A private pilot is the holder of a private pilot license. With a private pilot license (PPL), a pilot is allowed to fly aeroplanes of the category and class that the license designates, in addition fly a category and class airplane up to 12,500 pounds. Private pilots are not permitted to profit from any flight (except in the United States ). In order to be compensated for flight services, a pilot must hold a commercial pilot license.
ICAO License levels
A "private pilot's license" is the lowest class license defined by ICAO. ICAO defines three classes of pilot's license: Private, Commercial, and Airline Transport Pilot. These three levels are essentially the same worldwide, and most countries recognize those issued by most other countries.
The private license allows individual citizens to operate non-commercial aircraft for personal or recreational purposes. Most typical among these types are the aircraft manufactured by Cessna, Piper and Beechcraft, in addition to hundreds of amateur, or experimental built aircraft models. They generally seat two to six people and have engines in the 60 to 300 horsepower range. Private pilots may use their airplane for the purpose of commuting to and from work; however, they may not carry passengers or freight for hire. In some cases, a group may share costs of taking a trip, but they may not pay the pilot for their services.
The types of aircraft one may fly depends on what they are certified for, e.g. Airplane Single Engine land. See Categories and Classes for a list. Usually, a newly minted private pilot is certified to fly all planes in the generic category single engine piston, often abbreviated SEP. This includes the Cessna 172, PA-28, Diamond DA40, Robin DR400 and similar planes. More complex types, like those with retractable undercarriage or variable pitch props, require additional training and licensing.
Other ICAO license levels
After gaining the PPL, pilots can continue to gain the commercial pilot license which is required for any revenue-earning flying, such as air-taxi, glider towing, paradropping, aerial photography. The next and last step up is the airline transport pilot licence which is required to be the captain of an airliner.
Apart from the three levels of license defined by ICAO, many countries define their own licenses for other categories of aeroplanes. Glider licenses, for example, are a national competency. The United States defines recreational pilot and Sport Pilot licenses. In Europe, EASA has defined an LAPL for aeroplanes in the corresponding category; but ultralight and glider licenses are still regulated by national authorities, i.e. different for each country.
In the United States, a person must have a minimum of 40 hours of flight instruction in order to obtain a private pilot's license. This is divided between time spent with the instructor actually in the aircraft ("dual instruction") and with the student practicing maneuvers and cross country flights alone ("solo"). Before being allowed to fly solo in a powered aircraft, the student pilot must obtain a Student Pilot Certificate which is obtained as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airman's Medical Certificate. During private pilot training, the student must be able to meet the requirements of a third class medical. Also, students for a powered license (fixed or rotary wing) must be 16 years of age before they are allowed to fly solo. Students for a glider rating may be only 14 years old.
For all classes of license, and each category, there are requisite ground instruction for each category aircraft. This includes knowledge about aircraft systems, navigation, communications, and emergency procedures. Before being allowed to take "the checkride" (the assessment flight by an FAA examiner to determine applicant's readiness to be issued a license), the applicant must take and pass a written examination on the ground school curriculum.
Completing the checkride (powered)
The checkride is carried out by an FAA examiner, and consists of a review the applicant's test scores and logbook entries, an oral exam, and a practical exam. The practical exam may include mock disruptions such as loss of radio communications, loss of instruments, flight into non-visual weather condition, or other emergency situations that the applicant must then respond to.
In the United States, an airman's certificate is valid for life. However, there are certain recurring training requirements before a pilot may exercise their license on a continuing basis, such as a biennial flight review. Also, pilots in the Private, Commercial and Airline categories must meet the FAA aeromedical requirements for that particular license. Recreational pilots and people flying under Part 103 are only required to have a current driver's license to demonstrate compliance with medical qualification to act as pilot-in-command.