Getting a Pilot's Licence

Getting a pilot's licence isn't like a learning to drive a car or ride a motorcycle, where you can jump into – or onto – a car or bike straight away after passing your test. Each class of aircraft has its own course of training, so you need to decide from the start what sort of flying you want to do. Winning your licence should just be the start of what you 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 fun, you choose which further qualification to pursue and what type of flying you want to do (although most clubs will happily guide 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.

European Pilot Licences

Private Pilot's Licence (PPL)

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) and for helicopters a PPL(H). There are similar licences for balloons and airships.

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 just one 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 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 exams, although changes here are expected in the autumn. These are set by the Civil Aviation Authority and you sit the them at your flying school. 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 to help you learn the basics required to pass these exams, but they also require a considerable amount of reading on your part.

Cost: £5,000 to £7,000
Lets you fly: Aeroplanes and helicopters
Medical required: Part-MED Class 2
Training hours: 45 minimum
Validity: Life (subject to medical)
Staying current: 12 hours; 8 must be Pilot in Command + one training flight
Aircraft size limitation: Aircraft up to 5,700kg
Aircraft privelage renewal: Aeroplanes - 2 years (Single engine); Helicopters - 1 year
Carry passengers: Yes (non-paying)

Glider Pilot Licence

To become a glider pilot in the UK you will need to achieve the British Gliding Association Glider Pilot Licence; it is simple, relatively cheap and fun. In 2015, EASA (the European Aviation Safety Agency) will introduce a Europe-wide glider pilot’s licence. Training is provided by the British Gliding Association’s qualified instructor scheme; initially, would-be pilots are taught all they need to know about how to fly a glider safely up to solo standard. Once a pilot reaches solo, they then take part in the BGA’s badge scheme of Bronze, Silver, Gold and Diamond, and it is the Bronze level with Cross-country endorsement which gives the award of the BGA Glider Pilot Licence.

The BGA Bronze Badge and the Cross Country Endorsement is evidence of a glider pilot having reached a standard equivalent to that of a licensed private pilot. Pilots who do not complete the Bronze Badge with cross-country endorsement must not fly outside gliding range of the airfield.

Theory knowledge for the Bronze Badge is usually tested at individual clubs under the authority of the CFI. Each club has a BGA supplied CDROM-based Bronze Badge test package that can be used either for practice or for testing. For the theoretical knowledge test, a randomly selected examination paper is printed on site that is subsequently marked on site by the CFI or another nominated instructor.

There is also a flying test consist of a general handling skills test, a ground-based oral/practical test, a separate navigation skill test in a glider or motor-glider and a general appraisal of your in-flight lookout and airmanship.

The only age limit in gliding is that you must be 14 to go solo. However, that's not to say that you cannot train with an instructor before 14. There is no upper age limit, although after 65, you will need a doctor to sign once a year that you are fit to fly.

Before you fly, you will need to sign a simple medical declaration and, before you fly solo, you will need to get your GP to certify that you meet the same standards that you must meet to drive a car. Gliding is suitable for people with a range of disabilities.

For more information, go to

Microlight Pilot Licence - NPPL (M)

To obtain a NPPL with a Microlight Class Rating you must complete flight training with a UK Civil Aviation Authority authorised flying instructor entitled to instruct on microlights.

The minimum age to start is 14 years. There is no maximum age. You can go solo at 16 andbe grantedyour licence when you are 17. The Microlight Class Rating can be issued with either of two options: Without Operational Limitations or With Operational Limitations.

The minimum flight training required for an NPPL (M) With Operational Limitations is: Minimum total flight time under instruction 15 hours, minimum flight time solo 7 hours. The Operational Limitations at initial issue are: The licence is valid for flight in the UK only, the pilot may not carry any passenger, the pilot may not fly with a cloudbase less than 1000ft above the ground or with less than 10 kilometres visibility, the pilot may not fly further than eight nautical miles from take-off.

The minimum flight training required for the grant of a NPPL (M) Without Operational Limitations is: Minimum total flight time under instruction 25 hours, minimum flight time solo ten hours, minimum total navigation flight time five hours, minimum solo navigation flight time three hours.

As part of your flight training you must take and pass a General Skills Test (GST).

There are also written examinations in five subjects, Meteorology, Navigation, Aviation Law, Human Performance and Limitations and Aircraft Technical subjects.

The medical requirements are: an NPPL medical certification by a Self Declaration signed by the pilot and then countersigned by the pilot’s General Practitioner (GP). The pilot must be registered with the GP who countersigns the Declaration and the GP must be a UK registered GP with a current licence to practice.

For more information, visit the British Microlight Association website,

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) or microlight. 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 8 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
Lets you fly: ‘Simple’ single-engine aeroplanes, motorgliders, microlights
Medical required: medical declaration
Training hours: 32 plus test (25 if you want to fly a microlight)
Validity: Life (subject to medical)
Staying current: 12 hours; 8 must be Pilot in Command + one training flight
Aircraft size limitation: Aircraft up to 2,000kg
Aircraft privelage renewal: 2 years
Passengers: Yes, up to 3 (non-paying)

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