Choosing Your Path: Different Types of Pilot Licenses

A pilot license, also known as a pilot certificate, is an official document issued by aviation authorities that grants an individual the legal authority to operate aircraft. It signifies that the holder has completed the necessary training, demonstrated proficiency in piloting skills, and met the specific requirements per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Different pilot licenses can vary in type and level, ranging from a Private Pilot Certificate to Certified Flight instructor Rating with optional add-on ratings for professional aviation careers.

Understanding the different types of pilot licenses is critical when it comes to preparing for a professional pilot career and what to expect as you move through your training. This information will allow you to understand the licenses needed to progress in your career as a pilot, and how you build the hours necessary to obtain your first commercial pilot job and establish a career in aviation. With the right understanding and training, you'll be set on the right path that'll lead you to open doors to diverse career opportunities within the aviation industry. 

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In this article, we will explore the different kinds of pilot certificates and discuss the advantages and limitations associated with each one. We'll look at what each license entails and then explore the exciting career opportunities of obtaining these certifications. Whether you're considering a helicopter or airplane career, we hope this article will provide valuable insights into the world of pilot licenses and give you a better understanding of the possibilities within the aviation industry.

Private Pilot License

Whether an airplane or a helicopter, a Private Pilot Certificate, sometimes abbreviated as PPL, allows a pilot to fly for recreation with friends or family or for their transport. It is also the first step toward building the foundation of skills needed to become a commercial pilot.

The FAA minimum requirements on the airplane side for a Part 141 Private Pilot Certificate are 30 hours of ground training and 35 hours of flight training, although the average completion time is 50-60 hours. The helicopter requirements are similar, 35 hours of ground training and 35 hours of flight training, with most people averaging 50-60 flight hours during their training.

Obtaining your Private Pilot Certificate offers several advantages and limitations. On the advantages side, a PPL allows individuals to fly for personal or recreational purposes, allowing them to explore the skies at their leisure. With a PPL, pilots can fly friends and family, enjoy aerial sightseeing, and potentially travel to various destinations. However, there are limitations to consider. a PPL restricts pilots from flying for compensation or hire, meaning they cannot receive payment for their services as a pilot. Additionally, there may be certain airspace restrictions and weather limitations that private pilots must adhere to ensuring safety remains a top priority. Deciding to obtain your private pilot license provides the opportunity to experience the joy of flying, but with certain limitations on its use for commercial purposes. However, if you're interested in a professional pilot career, as mentioned, the private pilot certificate is the first step to the beginning of your aviation career. 

Instrument Rating 

An Instrument Rating is an advanced certification that allows pilots to fly an aircraft solely relying on instruments, without relying on visual references. It involves comprehensive training in instrument flight procedures, instrument flight rules, navigation techniques, and proficiency in interpreting flight instruments and navigation aids. 

Both our airplane and helicopter professional pilot programs have a minimum requirement set by the FAA, known as Part 141, which mandates 35 hours of flight and 30 hours of ground training. However, it's important to note that these are minimum requirements, and most students usually require additional hours to fully master the necessary skills.

An Instrument Rating is particularly valuable for pilots pursuing a professional career, as it is often a prerequisite for employment in commercial aviation, air taxi operations, and charter services. It also allows pilots to operate more advanced, sophisticated aircraft requiring instrument rating privileges.

Commercial Pilot License

A Commercial Pilot Certificate is an advanced certification that allows pilots to fly aircraft for compensation or hire. It is a key milestone in a pilot's career progression beyond the private pilot license.

In our helicopter program, the minimum requirements set by the FAA for a Part 141 Commercial Pilot Certificate include 30 hours of ground training and 115 hours of flight training. In addition, a minimum of 20 hours of flight training must be completed with a flight instructor.

The FAA mandates 35 hours of ground and 120 hours of flight training for our airplane program for a Part 141 Commercial Pilot Certificate. It's important to note that these are only the minimum requirements, and most pilots typically require additional time to attain proficiency in their skills.

A Commercial Pilot Certificate offers several advantages, including expanded career opportunities in the aviation industry, earning compensation through flying, and increased operational privileges to operate larger aircraft. It also allows for the development of advanced flying skills and professionalism. However, there are limitations, such as the significant investment of time and money required for training and experience. Compliance with regulatory requirements, competition in the job market, and the potential for irregular work schedules are also factors to consider. Overall, a commercial certificate provides exciting prospective careers but requires dedication and awareness of the challenges inherent in the profession.

Deciding if a career as a commercial pilot is the right choice for you involves considering several factors:

  1. Passion for Aviation: If you have a genuine love for airplanes and a desire to be in control of them, becoming a commercial pilot can be a fulfilling career choice. 
  2. Travel Opportunities: If you enjoy discovering new places and meeting people from various backgrounds, this career offers an excellent opportunity to satisfy your wanderlust.
  3. Competitive Salary and Benefits: As you accumulate flight hours and gain experience, your earning potential tends to increase. Also you'll have the opportunity to receive benefits such as health insurance, retirement, and travel perks for pilots and their families.
  4. Job Security and Demand: As air travel continues to grow globally, there is a need for skilled professionals to operate aircraft. This demand provides pilots with a sense of job security and stability in their careers.

By carefully considering these aspects, you can determine if a career as a commercial pilot is a good fit for your skills, ambitions, and lifestyle preferences.

Certified Flight Instructor Rating

A Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Rating is a qualification that allows pilots to provide flight instruction to student pilots. It is an advanced certification obtained after acquiring a commercial pilot license and demonstrating the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience in flight instruction.

To obtain a Part 141 CFI Rating, the FAA mandates a minimum of 40 hours of ground training and 25 hours of flight training for both airplane and helicopter courses. It's important to note that for the helicopter program, a prerequisite is having at least 200 hours of flight time in a helicopter, with 50 hours specifically in the Robinson R22 model if you intend to instruct using it. Since many flight schools, including ours, utilize the Robinson R22 for training purposes, it is crucial to ensure that you can accumulate these hours during your training if becoming a flight instructor is your goal.

Obtaining a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) rating offers several advantages:

  1. It allows pilots to share their knowledge and passion for flying by instructing student pilots, which can be personally fulfilling.
  2. Being a CFI enhances one's flying skills and understanding of aviation, as teaching requires deep knowledge and proficiency.
  3. It can serve as a stepping stone for your professional pilot career, as this is a great time to build hours to meet job minimums while generating income.

At Hillsboro Aero Academy, although we can not guarantee employment, we offer employment opportunities to many of our graduates as flight instructors in our airplane and helicopter programs. This provides a valuable chance to gain additional experience and secure your initial professional pilot role. Working as an instructor at HAA allows you to acquire essential skills and knowledge that will contribute to your preparedness for future positions within the aviation industry. It serves as an excellent foundation for your career as a pilot.

Certified Flight Instructor-Instrument Rating

Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII) Rating is an advanced certification that allows pilots to provide flight instruction specifically for instrument flying. It is an additional qualification obtained after achieving a Commercial Pilot Certificate and a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Rating.

To obtain a CFII Rating, pilots must demonstrate proficiency in instrument flight and possess in-depth knowledge of instrument procedures, regulations, and aircraft systems. The training includes ground instruction and flight training, focusing on teaching students how to fly solely by referencing instruments in various weather and airspace conditions.

In our airplane program, obtaining a CFII as an add-on rating to either a Single-Engine or Multi-Engine Instructor Rating under Part 141 necessitates 15 hours of flight and 15 hours of ground training. In the helicopter program, the requirements for CFII can vary depending on whether you are following Part 141 or Part 61 regulations, and they will be contingent on your instrument proficiency level.

Multi-Engine Instructor Certificate 

A Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI) Rating is a certification that allows pilots to provide flight instruction specifically for multi-engine aircraft. This rating is offered only for our airplane students as it allows you to gain additional skill and experience while instructing in a multi-engine aircraft. 

Under Part 141 regulations, obtaining an MEI Rating has specific requirements. The initial rating entails 25 hours of flight training in a multi-engine airplane and 40 hours of ground training. However, if it is an add-on rating to an existing instructor rating, the flight training reduces to 15 hours. These guidelines ensure aspiring MEI-rated instructors receive the necessary flight and theoretical instruction to teach multi-engine aircraft operations effectively.

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Choosing Your Path

Now that you understand the different types of pilot licenses and requirements for both airplane and helicopter pilots let's look at some possible career paths available upon completing flight training. 

Airplane Career Paths

With our established global reputation and recognized international certifications, our airplane pilot graduates enjoy many career opportunities. Hillsboro alumni can be found piloting for major airlines across the globe and various private operations. As the demand for pilots continues to rise, there has never been a better time to pursue your dream of flying in the majors, corporate aviation, or as a freight pilot. The possibilities are limitless, and our training programs can set you on the right path to achieving your aviation goals. Let's explore some of the typical career paths for aspiring airplane pilots.

  • Flight Instructor Certificate: Upon completing your training and attaining about 250 flight hours, the typical progression for many pilots involves transitioning into the role of a flight instructor. This pathway is an excellent method to accumulate the 1500 total flight hours required for most commercial operations. As a flight instructor, you will embark on a rewarding and challenging journey, allowing you to sharpen your airmanship skills and deepen your understanding of aeronautical knowledge and practical experience. 
  • Regional Pilot: As a regional pilot, you will fly various aircraft, ranging from medium turboprop planes to jets like the CRJ 900.
  • Major Airline Pilots: As a pilot in the majors, you will be flying larger aircraft on longer routes for legacy carriers like Alaska Airlines or major airlines like United.
  • Fractional/Corporate Pilot: Corporate pilots operate state-of-the-art aircraft with luxurious interiors and the latest avionics equipment, making for a high-end flying experience. This career demands an adventurous individual who is ready to go with the flow and loves the challenge of changing plans on the go.
  • Freight Part 135:  As a freight Part 135 pilot, you can expect to fly various aircraft, ranging from single-engine Cessnas filled with boxes to FedEx 747s on international routes. Typically, pilots start in smaller aircraft and work their way up, beginning with regional feeder routes before stepping into more advanced aircraft and longer routes.

Helicopter Career Paths

If you dream is to fly search and rescue missions, battle fires, work in the film industry, or undertake utility operations in remote areas worldwide, our helicopter pilot training school is the perfect starting point. With approvals from both the FAA and EASA, our program equips you with the necessary skills in the challenging and ever-changing environment of the Pacific Northwest. Upon completing your flight training, numerous career paths become available to you. Let's explore some of the typical career paths for aspiring helicopter pilots.

  • Flight Instructing: Once you complete your training and have achieved 200+ flight hours, most pilots next step is working as flight instructor. This is the best way to build flight hours from the 200 hours you have when you complete training to the 1000-1500 hours you will need for most commercial operations.
  • Tour Operations: Following the initial stages of pilot training, many aviators embark on the next phase of their career by flying tour operations in renowned tourist destinations like the Grand Canyon, Alaska, Hawaii, and other captivating locations. This experience allows pilots to further enhance their skills as they navigate established routes with minimal variables, accumulating an impressive 1000-1500 hours of flight time in turbine helicopters.
  • Charter & Utility Operations: After gaining valuable experience in tour operations, pilots often progress to career paths that demand a higher level of expertise and experience. These opportunities encompass a range of job roles, including charter flights, corporate transport, offshore support, electronic news gathering, and various utility operations. These positions require a well-informed, experienced pilot who can navigate complex requirements and fulfill diverse operational needs.
  • Advanced Utility Operations: Advancing to roles like aerial firefighting, law enforcement, and heavy-lift operations represents the culmination of a pilot's career progression due to the demanding and dynamic environments in which they operate. These coveted positions are often considered the pinnacle of achievement and attract the aspirations of many aviators. Pilots in these specialized careers must demonstrate exceptional skills and substantial experience to effectively navigate and make critical decisions in unpredictable circumstances.
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There are many paths to choose from when pursuing your dream of flight, and with the continuous growth in demand for pilots- the best time to start is now. Whether you aspire to be an airplane or helicopter pilot, Hillsboro Aero Academy honors each student's personal path to success. If you'd like to learn more about our programs, you can find more information on our helicopter professional pilot program here and airplane professional pilot program here

If this article has helped you better understand the different types of pilot licenses and career paths available to you, we encourage you to contact our admissions team at or 503.726.3000.

If you are ready to take flight into your professional pilot career, apply for our helicopter or airplane professional pilot programs here. We look forward to helping your dreams take flight.