If you’re an aspiring pilot or have an interest in aviation, you might be wondering what a pilot’s license looks like.

As you will see below, a pilot license is similar to other forms of ID in the information that is displayed, such as sex, height, weight, hair color, and eye color.

You will quickly notice that despite the vast difference in experience and privileges between student pilots and airline pilots, the licenses look almost identical.

The only difference is under IX which states that the pilot “has been found to be properly qualified to exercise the privileges of” the type of license that they are qualified for.

Student Pilot License

Student Pilot's LicenseA student pilot certificate is required for anyone who wants to start working towards obtaining higher certification.

While a medical certificate isn’t required to just hold a student pilot license, it is required to log solo flight time to obtain higher certification.

A student pilot license is not required to take flying lessons.


  • 16 years old (or 14 if flying gliders or balloons)

Sport Pilot License

Sport Pilot's LicenseA sport pilot license allows you to fly light sport aircraft, including small airplanes, gliders, powered parachutes, balloons, and airships.


  • 17 years old (or 16 if flying gliders or balloons)
  • Hold a student pilot certificate
  • Complete at least 20 hours of flight training
  • Pass written and practical exams

Recreational Pilot License

If you aren’t happy with flying light-sport aircraft and want to fly something bigger and more powerful, the recreational pilot license is just the ticket.


  • 17 years old
  • Hold a student or sport pilot license
  • Complete at least 30 hours of flight training
  • Pass a written knowledge and practical test

Private Pilot License

Private Pilot's LicenseA private pilot license enables the command of any aircraft (subject to appropriate ratings), the ability to carry more than one passenger, and fly internationally.

While many restrictions are lifted compared to lesser licenses and with additional ratings, a PPL will still not make a pilot eligible for compensation or hire.


  • 17 years old (or 16 if flying gliders or balloons)
  • Hold at least a student pilot license
  • Hold a third-class medical certificate
  • Complete at least 35 – 40 of flight time minimum
  • Pass a written knowledge and practical test

Commercial Pilot License

Commercial Pilot's License With a commercial pilot license, you can be financially compensated for flying.

This can include carrying persons or cargo, engaging in commercial air tours, aerial work like crop dusting, banner towing, and more.


  • 18 years old
  • Hold at least a private pilot license
  • Hold a second-class medical certificate
  • Complete 250 hours of flight time for part 61 and 190 for part 141
  • Pass a written knowledge and practical test

Airline Transport Pilot License

Airline Transport Pilot's LicenseAn ATPL is the highest level of piloting ability in civil aviation and therefore requires the most stringent qualifications.

There is also a restricted form of the ATPL (referred to as an R-ATPL), which will let you be a first officer – in other words, a co-pilot.


  • 23 years old
  • Hold a commercial pilot license with instrument and multi-engine ratings
  • Hold a first-class medical certificate
  • Complete a minimum of 1,500 flight hours
  • Pass a written knowledge and practical test

Paper Pilot Certificates Are No Longer a Thing

The FAA has stopped pilots who hold paper certificates from being able to exercise their flying privileges since March 31st, 2013.

The FAA moved away from paper certificates to plastic cards for security reasons.

As you can see from the images above, each plastic, credit card-sized license features a hologram of the FAA seal.

The rollout began in July 2003 when the FAA started to issue the new pilot license to replaced paper certificates to the USA’s 600,000 active pilots.

Pilots Need to Carry Other Things Too

Pilots must also carry government-issued photo identification and their medical certificate.

When requested by the FAA, an authorized representative of the National Transportation Safety Board or TSA, or a law enforcement officer, pilots must also present photo identification.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.