Pilot licensing in the United Kingdom is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), United Kingdom. The principal reference for flight crew licensing in the UK is LASORS, which is published by the CAA on paper and online.
Levels of license
The UK currently grants several levels of license:
- UK National Private Pilot License (NPPL)
- JAR-FCL Private Pilot License (PPL)
- JAR-FCL Commercial Pilot License (CPL)
- JAR-FCL Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)
The license held by a pilot confers privileges on the sort of flying they may carry out – broadly, whether or not they may receive remuneration for doing so – and are independent of any aircraft type, or class, ratings included in the holder’s license and other ratings required for flying under specified conditions.
British glider pilots do not require a CAA-granted license. Regulation of gliding is through the British Gliding Association and its affiliated clubs. The UK NPPL has close links with the gliding community and a gliding license can be converted.
The UK National Private Pilot License is a restricted form of the PPL introduced in 2002 for recreational pilots. It has a less stringent medical requirement than the JAR-FCL PPL and a reduced flying syllabus.
The NPPL is administered by the National Pilots Licensing Group under supervision of the CAA. It is granted in two forms:
- NPPL (SSEA/SLMG) for Simple Single Engined Aircraft and Self-Launching Motor Gliders
- NPPL (Microlight and Powered Parachute)
The NPPL is a sub-ICAO license meaning the holder is limited to operating only UK-registered aircraft and it cannot be used outside of the UK without permission from the regulatory authority of any foreign jurisdiction whose airspace the holder intends to operate into. The holder when operating under the privileges of the NPPL is furthermore restricted to operations in accordance with the VFR. The NPPL is more restricting in respect of additional aircraft ratings which may be added compared with a JAR-FCL PPL.
The Private Pilot License confers on the holder a privilege to act as the pilot in command of certain kinds of aircraft. The holder may not operate for valuable consideration, i.e. any form of reward, either financial or in kind. However, subject to national restrictions governing the soliciting of passengers to be carried on board an aircraft operated by a JAR-FCL PPL holder, and in addition to several other requirements, a JAR-FCL PPL holder may carry passengers who make a pro-rata remunerative contribution toward the direct cost of the aircraft operating costs (nb: the pilot’s contribution must be no less than a pro-rata share.)
A Flying Instructor rating may be included, subject to requirements under JAR-FCL (Amendment 5) being satisfied, in a JAR-FCL PPL provided the applicant has successfully completed a number of additional examinations. Such a person giving instruction in flying training may not be remunerated.
Applicants for a Private Pilot License must be at least 17 years old, hold a valid JAR-FCL Class 2 Medical Certificate, and have met the specified practical and theoretical training requirements laid down in JAR-FCL. This presently includes 7 written theory examinations, completing at least 45 hours’ flying training, including 10 hours’ solo flying, 5 hours’ solo ‘cross-country’ flying and at least one solo flight of not fewer than 150 nautical miles with full-stop landings at two or more different aerodromes other than the aerodrome of departure.
The Commercial Pilot License allows the holder to act as the pilot in command of an aircraft for valuable consideration in single pilot operations. It also permits the holder to act as a co-pilot of a multi-crew aircraft for which they are qualified: subject to their (i) holding a valid certificate of Multi-Crew Cooperation, (ii) having successfully completed an approved ATPL Theoretical Knowledge Course together with 14 ATPL theoretical examinations, (iii) having a valid Instrument Rating and Multi-Engine Class Rating.
Applicants for a Commercial Pilot License must be at least 18 years old, hold a valid JAR-FCL Class 1 Medical Certificate, have met the specified practical and theoretical training requirements laid down in JAR-FCL: including at least 200 hours’ flying time (150 hours for applicants who have completed an approved course of aeroplanes) including 100 hours’ flying experience acting as the pilot in command (abbreviated to 70 hours for applicants who have completed an approved course of aeroplanes), 20 hours’ ‘cross-country’ flying experience with at least one solo flight of not fewer than 300 nautical miles with full-stop landings at two or more different aerodromes, 10 hours’ instrument instruction of which no more than 5 may be instrument ground time and 5 hours of night instruction including 5 take-offs and landings if the privileges are to be exercised at night.
In addition to the privileges of the CPL, the holder of an Airline Transport Pilot License may act as the commander of a multi-crew aircraft under IFR. An applicant for an ATPL must be at least 21 years old, hold a valid class 1 medical certificate, a type rating for a multi crew aircraft and have completed the required theoretical and flight training and have at least 1500 hours of flight time. Where a simulator is permitted, no more than 100 hours (of which 25 may be in basic instrument training devices) may be credited towards the issue of the license. Of the 1500 hours, the applicant is to have completed 250 hours as PIC of which 150 may be PICUS (Pilot In Command Under Supervision), 200 hours cross country of which 100 must be as PIC or PICUS, 75 hours instrument time of which not more than 30 may be Instrument Ground Time, 100 hours night flight as PIC or Co-Pilot and 500 hours in multi-pilot operations in aeroplanes with a maximum take-off weight of at least 5700 kg.
A JAA license is valid for 5 years. Within this period, the license will be re-issued if the applicant has had any rating renewed or a new rating added to the license, when paragraph xii. of the license is full, for any administrative reason or at the discretion of the JAA member state authority.
Licensing by aircraft
JAR-FCL licenses are issued for a particular category of aircraft:
- Aeroplanes (A) – including motor-gliders, but not gliders
- Helicopters (H)
UK licenses are issued for:
- Gyroplanes (G)
- Balloons and Airships (BA)
The abbreviations are combined with the license level held, for example a Commercial Pilot License for Balloons and Airships can be written as CPL(BA).
Type and Class ratings
A license will contain one or more ratings. These are sub-qualifications that specify in more detail the exact privileges that the license conveys. One type of rating is an Aircraft rating. This specifies the type or types of aircraft which can be flown, and is either a Class rating, when a whole broad class of aircraft can be flown, or a Type rating where the privileges are confined to a single type or group of very closely related types.
The very basic aircraft rating usually obtained by PPL(A) holders at their initial skills test is the Single Engine Piston Landplane (SEP-land) Class Rating. This allows flight of single-piston-engined, non-turbocharged, fixed-pitch propeller, fixed tricycle gear, non-pressurised land aeroplanes (with a few exceptions).
SEP class rating holders may optionally extend the privileges of this rating to cover complex features by taking formal differences training from a suitably qualified instructor. There are five categories of difference: tailwheel aircraft, retractable undercarriage, variable-pitch propeller, turbocharged engine and cabin pressurisation. There is no formal test for any difference training; the training is signed off as satifactorily completed in the pilot’s logbook by the instructor conducting the training.
Other class ratings include Multi Engine Piston (MEP) landplane, Single and Multi engined piston Seaplane, and Touring Motor Gliders. To add these to their license a pilot has to undergo a course of training and pass an additional skills test. Differences training is also required for certain complex features within these class ratings.
Aircraft ratings are type-specific for turbine (turboprop & jet) aircraft and for a few other very complex types. To obtain one of these a pilot must undergo specific training and pass a skills test.
It is also possible to obtain permission from the CAA to fly an aircraft not covered by any type or class rating.
Other ratings and qualifications
Additional ratings and qualifications may be included in a licence to extend the pilot’s operating privileges.
The Night Qualification may be included in a JAR-FCL pilot licence. The qualification is, subject to the relevant conditions made under JAR-FCL being satisfied, included in the holder’s licence without a Skill Test being required. Additionally, subject to conditions laid down in UK legislation (which presently includes JAR-FCL, Amendment 5) governing requirements for the holder’s recent flying experience, there is no requirement made which requires retesting of the holder of a Night Qualification.
The Night Qualification privileges are to, subject to regulations enforced in and by jurisdictions other than the United Kingdom, operate in Visual Meteorological Conditions at night. (UK Air Navigation Order 2009, Schedule 7 refers.) ‘Night’ for the purpose of this section is defined under the UK Air Navigation Order 2009 Art. 255(1) as:
“‘Night’ means the time from half an hour after sunset until half an hour before sunrise (both times inclusive), sunset and sunrise being determined at surface level”
The Night Rating is distinct from the Night Qualification in as much as the former is a rating included in a UK national licence and the latter in a JAR-FCL licence.
Flight Instructor and Examiner ratings extend the holder’s privileges to act, respectively, as an instructor and to act as an examiner for proficiency checks and, or, skill tests. These ratings both exist in a variety of forms whose domains, or ranges of privileges, are for specified aircraft operations.
Instrument qualifications in the UK
Unless a pilot holds a current instrument qualification they must remain in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) at all times. The exact definition of VMC varies in the different classes of airspace, but they prescribe a certain inflight visibility and distance to be kept away from cloud, and may require the pilot to remain in sight of the surface.
The Instrument Rating can be added onto a JAA licence. This allows flight in Instrument meteorological conditions in all classes of airspace, provided the aircraft is capable of the conditions encountered. In particular, an IR is required to act as a pilot on a scheduled flight.
The training for the Instrument Rating is very stringent and costly. Because of this, the UK CAA also issues the IMC Rating, which is a limited form of instrument rating which is a lot simpler to obtain. It allows flight in instrument meteorological conditions but only in certain classes of airspace and with restrictions on conditions for take-off and landing. This is a national rating, meaning it is not ordinarily recognised outside of the UK.
Transition to EASA licenses
UK pilot licenses will transition to be based on EASA regulations from April 2012. The same levels of licence listed above will apply and most procedures remain unchanged with the exception that the NPPL will become a European-wide license named the LAPL (was Leisure now Light Aircraft Pilot Licence). The UK CAA has published their interpretation of how these changes will affect pilots. EASA has published an explanation of Basic Regulation 216/2008 w
The main points are:
- EASA regulations apply only to so-called EASA aircraft. These exclude microlights, homebuilt and certain models classed under a Permit-To-Fly or Annex II
- EASA pilot licensing rules come into force on April 8, 2012 at which time all existing UK issued JAR licenses automatically become EASA documents. JAR medical certificates are also considered to be the equivalent EASA documents.
- UK CAA will issue EASA licenses from 1st July 2012, at which time EASA Basic Regulation Annexes will also apply
- A transition period applies until April 2015, after which point national variations cease to apply
- UK national licenses will be retained and can be used on non-EASA aircraft.
- The new European wide LAPL (Light Aircraft Pilot License) will replace the UK NPPL for EASA aircraft from April 2015 onwards.
- New harder medical requirements will lead to increased safety and reduce accidents.