Types of Pilot License in the UK

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Types of Pilot License in the UK

The landscape of pilot licenses in the UK can be a bit bewildering for the inexperienced. If you’re just starting out on your aviation career, how do you know your private pilot license from your CPL, and which do you need to be a pilot in the UK. Here we go through an overview of the different types of licenses in the UK, so that you know how to build a worthwhile flying career.

Whichever pilot license you embark on getting, it will take time and dedication. Each license, including the private pilot license, trains you in everything you need to know to safely take to the skies in specific types of aircraft under specific conditions. To decide which type of license is right, you need to consider your flying goals. Different privileges are extended to different license types. For example, you can’t fly commercially in the UK with a private pilot license, but you can fly for recreation with it.

Commercial vs. recreational flying

When looking at pilot licenses in the UK, you broadly need to consider two overarching categories: commercial and recreational. The basic premise is that recreational flying is for pleasure and personal use. Commercial flying is when you are paid to do so. If you’d like to make a career as a pilot then you will, ultimately, need to go down the commercial route.

However, it can still be worth starting at the recreational level as this is a more affordable and eye-opening way to discover if commercial flying is for you. Nothing is lost by gaining one type of pilot license, such as a private pilot license in the UK, because it can act as a stepping stone to the next level.

ICAO and Non-ICAO certified licenses

If you want to fly beyond UK airspace then you will need a license which is certified by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). ICAO licenses allow you to fly globally. You can also choose licenses certified by the European Aviation Safety Authority which would allow you to fly in the UK and EU. Some licenses issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) only allow you to fly in the UK.

Types of pilot licenses for UK pilots

  • National Private Pilot Licence (NPPL)
    A UK specific certificate, this is perhaps the most basic UK license for recreational flying. You may only fly in UK airspace but it’s a useful option for beginner flyers, particularly hobbyists. You can only fly UK-registered aircraft. It’s a basic license, but you can add on additional classifications for different types of aircraft.
    There’s a less strict medical requirement for getting a NPPL. You can also get the NPPL with fewer flying hours than any other license. However, there are many restrictions, including only being able to fly in certain good conditions. Technically, the NPPL is a restricted type of private pilot license in the UK.


  • Private pilot license (PPL)
    A step up from the NPPL and an excellent gateway to a flying career is the private pilot license in the UK. This has fewer restrictions than the NPPL, but it’s still a recreational license. You cannot fly for compensation with this license.
    Unlike the NPPL, the private pilot license is not UK specific. You can fly internationally. You need to pass various theory exams and then complete at least 45 hours of flying time. You need to be at least 17 years old to get this license and will be required to learn a good standard of aircraft and aviation general knowledge.
    A private pilot license in the UK is a good way to see if a career in aviation is for you without the expensive and time consuming commitment of commercial licenses. Most people can complete the PPL in around 3-4 months.


  • Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL)
    Another recreational option is the LAPL. There are four categories to this license, specific to the type of aircraft you wish to fly. These categories are aeroplane operation (A), balloons (B), helicopters (H) and sailplanes (S). An LAPL license can be upgraded to a private pilot license with additional training. The license authorises you to use specific aircraft. The aircraft must weigh less than 2000 kg and have no more than 3 passengers. You can only fly in UK skies as this is a non-ICAO license.


  • Commercial Pilot License (CPL)
    If you definitely want to make a career of flying then you will need to get a Commercial Pilot License (CPL). Many people choose to get the private pilot license first to be sure this is the route they want for their career. This allows you to be pilot in command (PIC) in single pilot operations and serve as a co-pilot in multi-crew operations.
    The CPL takes more intensive training – both theoretical knowledge and flight practice. The CPL allows you to receive compensation for flying. You can fly larger aircraft with more passengers in a wider range of conditions, and can fly internationally. You will need to be at least 18 years old. You also need a Part-PCL Class 1 medical certificate in the UK.

Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL)

The ATPL is an additional license, specifically for those looking at an aviation career. It includes multi-crew training and also single and multi-engine operations. It takes around 18 months to complete and you must be at least 21 years old to apply. In comparison with the private pilot license, it takes far more than 45 hours flying time, but instead requires 1500 hours. You will also need to carry out night time flying and instead of a maximum aircraft weight requirement; there is a minimum one of 5700 kgs.


Ratings are additional sub-qualifications that add further privileges to a license. For example, an aircraft rating sets out which type of aircraft you can fly with a particular license. The type of aircraft you can fly is usually determined by the rating. Other ratings may apply to night time flying.

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