There are different types of pilot licence depending on the aircraft you want to fly, where you want to fly, and whether you want to fly professionally or not. There are also ‘ratings’ which you can add to your licence after further training to get extra privileges, such as flying in different conditions or flying a different type of aircraft. To help you decide which licence is best for you, we’ve put together this guide.
The first thing to note is that there are different licences for flying professionally and for general aviation. If you want to fly commercially as an airline pilot, for example, you will need a professional licence. If you need a licence for recreational flying, a general aviation licence would be better suited to you. You can’t be paid for any flying you do with a general aviation licence, apart from some flight instruction. To help make the distinction between these types of licence clear, we have divided this guide into professional licences and general aviation licences.
Another distinction to note is between EASA and non-EASA licences. Regulations for licences are being standardised across all countries which are members of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which includes the UK. You will now need an EASA Licence to fly most aircraft in Europe. Exceptions to this include some smaller or vintage aircraft which can still be flown with a national licence.
If you wish to fly internationally, you will also need to consider whether you need a licence which complies with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rules. Some non-ICAO licences are only valid in certain countries.
General Aviation Licences
EASA licences for general aviation:
Private Pilot Licence (PPL):
This is an internationally recognised licence for aeroplanes and helicopters.
Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL):
This licence can be used for aeroplanes, helicopters, balloons, or gliders. Aeroplanes and helicopters that can be flown with this licence are limited to a take-off weight of two tonnes and can’t have more than three passengers. This licence has a shorter training course and lower medical standards than the PPL.
Sailplane Pilot Licence (SPL):
This is the usual licence required for those who wish to fly gliders.
Balloon Pilot Licence (BPL):
This allows you to pilot hot air balloons.
Non-EASA licences for general aviation:
These are regulated by national authorities and are sometimes known as ‘National’ licences.
National Private Pilot’s Licence (Simple Single Engine Aeroplanes) (NPPL(SSEA)):
This licence allows you to fly small, vintage, or kit-built aircraft.
National Private Pilot’s Licence (Microlight) (NPPL(M)):
The licence required to fly microlights.
Licences can have ‘ratings’ added to them. These give you the authority to do things such as flying at night or in adverse weather conditions. You can also get ratings which will allow you to fly different classes of aircraft.
Professional Pilot Licences
If you want to fly commercially you will need one of the following licences.
Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL):
This is the highest licence a pilot can hold and allows you to captain multi-crew aircraft. The training to earn your ATPL can be expensive and takes several years. To find out more about becoming an airline pilot in the UK, read our article.
Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL):
This licence will allow you to fly commercial multi-crew aircraft. You will not need to do as much training to earn this licence as the ATPL, however, you will only be able to fly as a First Officer as Captains require an ATPL.
Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL):
This licence will allow you to train students or pilot aircraft for some commercial operations subject to restrictions. See the CAA website for further details on restrictions.
Type rating: To fly commercial aircraft, you will also need to train to earn type ratings for the aircraft you are going to fly. For example, if you are to fly Airbus A380s, you will need to have a type rating for this type of aircraft. The training for type ratings can be expensive, between £20,000 and £30,000. You will usually have to fund your first type rating yourself, however, your employer will usually pay for any further qualifications necessary.