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The Federal Aviation Administration offers several levels of licensure for pilots. A private pilot’s license is the most commonly issued license, and provides more privileges than conferred by a recreational pilot or student pilot license. Holding a private pilot’s license doesn’t entitle a pilot to work in a commercial setting, however, and it’s illegal to employ a pilot who holds a private pilot’s license to perform duties reserved for a pilot with a commercial license. Because of this, private pilots don’t receive a flight-related salary.
Limitations on Private Pilot Licensure
CFR 14 §61.113 bars a private pilot from flying any aircraft that carries passengers or cargo for compensation. While a few exemptions to the law exist – private pilots may fly an aircraft in the line of business if it’s incidental to the company’s business – private pilots can’t operate aircraft in connection with any commercial activity. Because of these limitations on private pilots, they can’t legally work for commercial aircraft carriers or as a for-hire pilot for private jets.
Commercial Pilot License
To operate a commercial carrier or as a professional pilot, a pilot must hold a commercial pilot’s license as issued by the FAA. Although this licensure allows pilots the legal privilege to fly commercial aircraft, their salaries vary significantly by the size of the planes and the flights they fly, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The average annual salary of all professionally employed pilots was $111,680 as of May 2008, according to the Handbook, although the middle 50 percent’s salaries ranged from $81,580 to $150,480.
Commercial Pilot License Requirements
To qualify for a commercial pilot license, an applicant must be at least 18 years old and hold a private pilot license. In addition to the private pilot’s license, pilots must log at least 100 hours of flight time, 50 of which must be in airplanes, as opposed to helicopters. Applicants must also complete 20 hours of training, including 10 hours of instrument flight time. If applying for a single-engine commercial flight, the pilot must complete 10 hours of solo flight experience, with one flight at least 300 miles in distance. Those who wish to receive multi-engine certification must log 10 hours of flight training for a multi-engine craft under the supervision of a flight instructor.
Private Pilot License Privileges
Outside of the limitation on commercial activity, pilots who hold a private pilot’s license may operate aircraft in most other circumstances. Private pilot licensure allows pilots to fly themselves and passengers – whom can’t pay for the trip – with the same requirements of medical examinations, pre-flight planning and limitations placed on commercial pilots.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.