related to obtaining a commercial pilot license.

So what about getting a commercial pilot license?

Generally speaking, after getting a private pilot license, virtually anyone can obtain a commercial pilot license which will allow him or her to operate the same type of aircraft as he was qualified to fly as a private pilot with an ability to be paid for doing so.

The main difference between the one qualifying for a private pilot license and the person who is able to get a commercial pilot license is the relevant flight training and other related activities in the areas of a commercial pilot which is necessary for the latter.

But that is just a requirement by an International Civil Aviation Organization – along with additional written exams to be passed by student pilots and the required knowledge of the English language.

But how should that look in practice?

Yet, just as in the case of the private pilot license, the implementation of such requirements for any student pilot varies from country to country.

For example, to obtain a commercial pilot license in Canada, a candidate which is already in pursuit of such among other student pilots should already be a private pilot and also be no younger than 18.

There are some. For example, such a candidate should also be a Category 1 Medical Certificate holder, so a third-class medical certificate will not do in such a situation. In addition to that, 80 hours of classroom instruction, which involve many different topics is required – and such sessions are followed by a written exam.

Not to mention a minimum of 200 hours of flying experience which should include at least 100 hours as the pilot in command. Among other requirements, there is also the necessity to complete a minimum time of instrument flying (which, in most jurisdictions is not necessary for a private pilot to obtain a private pilot’s license), and both night-time and cross-country flights.

A commercial aircraft is being prepared for boarding and take off.

Is this the next step to becoming an airline transport pilot?

It is. However, to become one, after reaching the first major milestone, the private pilot must not only obtain a commercial pilot license or become able to operate a plane that can carry passengers.

For example, in the United States, acquiring an ATP certificate is different from getting a relevant license for most pilots in Europe. However, it also starts with acquiring a private pilot certificate.

And why is that?

That is mainly because contrary to the different types of pilot licenses (including both the private pilot license as well as the commercial pilot license) in other parts of the world, the corresponding pilot certificates (and the private pilot certificate along with other types, including those issued after a flight instructor certification as well) in the US, can be revoked by an issuing authority, namely, the FAA.

That simply can not happen almost anywhere else, as the licenses in other parts of the world can only be taken away after the appropriate intervention from the side of the judiciary system.

Two American Airlines aircraft taxiing around an airport tarmac.

So what are the requirements?

US FAA-issued ATP certificate requires the theoretical knowledge test covering the required knowledge areas, including the ones any airline pilot, let alone, a flight instructor, should be familiar with.

Successful completion of the Airline Transport Pilot Certification Training Program is also required, right?

Of course. However, this course alone does not prepare a candidate for the knowledge test as even for the one who was a successful flight instructor in the past, many weeks of additional individual study with a complex training software is required for getting at least close to passing the test.

Aircraft are parked or taxiing around Tokyo International Airport tarmac.

In Europe on its part, an ATPL requires candidates to pass 14 different theoretical exams, with a six-month residential or twelve-month distance-learning course mandatory during this phase.

That is, of course, just a shortlist of activities in which anybody holding a private pilot license could be engaged. However, we hope that it will give you some ideas you would not think about when just considering getting one (or a private pilot certificate if you are planning to fly in the United States) just looking for the relevant flight schools or the best flight instructors for the first time before even becoming a student pilot.

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Erlend Diagilev
Sharing his passion for aviation for many years, today Erlend does his best to provide you with the most recent and compelling industry-related content in the most attractive and comprehensive way.

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