I’ve written this article for those of you that are new to the field of aviation, to help you understand the many stages your flight training will involve.
Each part of your training will (in most cases) end in a checkride, where an authorized examiner will test your theoretical knowledge on various subjects such as regulations, aircraft performance, your understanding of the weather, etc. Once the examiner is satisfied with your knowledge, you’ll get into an aircraft with them and demonstrate the skills you’ve learned throughout your training. If you’ve passed your checkride, the examiner will congratulate you and give you a temporary license to use while your permanent one is printed and mailed to you.
The first real pilot’s license you’ll hold is a Private Pilot’s License (PPL). I say “real” because technically, you’ll first be given a Student Pilot’s License (SPL) when you start training, but this license comes with many restrictions that basically limit you to training flights with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and some solo flights.
The next step of your training is typically going to be the Instrument Rating (IR). While holding a PPL alone means that you are restricted to fly in good weather conditions, this rating allows you to fly through clouds and in weather conditions that prevent you from seeing the ground or horizon.
After your IR, you’ll most likely do one of two things – either get a Multi-Engine Land rating (MEL) or move on to hour-building flights.
An MEL rating allows you to operate aircraft with more than one engine. Unless you’re getting a PPL for General Aviation (GA) flying – AKA for personal use with friends & family – and only ever plan to fly single engine planes, you’ll need an MEL rating. Holding a license with an MEL opens infinitely more opportunities and is required* to work at the airlines.
*In India, you do not need a Multi-Engine rating to fly a B737 or an A320 type aircraft.
During hour-building, you’ll fly as often as possible to quickly build up your flight hours to the regulatory minimums (cross country flights, night flights, solo flights, etc.) so you can begin training for your Commercial Pilot’s License (CPL).
The CPL allows you to work do what you love and get paid for it! After this, you have multiple options to choose from, depending on where you are and what you’re interested in. Among other options, you can either get type rated or work toward a CFI license so you can build hours while getting paid to teach others to fly!
Note that in India, you’ll need a minimum of 200 hrs to be eligible for a CPL license, whereas in the US, you’ll need 250 hrs.
The regulations pertaining to requiring a Type Rating (TR) vary widely from country-to-country so I will not go into them in detail here. However, A TR allows you to fly a specific make and model of aircraft (B737 family, A320 family, G650, PC-24, etc) that normally requires 2 or more crew members.
One of the requirements to be eligible for an Airline Transport Pilot’s License (ATPL) is to have a minimum of 1500 hrs. While you can legally work in India as a First Officer (FO) for an airline with just a CPL, US regulations require pilots to hold an ATPL before operating a scheduled commercial flight. To offset the high cost, most pilots in the US choose to become flight instructors while they build up to 1500 hrs.
There you have it! Those are the basic types of ratings and licenses you’ll earn on your way to the glamorous “left seat” of a commercial aircraft. There are also additional ratings and licenses you can earn such as a sea-plane rating, helicopter licenses, glider pilot license, high-performance aircraft rating, etc.
Have questions, comments, differing opinions, or corrections? Leave them below!