Pilot licensing in the United Kingdom is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) under the auspices of the Joint Aviation Authorities and European Aviation Safety Agency. Each member nation in the EU has responsibility for regulating their own pilot licensing.
The principal reference for flight crew licensing in the UK is LASORS which is published annually by the CAA on paper and online.
Levels of licence
The UK currently issues several levels of licence:
The licence 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 held, which allow the holder to fly specific aircraft, and other ratings which allow flight in specific conditions.
Note that British glider pilots do not require a CAA-issued licence. 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 licence can be converted with relative ease.
The UK National Private Pilot Licence 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 issued in two forms:
The NPPL is a sub-ICAO licence, meaning that it is limited to use in UK-registered aircraft, and it 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 and offers only very limited scope for adding further aircraft types and ratings, unless the pilot 'upgrades' to a full JAR PPL.
The Private Pilot Licence confers the right to act as the commander of an aircraft, but not for valuable consideration i.e. any form of reward, either financial or in kind. (An exception exists allowing a pilot to share the direct costs of the flight with his/her passengers.)
Note in particular that it is perfectly legal to hold a Flight Instructor Rating in conjunction with a PPL - such an instructor could not, however, be paid to instruct.
The Commercial Pilot Licence allows the holder to act as the commander of an aircraft, for valuable consideration, in single pilot operations, and also the right to act as a co-pilot of a multi-crew aircraft for which they are qualified.
In addition to the privileges of the CPL, the holder of an Airline Transport Pilot Licence may act as the commander of a multi-crew aircraft.
Licensing by aircraft
JAR-FCL licences are issued for a particular category of aircraft:
The abbreviations are combined with the license level held, for example a Commercial Pilot Licence for Balloons and Airships can be written as CPL(BA).
Type and Class ratings
A licence will contain one or more ratings. These are sub-qualifications that specify in more detail the exact privileges that the licence 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) Class Rating. This allows flight of single-piston-engined, non-turbocharged, fixed-pitch propellor, fixed tricycle gear, non-pressurised land aeroplanes weighing less than 5,700 kg (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 propellor, 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 licence 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 aircraft weighing more than 5,700 kg, for turbine 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
There are also several ratings that can be added to further extend the privileges of the licence.
The Night Qualification may be added to a JAR license. This is not a rating in that no skills test is required and, once achieved, it does not require periodic retesting to maintain. It allows flight at night in visual conditions in those countries whose airspace regulations allow it. However, not all countries allow visual flight at night and in these countries one must obtain a full Instrument Rating to fly at night.
Flight Instructor and Examiner ratings add the right to act as an instructor and to examine flight tests, and come in a number of varieties depending on the exact skills to be taught or examined.
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 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.
Published - July 2009
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