A private pilot certificate is like a driver's license. It allows you to fly almost anywhere in the United States and even outside the United States when you comply with regulations of the foreign country where the aircraft is operated. You can carry any number of passengers, and you can share certain operating expenses with your passengers. You might take the family on a trip to see relatives in a distant state or use an airplane to shorten the time it takes to make business trips to another city.

One restriction to a private pilot's freedom of flight comes from Mother Nature—the weather. You can fly in some weather conditions but not others, at least without additional training. As a private pilot, you can’t fly in the clouds unless you earn an instrument rating:

With a private pilot certificate, you can fly at night as long as you have received the required night training. Training for night flying is almost always included as part of a private pilot training curriculum. Without a doubt, a crystal-clear, moonlit night is one of the most spectacular and beautiful times to fly.

Aeronautical Experience:

○ 40 hours minimum total time
○ 20 hours dual instruction
○ 3 hours flight "by reference to instruments" (under the hood)
○ 5 hours solo cross country (50nm minimum between two points along each trip)
○ One solo 150nm XC flight with at least 3 airports (two of which must be at least 50nm apart)
○ 3 hours night flight (dual instruction)
○ One night XC (dual)
○ 10 night landings (full stop)
○ 3 hours of dual instruction explicitly for check ride prep, within 90 days of the check ride
○ Endorsements for the items above needing endorsements
○ An endorsement from a CFI stating the candidate is prepared for the check ride.


Adding an Instrument Rating to your private certificate is challenging and no small accomplishment … but the benefits are tremendous. From a practical standpoint, if you are using an airplane for point to point transportation, it allows you to fly on days when the weather is less than perfect (i.e. into IMC or instrument meteorological conditions). On its own, an instrument rating does not necessarily make you a better pilot; however, it will make you a safer pilot and teach you to fly with more precision. It also provides extensive exposure to the ATC air traffic control system and is a required step if a Commercial or CFI rating is in your future.

Aeronautical Experience:

40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time which includes:
○ A minimum of 15 hours of instrument flight training from a Certified Flight Instructor (CFII)
○ Up to 20 hours of the instrument training may be accomplished in an approved flight simulator or flight training device if the training was provided by a CFII.
○ At least one cross-country flight performed under IFR of at least 250 NM along airways or ATC-directed routing
○ An instrument approach at each airport
○ Three different kinds of instrument approaches
○ At least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command, which can include solo cross-country time as a student pilot. Each cross-country must have a landing at an airport that is at least a straight-line distance of more than 50 NM from the original departure point.


Even if you don't plan to fly for a living, working on your commercial pilot certificate is a great idea. Like the instrument rating, the commercial hones basic flying skills. Essentially, you do a lot of the same things while working on your commercial that you do for the private you just have to do them better. The margin for error on the commercial check ride (a sort of airborne driving test) is much more narrow than on the private check ride.

The written exam, although similar in many ways to the private pilot test, is more difficult and covers added areas pertaining to commercial aviation. The candidate for a commercial certificate must perform additional types of maneuvers and generally fly with more smoothness and precision than a private pilot. He or she also must demonstrate additional flying experience, including substantial cross-country flying time to airports other than home base. Although it is a standard check-off for the person planning to fly for a living, the commercial certificate also is a good way for the recreational flier to gain increased confidence and become more professional in the cockpit.

Aeronautical Experience:

• 250 hours Minimum Flight Time
○ 100 hours in Powered Aircraft
○ 100 hours Pilot in Command
○ 50 hours Cross-Country Flight

• 20 hours Dual Instruction
○ 10 hours Instrument Training
○ 10 hours Complex Aircraft Training
○ 4 hours Cross-Country Flight
○ 3 hours Practical Test Preparation

• 10 hours Solo
○ 5 hours Night VFR
○ 1 Solo Cross Country Flight of at least 300NM


If you do decide that you want to fly for a living, chances are you will start out as a certified flight instructor. It's in the cockpit of cramped trainers that most civilian - trained professional pilots pay their dues before moving on to corporate aviation, commuters, and — holy grail to many would - be professional pilots — the major airlines.

Ask most instructors where they picture themselves several years hence, and they are likely to get a gleam in the eye and recite some fantasy about the left seat of a Boeing 747 ... the New York-to-Bangkok route...

Although considered a flight-timebuilding occupation by many ladder climbers on their way to airline jobs, flight instructing is arguably the most important job in aviation. The future of the industry — and the safety of the skies — depends upon the people who train the pilots. Your first instructor will make impressions upon you that will last throughout your entire flying career. Fortunately, nearly all instructors are intimately aware of the gravity of their jobs.

Aeronautical Experience:

• Commercial Certificate