Saturday, March 17, 2007

Understanding The American Aviation Certification Process

For flight professionals and pilots alike, one of the most important aspects of their professional lives is maintaining proper certification in their job area. Whether it is a flight attendant, mechanic, or First Officer, everyone involved in the daily transit of the public by airplane must maintain a certain level of certification in order to remain airline staff. The problem for many pilots, especially on international airlines or regular international flights, is keeping track of the hodgepodge of certification standards across the world.

The United States offers a particularly strong model for flight certification and a quick study of their certification process can help flight professionals learn what questions to ask in their jobs. The number of certified pilots in the United States has decreased over the last 25 years, lowering from 825,000 licensed pilots in 1980 to 618,000 active pilots in 2004. There are also hundreds of thousands of flight dispatchers, attendants, mechanics, and others who are licensed by the federal government to work aboard airline flights.

Pilots in the United States must receive a certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before taking off. Four different types of certification are available for American pilots looking to get in the air. Student certifications allow young aviation enthusiasts the opportunity to learn how to fly with the help of a qualified and experienced flight trainer. Students are only allowed to fly solo under special circumstances. Flight students must spend a number of hours in the classroom before setting foot in the cockpit.

The next level of certification is private flight certification. Those with a private piloting license can fly for recreation or alone but cannot take any compensation during flight except in extreme circumstances. Pilots who earn a private certification must spend 40 hours in the air before completing their license requirements.

For pilots who want to work for hire while flying, acquiring a commercial pilot’s license is paramount. Commercial pilots can work for pay in a number of capacities, including cargo flights, charters, and contracting out to government agencies. Pilots who want to earn a commercial license must learn about FAA commercial regulations, pass a test, and spend 250 hours in air to fulfill their certification requirements.

The final level of certification in civilian aviation is Airline Transport licensing. This level of certification allows pilots to attain the level of captain for major airlines and regularly schedule commercial flights. The standards are extremely high for Airline Transport licensees, with 1,500 hours in the air required to meet federal regulations. As well, there are a number of tests, evaluations, and other obligations that need to be met to acquire an Airline Transport license.

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