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Pilot license - The license to fly!

Who does not dream of flying? Sit once at the wheel of a plane and fly towards the sunset. But every pilot needs a pilot license. Only if you have the license to fly, you can control an airplane yourself in the air. There are great differences in licenses. While this is one license for hobby pilots, airline pilots need another. Therefore, here we look at what licenses exist and what the differences are.

What is a pilot license?

Probably, you've heard that you need to have a pilot license to fly a plane. But what is a pilot license? A pilot license is nothing more than a driver's license for the plane. There are also different variants for the car driver's license. So you need a different driver's license for a motorcycle than a car, a car with a trailer or a truck.

That's the way it is with pilot license. In the case of aircraft, the driver's license is called a pilot license. And there are several licenses. Each license also contains different permissions.

Pilot license before driver's license?

In addition, you have to bring different requirements for each license. So you can get some licenses before the car driver's license.

You can fly planes before you can drive a car.

Are there any aircraft-specific licenses?

In addition, there are different ratings for different aircraft. This is because they can be very different.

When certifying an aircraft, the national aviation authority decides which rating a pilot must have for that aircraft.

Only if you have this rating, will you be allowed to fly the plane. There is no license for pilots specifically for an aircraft, but only different ratings. And some of them are specific to an airplane.

Difference license and ratings

You have to distinguish between license and ratings.

So it happens that you have the right license and still not allowed to fly a certain aircraft. Then you may not have all ratings.

A rating adds or extends your actual license.

Where can I get a pilot's license?

No matter if you need a rating or pilot's license, you get both at a flight school. You can also get a glider pilot license at an air sports club. Some other licenses, too, but we are not going into detail here. 

As soon as you want to become an airline pilot, you will need other licenses that you can only get at a commercial flight school.

Steps to acquire a pilot's license

So sooner or later you'll have to stop by at a flight school. What steps will follow until you have a license in your hands?

Sign up and clarify formalities

First you need to register at a flight school. After the formalities have been clarified, the flight school is allowed to train you theoretically and practically as a pilot.

Complete training

In the theoretical part you will learn a lot about your plane and how you will fly it. The theory depends on the license you acquire. With a license for hobby pilots, the theory is not as extensive as for airline pilots.

At the end of the theory, you will have to write tests in which your theoretical knowledge will be queried.

Even the practical part follows a specific syllabus. You will also have to internalize certain predetermined learning content in practice, because in the end there are some check flights. An authorized flight instructor will then check your skills.

These check flights are similar to a driving test. You have to show what you've learned and that you have the plane under control at all times.

Pass the exam

If you pass the final check flight, you will receive a license. And you're the proud owner of a pilot license.

How the individual steps to become a pilot are exactly, can I tell you on the page How to become a pilot? in more detail.

Is it hard to get a pilot license?

Now you know the way to the license and you're sure to wonder how hard it is to go through the training.

Unfortunately, I can only answer this question conditionally, since everyone is a different type of learning and has different prerequisites. Some learn how to fly very quickly, while others take much longer and make more difficult learning progress. It also depends on the flight school. How well your flight instructors can motivate you and give you helpful tips.

All this concerns mainly the practical part of the training. In theory, I can tell you that it is fundamentally not difficult, only the amount you need to learn is a challenge. So it's up to you how much you can motivate yourself.

If it is easy for you to sit down and learn, you will also find this part easy. But if you torment yourself through hundreds of pages of reading material, it can be very exhausting.

Nevertheless, the effort is worth it. If you're on the plane and can fly through the country alone, it's hard to get rid of the smile on your face.

What are the requirements for a pilot license?

Not every person is able to cope with the requirements in the cockpit and will receive a pilot license. This can be due on the one hand to medical requirements, but also to the skills you should bring as a pilot.

What qualifications you need, I have described in “Qualifications for pilots” and even more extensive in my book “Direct to Pilot”.

There are country-specific differences in medical requirements. The list of requirements is very long. But as a normal healthy person, you have no problems. Then you usually meet the medical requirements for airline pilots.

Most people are unfit for flight due to poor vision. Further medical requirements can be found in Aviation Faq and Airucate Member.

How much does a pilot license cost?

In addition to the efforts for training and the requirements for pilots, you will unfortunately also have high costs for the license.

The cost also depends on the license you want to get. A license as a hobby pilot costs significantly less than a license as an airline pilot. Let's take a closer look at the exact cost of each license later.

Before that, I would like to introduce you to the different licenses up to the license for airline pilots.

Private Pilot License - The license for hobby pilots

Even many airline pilots start flying with this license. As a hobby in addition to their profession, they are trained to the Private Pilot License. For this, the abbreviation PPL is often used. But rightly, these pilots are called private pilots.

Pilot license with only a few hours of flight

The nice thing about this license is that you only need a few hours of flying to get the license. So you only need 45 flight hours in Europe. In the USA, you can even get the license with 35 hours of flight.

The effort for the PPL is therefore manageable and you can get the license without prior flight experience.

But if you only look at the flight hours and how to get a license most favourable, you have to ask yourself how good the training was.

After all, you need to gain flight hours and experience. That's the same with the driver's license. You can also obtain a driver's license with the minimum requirements. But it's only the driving practice for years to make you a good driver.

Private Pilot License - Flight School

Therefore it is especially important to have a good flight school that trains you well. But how do you find a suitable flight school for you?

Basically, no one will ask you where you got your license later. But a flight instructor can assess your skills as a pilot quite well. If you want to start a career as a pilot, you should also pay attention to a high quality of the training during your basic training. Also because your life depends on your abilities.

Therefore, the flight school should also be an Approved Training Organisation (ATO) for a PPL licence. For all other licenses, the flight school must be an ATO anyway. They have been checked and approved with regard to their personnel, aircraft, teaching materials, etc.

In addition, you need to feel comfortable at the flight school and have a good relationship with your flight instructors. Language barriers can also be an obstacle to good education.

The overall topic is very extensive. Therefore, you can find under “Which flight school?” more information about flight schools. Under “Private Pilot Training” on Airucate Member, I also created a list of criteria for choosing your flight school. You can also find the criteria at the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).

Flight school near me

You should take a look at the flight school on site. Of course, it is advantageous if the flight school is not far away.

Do you know where the nearest flight school is? For this too, I have prepared appropriate links under “Private Pilot Training” on Airucate Member.

What else you need to know about the flight school can be found in “Which flight school?”.

How much does a Private Pilot License cost?

If you compare the flight schools, you will find that you are given different prices for your license. In some cases, the costs are very far apart.

Then you have to look closely and compare the trainings. Often, one offer includes services that are missing from another.

So that you can better compare the offer, use the criteria that I have provided to you under Airucate Member for the comparison of flight schools.

But as a guideline, you can expect a cost of 8,000 - 10,000 € for a Private Pilot License.

Can you earn money with a private pilot's license?

Even for a license as a private pilot, the cost is quite high. One or the other may come up with the idea to earn money with his license.

To offer sightseeing flights is quick and easy. But making money is not allowed with the Private Pilot License/PPL.

That's why it's called “private”!

What is allowed, however, is that you take friends and relatives on a flight. The total cost of the flight, you can split in equal parts. It is only very important that you pay an equal share of the costs. Anything else would be commercial and you can't do that with this license.

Commercial Pilot License - The license to earn money

But if you want to earn your money as a pilot, you need a Commercial Pilot License. It is abbreviated worldwide as CPL. For this license, you must go to an ATO - Flight School (Approved Training Organisation) and have yourself trained.

As with a PPL, you can also get this license without flying experience. Whereas the CPL is "higher" than the PPL.

If you already have a PPL license, you can get the CPL license on top. Your training content of the PPL will be credited to the CPL. Thus, you do not have to go through the complete training, but only the parts that you are missing.

So you acquire the CPL license in several modules, step by step. As a result, this form of training is also called modular training.

CPL ratings - The extension of the license

Initially, we also talked about the fact that you can extend your license with certain ratings.

The training is already expensive enough and therefore it usually takes place on single-engine aircraft. You can then fly these with your CPL after your training. However, usually not many passengers fit in there.

So if you want to carry more passengers, a larger plane has to come. Then maybe it's a twin-engined plane. You can't fly this one directly. You need additional rating for multi-engine aircraft.

The same goes for the instrument flight. With a PPL, you usually fly in good weather, where you see something. Your passengers don't want to wait for nice weather, so you have to fly even in bad weather. Then you also need rating to fly only by instruments.

As a commercial pilot, it makes sense to have these ratings, but they are not mandatory. Because they are just extensions for your CPL.

By the way, you could also extend your PPL with these two ratings. It only makes less sense here. Because these ratings also cost money and you have to show certain flight hours and do check flights so that you can keep the entitlement.

Licensing requirements for commercial pilots

Now you can carry passengers, which also increases the requirements for you as a pilot. This applies to both the medical requirements and your personal qualifications.

Often you no longer fly a single-engine aircraft, but rather turbine-powered jets. There are very different speed and requirements for the pilots. Accordingly, the requirements for you are already significantly higher when you are training.

Since the training costs even more than a PPL, many flight schools test your skills in pilot tests beforehand. 'Cause they want to make sure that you can really complete the training.

The tests are also not a guarantee that you will really finish the training. But they are now a common means of sorting out applicants who are not really suitable for the profession of the pilot.

The cost of the commercial pilot licence

Ultimately, flight schools are about reducing the financial risk for themselves and the students. Because the training costs between 40,000 - 60,000 €. In some cases it can cost up to 80,000 €.

This often depends on which flight school you are trained at, which aircraft you are trained on and which additional entitlements are included in the training costs.

Many cannot easily afford the training and finance them through a loan. Unfortunately, it happens again and again that budding pilots (for medical or other reasons) cannot complete the training.

Even if you do the training at a good flight school and have a CPL in your hand, it still doesn't mean that you earn well. Because the high salaries are paid primarily by the major airlines. But even there, salaries have fallen over the last few years.

ATPL License - The license for airline pilots

So that you can sit in an airline cockpit, the CPL is not enough. You need the Airline Transport Pilot License, in short an ATPL.

Without this license, you will never make it into an airline cockpit in countries like the United States. There is also another special feature in the USA.

What is an ATP License?

In America, the ATPL is a little different. This is the ATP, that is, the Airline Transport Pilot. However, it means the ATPL.

The ATPL problem!

If you say “perfect, I just do the ATPL and I can fly in an airline cockpit as a pilot", there is a problem. There is no training in this world that can train you from pedestrian with zero flight experience to ATPL.

To get an ATPL license, you need 1500 hours of flight. Flying in a flight school with a flight instructor wouldn't be affordable.

How does that work now?

As a rule, you first make a CPL and acquire additional ratings for multi-engine aircraft and instrument flight. Both ratings are mandatory for the ATPL. Then you do the theory for the ATPL and fly with a CPL license until you have collected the 1500 hours of flight.

Only now you can take the practical check flight for the ATPL.

This is a huge obstacle!

1500 hours of flight you don't just fly together on weekends. You may need many years to do this.

How much does an ATPL ticket cost?

We just looked at the cost of the CPL. To get an ATPL with the CPL now depends on how you get the 1500 hours together. The costs will also be determined accordingly.

Many pilots still acquire a flight instructor's license and teach others to fly. This means that they collect flight hours very cheap. In some cases, they can already pay off their training costs.

If you fly all the hours yourself and have to pay them fully, it will be expensive.

Therefore, no one can really tell you how much an ATPL license really costs.

Multi-Crew Pilot License - Always together in the cockpit

Due to the obstacle of 1500 flight hours, a new license was created. This license is specifically tailored to the needs of an airline and is called the Multi-Crew Pilot License. Abbreviated, you will find the spelling MPL for this license.

With this training, you will be trained in a short time with zero flight experience until you get the license. So you can sit in an airline cockpit in about two years.

The disadvantage of the MPL license

But there is always a disadvantage for every advantage. That's the way it is with MPL.

Now you know that an ATPL requires 1500 flight hours. The MPL reduced the required flight hours to 240.

How can so many flight hours be saved?

This only works because the airlines are always involved in training of a MPL. You can't easily go to a flight school and make an MPL license. That doesn't offer you a school directly.

First you need to apply to an airline that will train you. In addition, you are binding with the airline. You don't have a choice which flight school you want to go to. The airline either has its own flight school or cooperates with a specific one to which it sends you.

After your training, you will fly in regular operations and always have an experienced colleague next to you. Thus, you will fly in a multi-crew cockpit from the start. This is also the case in airline operations.

If you have flown the 1500 flight hours with your MPL, you can rewrite the MPL license to an ATPL license after the ATPL check flight. Because the theory is the same for both the ATPL and the MPL.

How much does an MPL license cost?

But the costs are predictable compared to the ATPL.

For example, an MPL training costs between 80.000 - 120.000 €. This means that the costs are significantly higher than CPL training. But with your MPL license you already get the rating for an airline aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320. This rating is called a type rating.

A type rating entitles you to fly a special aircraft. However, as mentioned above, it is not a standalone license, but only a rating in addition to your license.

You also need a type rating with an ATPL. Often the airlines pay for it, but with some airlines you stay at the cost of this training.

Then 25,000 - 40,000 € will be added to your training costs. With the MPL, these costs are already included.


A pilot license is like a driver's license - it entitles you to control an airplane. You have to distinguish between the license and the additional rating.

As soon as you want to get a license, you have to go to a flight school. They will train you and after completing your training, your license will be issued to you.

In simple steps, this means - you register at a flight school, complete the training and receive your license after passing the training.

The learning content for each license varies. Nevertheless, all content is not complicated and individually in itself, easy to understand. But it's a lot of learning material. Therefore, it depends on you personally, whether you will find the training difficult or easy.

Also, the cost depends on the license you want to purchase.

Private Pilot License PPL

The license for private pilots. You only need a few flight hours, which makes the cost manageable. But you can't make money with the license.

Commercial Pilot License CPL

If you want to earn money as a pilot, you need a CPL license. You can then extend this with additional ratings and thus fly larger planes. But with the responsibility, the demands on you as a pilot also increase and the training is much more complex. The costs are also correspondingly higher than the PPL.

Airline Transport Pilot License ATPL

To fly for an airline, you need an ATPL. There is no flight school where you get an ATPL right after training. Because you must have flown 1500 hours of flight to get an ATPL license. Since the cost depends largely on how you collect the flight hours, the cost of the ATPL is not predictable.

Multi-Crew Pilot License MPL

A new way to the airline cockpit is via the MPL license. You don't need 1500 hours of flight here. But you need to be trained by an airline and you need to apply to it in advance. You bind yourself to an airline and to the airline's flight school or a flight school with which the airline works.