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Global Guide: How To Become A Pilot

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It’s an enticing time to become a pilot.

Thanks to Boeing’s Pilot & Technician Outlook 2018-2037, there’s a general understanding in the aviation industry that there is a shortage of pilots on a commercial scale. In fact, the forecast is that 790,000 new civil aviation pilots will be needed over the next two decades.

When you dive into the forecasting data a little more thoroughly, you’ll see that many of these are needed outside the US. However, they are still likely going to look to the training leaders of the world – such as the UK, USA, and New Zealand – for the vast numbers they need.

There are also huge differences between becoming a private pilot, perhaps in control of your own small plane, and a commercial pilot who is allowed to carry paying passengers, however, aircraft licensing is typically layered.

Each layer of license brings the holder more flexibility. It’s, therefore, an important time to learn about some of the similarities and differences, globally, in terms of being a pilot.

How to become a pilot in different parts of the world

Understanding what is required to become a ‘licensed’ or ‘certified’ pilot is your first hurdle.

Different nations use different terminology. Both a license and a certificate are forms of permit. These are issued by the relevant nations’ Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) or equivalent.

To obtain permits, there are different regulations for different countries. There are then different levels of license in different countries.

How to become a pilot

For example, a private pilot’s license requires less training than a commercial one. Indeed, the first is a prerequisite to the second, however, all involve some degree of training, examination and practice hours.

Technically, there is nothing stopping a licensed pilot (of any level), to fly internationally, however, in practice, there are various restrictions in place on a nation by nation basis which restricts this.

Realistically, these international differences in licensing pilots and the differences in national practice mean that there is no such thing as a truly international pilot’s license.

Let’s take a look at what is needed in some of the countries individually to become a pilot.

It’s Time to Fly in the US

Pilot certificates are informally referred to as ‘licenses’ in the US. There are six different types:

  • Sport: ‘Fun’ flying permits for flying light aircraft, at a low altitude, in your local area. These are relatively easy to gain, requiring just 20 hours of logged training time. You also don’t need an FAA medical certificate.
  • Recreational: The recreational certificate gives you slightly more flexibility than the sport option. You can become a pilot and fly heavier aircraft than with the sport certificate, will need 30 hours of logged flight time, and can fly no more than 50 nautical miles from your departure airport during daylight hours only.
  • Private Pilot: This is the most common pilot certificate. The training is more intensive and you can both fly at night, and at controlled airports. The certificate also allows the holder to fly any aircraft within their certified category. They cannot take payment from passengers.
  • Commercial Pilot: This certificate allows the holder to be paid for flying passengers or cargo, however, in addition to this certification itself, the pilot will also need to follow federal aviation regulations.
  • Flight Instructor: For a full career as a pilot, many choose to become a Flight Instructor. It is a good way of building flight hours whilst being paid if you want to become a pilot.
  • Airline Transport Pilot (ATP): This is the most advanced certificate which enables the holder to fly commercial airliners for a career. For this certificate, you need to be a minimum of 23 years of age and have logged at least 1,500 flying hours.

It’s Time to Fly in the UK

In the UK, pilot’s licenses are organized quite differently, however, they also follow the ‘layering’ approach similar to the US.

You can, effectively, start at the bottom and work up. Each layer gives you greater flexibility regarding where and when you can fly, and in which aircraft. Pilot licenses in the UK are regulated by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

How to become a pilot

There are also some non-EASA licenses that are used when flying vintage, experimental or home-made aircrafts. Licenses in the UK are split into ‘general’ and ‘professional’. With a professional license, you may be paid for flying. General licenses are recreational only.

General licenses cover a range of different licenses including the private pilot license (PPL). Professional licenses are divided into two types: the commercial pilot license (CPL) and the airline pilot license (ATPL).

The UK PPL can be used worldwide. You can also add to it with additional ratings and privileges.

Fly Anywhere vs. Drive Anywhere

Globally, the private pilot license (PPL) from the UK and the private pilot certificate (US) are the most similar equivalent to your national driving license.

You can fly pretty much anywhere in the licensing nation. You can also fly internationally if you comply with the specific nation’s regulations, however, is it just the same as a driving license?

The answer is not really.

A driving license typically has far fewer restrictions. You can drive day or night, and for miles on end if you wish. You can also choose to drive in any weather condition if you really want.

Private pilot permits are far more restrictive.

For the time being, this isn’t necessarily an issue. The need for a pilot’s license is a niche requirement of most recreational fliers. However, the future may paint a different story.

The Future of Flying

Today, the definition of a vehicle is dynamically expanding and the differences between an airplane, flying car, and passenger drone are becoming more and more blurred.

The Chinese company Terrafugia is about to release ‘Transition’, a new flying hybrid vehicle that can be driven like a regular car, however, it can also turn into a flying machine with retractable wings. It’s no longer futuristic, but it’s actually now about to be sold.

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With the technology to make flying cars within the reach of the masses, will we all need private pilot licenses that allow us more flexibility?

Will we be able to “drive” flying vehicles with a standard driving license?

Or, will private pilot licenses need to become more flexible, to allow us to use these flying machines with the same approach we take to our automobiles?

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About the Author: Giles Kirkland is a passionate researcher and writer who’s hooked on anything related to driving, flying and engineering. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Oponeo  

Forrest Webber

Forrest Webber, I hope you will enjoy reading and applying the things that I am teaching through my articles.While working for 12 years in different fields and 9 different countries, I came across different cultures and different work environments.

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