twin-engine turboprop airplane taking off from airport runwaylast updated: 1/22/19

An entry-level pilot certificate is a foundation for advanced certificates, ratings, and endorsements. Pilots can upgrade their privileges through additional training and testing.

Entry-Level Certificates as Stepping Stones

With additional training and testing, sport pilots can become recreational or private pilots, and recreational pilots can become private pilots. Normally, this doesn’t require starting over from scratch. The exception is that under current FAA interpretation of the regulations, instruction received from a sport pilot flight instructor (instead of a regular flight instructor) does not count toward higher certificates. Aviation organizations are petitioning the FAA to change this.

Additional Certificates

Commercial Pilot
Allows you to be compensated for flying. Note that being a commercial pilot alone does not automatically allow you to get paid to fly people from point A to point B – the regulations are much more complicated than that.
Airline Transport Pilot
Allows you to be an airline captain or first officer.
Certificated Flight Instructor – Sport (CFI-S)
Allows you to train sport pilot candidates.
Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI)
Allows you to train pilots at all certificate levels.

Additional Ratings

Additional Category/Class Rating
Allows you to fly a different broad classification of aircraft. For example, a multiengine airplane, a helicopter, a glider, a powered parachute, etc.
Instrument Rating
Allows you to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR). Adds the privilege of flying through clouds and low visibility. When added to a flight instructor certificate, permits the instructor to teach instrument rating candidates.
Type Rating
Allows you to fly a specific type of turbojet-powered and/or heavy aircraft (gross weight more than 12,500 pounds).


Complex Aircraft
Allows you to fly a complex aircraft, defined as one having flaps, a controllable-pitch propeller, and retractable landing gear.
High Altitude
Allows you to fly an aircraft that is certified to operate above 25,000 feet.
High Performance Aircraft
Allows you to fly an aircraft with engine(s) greater than 200 horsepower.
Tailwheel Aircraft
Allows you to fly an aircraft with conventional landing gear (tailwheel instead of tricycle gear).

Read More on the Web:

Ratings and Endorsements – AOPA website with resources and information about training beyond the private certificate

Career Pilot – AOPA Flight Training’s resource page for anyone considering an aviation career

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. What are the Entry-Level Pilot Certificates?
  2. What are the Eligibility Requirements for a Pilot Certificate?
  3. What are the Medical Certification Requirements for Pilots?
  4. What is Ground Training Like?
  5. What is Flight Training Like?
  6. What Tests are Required to Become a Pilot?
  7. How Much Does it Cost to Become a Pilot?
  8. How Can I Find a Flight School or Flight Instructor?
  9. How Does a Pilot Stay Current and Proficient?
  10. What Additional Certificates and Ratings Can a Pilot Earn?
  11. How Do I Sign Up for an Introductory Flight Lesson?