Pilot license - The license to fly!

What is a Pilot License?

You've probably heard that you have to get a pilot's license to fly a plane. But what exactly is a pilot license?

A pilot license is nothing more than a license to fly a plane. On planes, the driver's license is not called a driver's license, but pilot license.

There are also different types of driving licences. For example, you need a different driving licence for a motorcycle than for a car or truck.

The same applies to a pilot license. In aviation there are also different licenses. With each license, you are allowed to fly different airplanes, for example.

Which pilot licenses are there?

So that you can find out which license you need for your dream as a pilot, let's have a look at what licenses are available.

Glider licence

Many of my fellow pilots made their first flying experiences as glider pilots.

Meanwhile there is no age limit anymore, so you can gain your first flying experiences at any age.

glider plane in gras

Flying a sailplane is often called "real flying" by many pilots. It is a wonderful experience to fly through the air without any engine noise.

So that you can take off alone in a glider, there are two gliding licenses to choose from.

  • SPL - Sailplane Pilot License or
  • LAPL(S) - Light Aircraft Pilot License (Sailplane)

The main difference between the two licenses is that the SPL is valid worldwide and the LAPL(S) is only valid Europe-wide.

Requirements for glider license - SPL / LAPL(S):

  • no minimum age, but most clubs require a minimum age of 13-14.
  • Europe: minimum number of flying hours for the license: 15 hours
  • Medical certificate: Class 2

Ultralight pilot license

If you think a plane needs an engine after all, then the ultralight license might be something for you.

An ultralight aircraft is a very light aircraft and is also known as a personal air vehicle.

ul airplane on gras

However, many personal air vehicles that fall into this category. These are for example parachutes as well as light helicopters or motor gliders.

All personal air vehicles are combined in one pilot license. It is called SPL (Sport Pilot License).

Unfortunately, it is not the case that you get a pilot license and then you are allowed to fly everything in this category.

You have to decide on a personal air vehicle and you will be trained for this personal air vehicle. After the training you will get your licence for your specific light aircraft.

Furthermore, the SPL license is based on national regulations. Simply flying to another country cannot be allowed. So you have to check exactly in which countries you are allowed to fly.

By the way, in the USA you don't need any pilot license to fly ultralight aircraft. But it is different depending on national regulations.

But then nothing stands in the way of fun and you can take off in a small light aircraft.


Requirements for Ultralight Pilot License

  • Before the start of training: 16, the minimum age for obtaining a licence: 17
  • Europe: Minimum number of flight hours for the license: 30 hours
  • Medical fitness certificate: Class 2

Source: Alpenflug

PPL pilot license - private pilot license

If all planes have been too small for you so far, let's take a look at the next higher licenses.

The Private Pilot License is the classic pilot license for pilots who fly in their spare time.

You have probably already read the abbreviation PPL(A). The "A" here stands for "Airplane". The license is also available for helicopters with the letter "H". Then the license is called PPL(H), so that you have also heard this.

flying cessna 172

With a PPL license you can fly airplanes with a higher takeoff weight. One of the best-known aircraft for private pilots is the Cessna 172.

But you can also extend this license.

Requirements for PPL

  • Before the start of training: 16, minimum age for obtaining a licence: 17
  • Europe: Minimum number of flight hours for the license: 45 hours
  • Medical certificate: at least class 2

What can I fly with PPLA?

With the PPL license you acquire a so-called class rating for single-engine piston-powered land planes. Theoretically, you can fly all aircraft in this class.

In practice, the situation is somewhat different. Before you are allowed to fly an aircraft that you have never flown before, you must receive instruction from a flight instructor. But this is done in a few hours and is rather easy.

The situation is different if you want to fly a plane outside your class rating and you do not have a rating.

In this case, you must first obtain the rating.

Depending on which rating you want to obtain, the training can be more or less extensive.

seaplane on a lake

For example, you can acquire the rating to fly seaplanes or aerobatics.

But there are other permissions that do not only apply to the plane. Initially, you may only fly with the PPL during the daytime on sight.

Therefore, you can also receive additional permissions, for example to fly at night and to navigate with the help of instruments.

All permissions complement your PPL license and thus extend your possibilities.

But the PPL license may only be used for private flying. If you want to earn money as a pilot you need the next higher license.

This is why the PPL flight license is often the first step into a pilot's career.

As a result, many airline pilots first do the PPL training before they continue with the next higher license to earn their living.

Commercial Pilot License - CPL

With the Commercial Pilot License you are already quite close to your dream of a pilot career. Because with this license you can really take off.

The CPL is a stand-alone license that allows you to fly even smaller business jets with a maximum take-off weight of up to 5.7 tons.

business jet during sunset

So you can build the CPL on the PPL. This is then called "modular training".

The contents of the PPL training can also be found in the CPL training. You don't have to repeat them, but they will be credited to you.

On the other hand, there is also the possibility to start directly with the CPL training. In this case you have to learn the contents of the PPL as well. Therefore the complete CPL training takes longer than the modular training for the PPL.

In any case, both paths are open to you and it is up to you which path you want to take.

As with the PPL, you can extend the CPL with additional ratings.

Consequently, you must also acquire additional entitlements for instrument flight or aircraft with several engines in the CPL. But they are not a prerequisite for getting a CPL license.

Only in the even higher flight license some of the entitlements are mandatory and thus integrated.


Requirements for CPL

  • Before the start of training: 17, the minimum age for obtaining a licence: 18
  • With modular training: Minimum number of flying hours before the training: 150 hours, minimum number of flying hours for the license: 200 hours
  • Medical fitness certificate: Class 1

Airline Transport Pilot License - ATPL

The Airline Transport Pilot License is the highest of all licenses and this worldwide. In the technical terminology, the license is called ATPL.

Again, you will often find an (A) for "Airplane" or (H) for "Helicopter" behind the abbreviation ATPL.

If your goal is to fly large passenger planes with a large airline, then you need this license.

777 Austrian Airlines inflight

The ATPL can also be done as a modular system based on a PPL or CPL.

However, you will not find a flight school that can train you directly for the ATPL without flying experience. And if flight schools advertise with it, then this is misleading and wrong in my opinion.

The reason is the flying lessons.

To get an ATPL license, you need 1,500 flying hours. The number of flying hours is mandatory and you need it worldwide.

If you have already collected flying hours with a PPL or CPL, certain flying hours can be credited to your ATPL training.

But if you have not yet collected any flying hours, you cannot get an ATPL directly at the flying school.

Why is this the case?


Requirements for ATPL

  • Before the start of training: 17, the minimum age for obtaining a licence: 21
  • With continuous training: Minimum number of flying hours: 195 hours
  • Medical fitness certificate: Class 1

Source: Fly-by-night

Continuous ATPL Training - Why it does not exist!

So if you wanted to fly all 1,500 flying hours with an instructor at a flight school, the training would be priceless.

I would like to explain this to you briefly with a small calculation, even though we will go into the costs in detail later.

Assuming that one flying lesson with an instructor costs 200 €, which would be very reasonable. Then you would pay 300,000 € for the 1,500 flying hours.

You also have to fly planes with several engines for the ATPL. Here the flying hours cost many times more.

No one can afford that.

Even with a CPL or PPL the flying hours are always the more expensive part of the training. However, the required flying hours are significantly lower.

Therefore the total costs of the training are also lower. How the exact costs look like, we will have a closer look at in a moment.

But there is a solution to the problem with the flying hours. At least this solution exists in Europe and some other countries.

This solution also applies if you already have collected some flying hours with a PPL or CPL.

Airline pilot without 1.500 flying hours

Under certain conditions you may fly as a First Officer (co-pilot) with a CPL license in the cockpit of an airline.

In order to be allowed to do so, you need the following.

On the one hand you need the CPL license with certain required ratings (such as the rating for instrument flight and aircraft with several engines) and on the other hand you must pass the theoretical training for the ATPL.

Once you have passed all of this, all you need are the missing flying hours. This means that you can be issued the CPL license with the endorsement "ATPL theory credit" and you can fly as First Officer.

Center panel a320

So you collect flying lessons while you're already making money. There are also other ways to collect flying hours outside of an airline.

After you have collected all your flying hours, you only have to pass the practical check ride for the ATPL. You will then be issued the ATPL.

Radiotelephony certificate

We forgot one license. But it's not a license, it's an certificate.

In order to be allowed to fly with your plane in air traffic, you must be able to communicate by radio.

It is not only important that everyone speaks the same language. It is just as important that everyone uses the same technical terms and that everyone understands exactly what is meant.

That is why every pilot must obtain a so-called radiotelephony certificate.

Radiotelephony certificates are available in your national language or in a language that is approved for general air traffic.

Depending on the airspace you are flying in and the borders you want to cross, you need the appropriate radio certificate.

Pilot license costs

Now that you know the different licenses, let's take a look at what they cost.

However, I must point out that the costs can vary greatly.

One reason is that the cost of a license is made up of many individual costs. Therefore I have listed here where costs are incurred.

  • Administration fees
  • Registration fees
  • Landing fees
  • Flying lesson without instructor
  • Flying lesson with flight instructor
  • Fees for theoretical training
  • Teaching material
  • Personal equipment: headset, maps etc.
  • Medical certificate of fitness
  • Examination fees
  • Licence issuance
  • Radiotelephony certificate

On the other hand, the cost of a license depends largely on your performance.

If you can apply what you have learned quickly, you may be able to get your license with the minimum number of flying hours.

But if you need a few more flying hours, the costs will increase immediately. The costs also increase if you fail an exam and you have to pay the fee the exam fee again.

Furthermore, a cost comparison across national borders is sometimes not even possible. For example, the required minimum number of flying hours for a license varies from country to country.

Within Europe, the required flying hours for a license are the same, but in the USA they differ again.

Therefore it is important that you compare the individual offers as well as the flight schools among themselves and also the requirements for a license.

You must also bear in mind that a license that you acquire in one country will also be recognized in another country.

ebook insides

This topic is very far-reaching, complex, confusing and goes beyond the scope of this article. That is why a whole chapter entitled Licenses and Ratings in my book is all about this topic.

Besides, you will find that the higher the quality of a license, the higher the cost. So if one license is based on another one, it will be more expensive than the one before.

One reason for this is the operating costs of the aircraft. The bigger the aircraft, the more expensive the flying hour.

On the other hand, the prescribed minimum number of flying hours increases from license to license.

Nevertheless, I will give you an overview of the costs of the different licenses here, so you can get a feeling for it.

How much does a glider license cost?

You can get your glider license at a club or at a flight school. Most people will probably get their licence at the club, as it is much cheaper.

If you join a club, you usually have to become a member of the club before you can be trained.

You have to expect an admission fee of 200 - 1.000 € on average. Besides, there are the annual membership fees of 150 - 600 €.

Furthermore, you have to reckon with costs for teaching material, medical certificate and an examination fee.

In total, the costs amount to about 2.500 - 3.500 €. Some clubs support young people, so you will have to pay less. You can find a detailed overview of the costs of a glider license here.

What does a pilot license for a ultralight aircraft cost?

For the license of an ultralight aircraft you have to calculate with costs of 5.000 - 8.000 €.

Most of these costs are incurred during the practical flight training. The costs per flight hour are still very low at around 130 €.

The required minimum number of flying hours is set at 30 hours. Depending on how many hours you need additionally, the more expensive the training will be.

In addition, fees for the practical examination or costs for the additional entitlement to carry passengers increase the costs for this license.

A detailed list of all costs can be found in the ULMagazine.

What does flying as a hobby cost with PPL?

The costs for a PPL - license are between 10.000 - 12.000 €.

One flying hour for the PPL costs about 200 €. With a minimum number of flying hours of 45 there are already some costs.

And these are also only the minimum costs for the practical training.

Therefore I recommend you always count on more flying hours.

Furthermore, flying experience can only be replaced by more flying experience. So you invest in yourself and a good training. Your flying experience is your life insurance in the air.

So it is rather the rule than the exception that you will need more flying hours than required by law.

On this page of a flight school you can take a closer look at all costs for the PPL.

How much does an entitlement for instrument flight cost?

If you would like to upgrade your PPL license with an Instrument Rating, there are additional costs involved.

The costs for the training amount to 15.000 - 20.000 €, whereby you need at least 55 additional flying hours.

cockpit instruments

It is important to understand that flying hours for instrument flying are considerably more expensive than a normal flying hours.

This is because not every aircraft can be used for training.

The aircraft must be equipped with certain instruments for instrument flying, which makes the flying hours more expensive.

Costs for the commercial pilot license - CPL

The cost of the CPL license varies greatly. Therefore you will find offers from 10.000 - 30.000 €.

The reason for this large price range is that there are several ways to get the license.

On the one hand, you can get the license based on a PPL license. Then the additional costs for the training amount to about 10.000 €. But then you have already invested several 10.000 € in your PPL training.

On the other hand, you can start your CPL training with zero flying experience. Then the costs will be about 30.000 € or more.

If you only add up the training costs, a CPL training based on a PPL license would be cheaper than a full CPL training.

Unfortunately this is only partially true. It depends on which costs you consider.

In Europe, for example, you need 150 flying hours for the continuous training, whereas you need 200 flying hours for the modular training.

You have to fly at least this difference of 50 flying hours with your PPL in your free time. If you add these costs to your training costs, you will probably end up with the same costs.

CPL/IR costs - Upgrade to instrument flight

A CPL pilot license alone is not enough for many pilot jobs. So you often have to extend your CPL with the authorization to fly by instruments.

The costs for this additional authorization are again about 10.000 - 16.000 €.

ATPL costs

With an ATPL the costs amount to 40.000 - 80.000 €. However, you will also find offers up to 100.000 €.

Again, the big difference in costs is due to the different training paths.

If you already have a PPL, you can get there with 40.000 €. If you go through the complete training without previous flight experience, you will quickly earn 80,000 € or even more.

The difference between 80.000 and 100.000 € is mainly due to the flight school and the aircraft used for the training.

With an ATPL your clear goal is to become an airline pilot. With the continuous training you want to reach this goal as soon as possible.

But today's passenger planes fly fast and are very complex.

So it makes sense that you are already trained in more complex airplanes with higher speeds during your training.

The more expensive flight schools use exactly such airplanes in their training. The bigger and more complex an aircraft is, the more expensive the flying lesson is.

Consequently, the training costs are significantly higher.

Therefore the same applies here - you invest in your future and your training.

As you can see, there are a lot of costs involved and we are not at the end of the road yet.

Costs for obtaining a license

Once you hold a license, you will have to pay running costs.

With a pilot license, you have to show a certain number of flying hours within a certain period.

If you are not allowed to earn money with your license or are not allowed to earn any, then you pay for these flying hours out of your pocket.

If you don't get to fly all the flying hours in the specified period, you will have to make a check flight with an instructor. Only after that, you are allowed to fly alone again.

If you fly professionally as a pilot, then you collect your flying lessons during this time. If you are unemployed and you do not have all your flying hours together, you will have to pay for them yourself.

Depending on which aircraft you fly, the proof of flying hours is no longer sufficient and you must take an examination flight.

So here too, you will incur running costs if your employer does not pay for these costs.

Costs for radiotelephone certificate

The last costs I want to mention here are the costs for the radiotelephone certificate.

In Germany, you have to calculate between 200 - 500 € for a radiotelephone certificate. The costs vary depending on which radiotelephony certificate you want to obtain.

The costs also increase if you do not pass an exam and therefore have to repeat it.

Which is the right pilot license for you?

Now that you know the individual licences and the costs involved, you are probably wondering which licence is right for you.

Only you can answer this question for yourself. Because it depends largely on what you want to do.

two men flying in an airplane into sunset

If you just want to fly around at the weekend in your free time, a glider license, a UL-license or a PPL is sufficient.

However, if you want to earn money as a pilot, you must have at least a CPL training.

If your big goal is to become an airline pilot, the ATPL is your license.

On the other hand, it also depends on your financial means. Not everyone can afford such an expensive training.

There are also possibilities for how you can get an ATPL at a lower price.

Nevertheless, you have to know your goal.

But before you worry about it, I will show you in the last section how and where the training takes place.

Get your pilot's license

There are only two ways to get a pilot license.

One possibility is to join a flying club and get trained there. There are many clubs, but the training capacity is often limited.

The trainers usually do the training voluntarily, i.e. in their spare time. It is not uncommon for flight hours to be canceled or postponed.

Therefore the training is cheaper, but usually takes longer than the second option.

Furthermore, a club is not allowed to train for every license. Therefore you will only be able to obtain one gliding, UL or maximum one PPL license in a club.

The second possibility is to be trained at a flight school. Here flight instructors usually work full-time or part-time.

two persons entering small aircraft gras field

In any case, they earn money with every flying lesson. That is why the instructors are more eager to let the flying lessons take place as planned.

This means that you pay more for the flying lessons, but you will progress faster with your training.

Now some universities offer flying lessonss. This is especially the case in the USA.

Ultimately, however, these are also flight schools. For an organization to be allowed to train you as a pilot, the school must meet certain requirements and have the approval to do so.

As you can see, there are different ways of getting your license.

The possibilities multiply if you look at the fact that you can acquire many licences either building on each other or continuously.

So different flight schools will show you different ways to get your license.

If you don't know your way around and have a basic understanding of the licenses, you will be lost very quickly.

When I set myself the goal of becoming an airline pilot, I didn't know how to get there.

That's why it was important to me to simplify and shorten the way for you. Out of this motivation I wrote my book, in which I show you all ways and shortcuts exactly.

Every possibility is also connected with a certain duration of the training. Here the training time is always directly connected with the costs, i.e. your finances.

How long does it take to get a pilot license?

How long the training takes depends mainly on the license you want to acquire. It also depends on how much time and money you have available.

Especially with part-time training, delays can quickly occur.

Maybe you can only afford a certain number of flying hours per month.

Or you are not flexible enough, so that flying hours are canceled and your training is extended.

bi-plane in clouds

For example, flying hours can be canceled due to bad weather. Maybe the weather is still good in the morning but not in the afternoon. If you can only fly in the afternoon, the flying lesson will fall through.

Flying hours can also be canceled due to technical problems on the aircraft.

Just be aware that the duration of training depends on many factors and may take longer than previously assumed.


The pilot license is like the driving licence for a car, the driving licence for an airplane. So you always need the appropriate license for the corresponding plane.

Therefore, there are different pilot licenses for gliders and commercial aircraft. In detail, these were gliding, UL, PPL, CPL and ATPL licenses.

Also, you can extend certain licenses with further permission. So you can fly not only during the day with good visibility but also at night with the help of the instruments.

The cost of a pilot license depends on many individual factors. In addition, the costs are difficult to compare because there are many different offers.

However, these offers are hardly comparable because of the requirements you have to bring along.

In general, however, the following can be said. The bigger and more complex the aircraft you want to fly, the more expensive the license will be.

There are two main ways to obtain a license. On the one hand in an air sports club. On the other hand at a flight school.

Commercial licenses, such as the CPL or ATPL, can only be obtained at a flying school.

However, different flight schools offer different concepts. Due to the different combinations, it is hardly possible to compare the training costs.

Therefore you must know your goal. Do you only want to pursue an expensive hobby at the weekend or do you want to earn money with your pilot license?

If you know your goal, you can also find the best training and your way to your license.

For those who want to become an airline pilot and need more help, I recommend reading the book Direct-to-Pilot. Here you will find a step by step guide to your goal.