Pilot licensing in the United Kingdom is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) under the auspices of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). 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 CAP 804 which is published by the CAA online, however rules and regulations are governed by Part-FCL of the EASA Aircrew Regulation.
Levels of licence
The UK currently grants several levels of licence:
- UK National Private Pilot Licence (NPPL)
- UK Private Pilot Licence (PPL)
- UK Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL)
- EASA Part-FCL Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL)
- EASA Part-FCL private pilot licence (PPL)
- EASA Part-FCL commercial pilot licence (CPL)
- EASA Part-FCL Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL)
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 included in the holder's licence and other ratings required for flying under specified conditions.
Currently British glider pilots do not require a CAA-granted licence. Regulation of gliding is through the British Gliding Association and its affiliated clubs. However, from April 2021 they will require a CAA issued LAPL(S) (or the international Sailplane Pilot Licence (SPL)) to fly EASA registered sailplanes. The UK NPPL has close links with the gliding community and a gliding certificate can be converted.
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 EASA-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 licence 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 authorities of any foreign jurisdictions 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 VFR. The NPPL is more restrictive in respect of additional aircraft ratings which may be added compared with an EASA Part-FCL PPL or LAPL.
The private pilot licence 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 PPL holder, and in addition to several other requirements, a PPL holder may carry passengers who make a remunerative contribution toward the direct cost of the flights.
A flying instructor rating may be included, subject to requirements under EASA Part-FCL being satisfied, in an EASA Part-FCL PPL provided the applicant has successfully completed a number of additional examinations. Such a person giving instruction in flying training may be remunerated.
Applicants for a private pilot licence must be at least 17 years old, hold a valid EASA Part-MED Class 2 medical certificate, and have met the specified practical and theoretical training requirements laid down in EASA Part-FCL. This presently includes nine written theory examinations, completing at least 45 hours' flying training, including ten hours' solo flying, five 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.
In addition to the practical training requirements, nine multiple choice theory examinations must be passed. The pass mark for every exam is 75%, the nine subjects are:
- Air law
- Aircraft general knowledge
- Flight performance and planning
- Human performance and planning
- Operational procedures
- Principles of flight
The commercial pilot licence 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 co-operation, (ii) having successfully completed an approved ATPL Theoretical Knowledge Course together with fourteen ATPL theoretical examinations, (iii) having a valid instrument rating and multi-engine class rating.
Applicants for a commercial pilot licence must be at least 18 years old, hold a valid EASA Part-FCL Class 1 medical certificate, have met the specified practical and theoretical training requirements laid down in EASA Part-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 five may be instrument ground time and five hours of night instruction including five 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 Licence 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 1,500 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 licence. Of the 1,500 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.
The theoretical exams required for the ATPL cover 14 subjects:
- Air law
- Aircraft general knowledge: Airframe/Systems/power plant
- Aircraft general knowledge: Instrumentation
- Mass and balance
- Flight planning and monitoring
- Human performance
- General navigation
- Radio navigation
- Operational procedures
- Principles of flight
- VFR communications
- IFR communications
EASA licences do not expire. However, in order to keep the ratings valid the pilot must meet the requirements of the licence. For example, for PPL(SEP), the pilot must pass a proficiency check with an examiner, or demonstrate meeting the minimum flight time and training requirements.
Licensing by aircraft
EASA Part-FCL licences are issued for a particular category of aircraft:
- Aeroplanes (A) – including motor-gliders and sailplanes
- Helicopters (H)
UK licences are issued for:
- Light aircraft – (NPPL A)
- Microlights – (NPPL M)
- Gyroplanes (G)
- Balloons (B)
- Airships (As)
The abbreviations are combined with the licence level held, for example a Commercial Pilot Licence for Balloons can be written as CPL(B).
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-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 satisfactorily 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, Single Engine Turbine (SET) and Touring Motor Gliders. Note: There is no MET class rating, as multi engine turbine and all jet powered aircraft require a type rating. 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 multi engine turboprop, all 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.
A Night Rating may be included in an EASA Part-FCL pilot licence. The rating is, subject to the relevant conditions made under EASA Part-FCL being satisfied, included in the holder's licence without a Skill Test being required. Additionally, there is no requirement made which requires retesting of the holder of a Night Rating.
The Night Rating privileges are, subject to regulations enforced in and by jurisdictions other than the United Kingdom, to operate in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) 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".
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 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 VMC at all times. The exact definition of VMC varies in the different classes of airspace, but they prescribe a certain in-flight visibility and distance to be kept from cloud, and may require the pilot to remain in sight of the surface.
When meteorological conditions are worse than the VMC minima, instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) are said to exist, and an instrument qualification is required in order to fly legally. The training for the full Instrument Rating (IR) is very stringent and costly. Because of this, the UK CAA also issues the Instrument Rating (Restricted), IR(R), which is a simplified version of the IR with fewer privileges. Formerly known as the IMC Rating, the IR(R) allows flight in IMC but only in certain classes of airspace and with restrictions on conditions for take-off and landing. It is also a national rating, meaning it is not ordinarily recognised outside the UK. It had previously been agreed that pilots who already held the rating before April 2014 would be allowed to use it indefinitely within the UK and to transfer it to a new EASA PPL as an Instrument Rating (Restricted). EASA proposed in October 2013 that the UK should be able to issue new restricted instrument ratings for UK pilots until April 2019.
The full IR can also be added onto an EASA licence. This allows flight in IMC 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.
Transition to EASA licences
JAR pilot licences will transition to be based on EASA regulations between September 2012 and September 2017. 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 licence 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.
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 came into force on September 2012 at which time all existing UK issued JAR licences automatically became EASA documents. JAR medical certificates are also considered to be the equivalent EASA documents.
- UK CAA issued EASA licences from September 2012, from which time EASA Basic Regulation Annexes also apply.
- A transition period applies until April 2018, after which point national variations cease to apply.
- UK national licences will be retained and can be used on non-EASA aircraft.
- The new European wide LAPL will replace the UK NPPL for EASA aircraft from April 2020 onwards.
- NPPL(SLMG) pilots can choose to have TMG privileges added to their LAPL(S).
CAP 804 was cancelled on 24th August 2016 to make way for restructured EASA regulations within Part-FCL, however it remains available on the CAA's website for reference whilst an updated publication is created.
There are three different routes to complete your training and get your licence. These are modular, integrated and MPL training. Each route has its own advantages and disadvantages.
- CAP804: Flight Crew Licensing. UK Civil Aviation Authority. 2015.
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- "Regulation (EC) No 216/2008: Establishing a European Aviation Safety Agency, and repealing Council Directive 91/670/EEC, Regulation (EC) No 1592/2002 and Directive 2004/36/EC" (PDF). European Aviation Safety Agency. 2016. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
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