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Which licence?

PUBLISHED: 12:21 27 November 2012 | UPDATED: 12:31 27 November 2012

It all depends on what type of flying you want to do

Getting a pilot’s licence isn’t like a learning to drive a car or ride a motorcycle, where you can get into – or on – many types straight away after passing your test. Each type of aircraft has its own course of training, so you need to decide from the start what sort of flying you want to do. Getting your licence should just be the start of what you want aim to do in the world of flying rather than just being an end in itself. Military and commercial pilots, for example, continue on structured training after attaining their Private Pilot’s Licence, but if you’re flying for recreation, your future development is dictated by you and what you want to do – although most clubs will happily guide you along the route that’s best for you.

As well as training for the type of aircraft you’re planning to fly, there are additional ratings you can add to most licences, too. To help you on your way, here’s a look at the main licences on offer.

EASA Private Pilot’s Licence

This licence is valid worldwide to fly aircraft that are registered in Europe. Pilots in all European countries go through the same training syllabus. The licence requires a 45-hour course of flying training for aeroplanes or helicopters, with a shorter course for airships. The EASA PPL can be designated for aeroplanes, where it is called a PPL(A), helicopters, where it is called a PPL(H) or airships, where it is called a PPL(As). In the case of aeroplanes, if you take one or two lessons per week, which most people choose to do, then you can expect to have your licence within a year – but it is possible to take a very intensive course of training and gain your licence in a month.

Typically, the average student requires ten hours more than the required minimum of 45 to gain the skills to pass the various flying tests, including the final flying skills test which examines your ability to handle the aircraft. Ten of the 45 hours must be spent flying solo. Five of these hours must be ‘cross-country’ away from your home airfield – including a qualifying triangular cross-country flight of at least 150 miles. To start an EASA PPL you’ll need an EASA Part-MED Class 2 medical certificate. An Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) issues this after completing a medical examination, and it will need renewing every one or two years, depending on your age.

You will also have to sit seven ground examinations. These are all flying related and are set by the Civil Aviation Authority. You sit the exams at your flying school and there are multiple choice answers with approximately 30 questions per subject: Air Law, Meteorology, Navigation, Flight Planning and Performance, Aircraft General, Human Performance and Radio. Your flying school will often run classes in the evenings to help you learn the basics required to pass these exams, but they will also require a considerable amount of reading on your part.

Cost: £5,000 to £7,000

NPPL – National Private Pilot’s Licence

Whereas the EASA Part-FCL PPL is valid for international (cross-border) flights, the NPPL is a national licence which was introduced to encourage recreational flying. An NPPL will let you fly either a Simple Single Engine Aeroplane (SSEA), Self-Launching Motor Glider (SLMG), Microlight or, finally, a powered parachute. Licence holders can hold all of these ‘ratings’ or just choose to hold one. The course of training is 32 hours (25 for a microlight) and you will train on the type of aircraft you then wish to go on and fly.

The NPPL is a sub-ICAO licence, meaning that it is limited to use in UK-registered aircraft, and cannot be used outside of the UK without specific permission from the regulatory authority of the countries concerned. It is also limited to VFR flight by day only (no night flying). As well as fewer training hours, the medical requirements are rather less stringent, being based on driving licence standards and signed off by your own General Practitioner. Pilots will, however, have to sit the same ground exams as in the EASA PPL.

It is important to note that the NPPL will cease to be a valid licence for factory-built SSEAs and SLMGs (other than a few vintage types) from 8th April 2015, and so prospective pilots should consider the new EASA Light Aircraft Pilot’s Licence – see next item. However, the NPPL (Microlight Aeroplanes) will remain the standard UK licence for microlight flying for the foreseeable future.

Cost: £3,500 to £5,000

LAPL – Light aircraft Pilot’s Licence

This is a new pilot’s licence, which is similar in concept to the NPPL, but for the whole of Europe and most kinds of aircraft. The LAPL is available for aeroplanes, helicopters, balloons and sailplanes and covers aircraft up to 2000kg carrying up to four people on private flights. It will be valid to fly any such aircraft registered anywhere in Europe. The licence has recently been introduced in the UK by the CAA.

A Part-MED LAPL Medical Certificate is required, and arrangements have been made for pilots to obtain these from GPs. Existing holders of an NPPL will be able to convert their NPPLs into LAPLs. There will also be provision to upgrade an LAPL to a full EASA-PPL. Existing holders of an NPPL can exchange their NPPL for a new LAPL.

Cost: Prices have yet to be set

CAA National Licences

In addition to the NPPL the UK CAA also offers a Private Pilot’s Licence for Gyroplanes – called a PPL(G). As yet, there is no Europe-wide gyroplane licence.

There are also UK Balloon and Airship licences still available, but these are to be phased out by 2015 in favour of the EASA private and professional licences for these aircraft. The holders of UK balloon and airship licences will be able to convert them into EASA equivalents over the next three years.

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