For most of the past century, the entry level for new pilots was the FAA private-pilot certificate. Then came the ill-fated recreational-pilot certificate, which hardly got off the ground for various design reasons. Today's sport-pilot certificate is on its way to opening the door to flying for millions of potential pilots at relatively low cost.
Then what? For many sport pilots the next logical step is to the private-pilot certificate. Why? What are the advantages? What is needed to make it happen? Let's take a closer look.
The private-pilot certificate removes some of the limitations imposed on sport pilots. First, you are automatically trained for flying in controlled airspace. And you don't need to get an endorsement for airplanes of the same category and class. For example, if you're a private pilot for airplane, single engine, land, you can fly any ASEL and are not limited to a specific make and model. However, endorsements are still required for high-performance and complex airplanes.
Of course, you'll need endorsements or ratings for aircraft that are functionally different. You'll need a rating for flying a multiengine or a seaplane, for example.
One other limitation that private pilots don't have is international flights. Because the sport-pilot certificate is not internationally recognized, you can use it to fly only in the United States. With a private-pilot certificate you can fly in Canada, Mexico, or wherever else that's under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules. In addition, private pilots can fly at night and with lower visibility requirements than sport pilots.
With these benefits come additional training requirements and costs. The private-pilot certificate costs at least twice as much to get as the sport-pilot certificate. Also, the aircraft you'll be fly, with the exception of much older models, will be more expensive to buy, rent, or lease than sport aircraft. Fortunately, you can take your private-pilot training in a sport aircraft; you just can't take your sport-pilot certificate in any craft that doesn't qualify as a sport aircraft. In addition, the lower medical requirements for sport pilots—one of the advantages of being a sport pilot—could keep many sport pilots from becoming private pilots.
Training for your private-pilot certificate is similar to that for the sport-pilot certificate, only there's more of it. Instead of 20 hours of instruction, your private-pilot certificate will require a minimum of 40 hours of instruction —with 60 or more hours typical. In addition, the knowledge test has more questions and the checkride is more comprehensive than that for the sport-pilot certificate.
Fortunately, you'll be able to apply your sport-pilot flight instruction and some of your logbook time toward your private pilot-certificate requirements. So getting your "private" could involve about the same effort again as you put into getting your sport-pilot certificate.
For the time being, there are many places where you can get a private-pilot certificate, so choosing a flight school or certified flight instructor (CFI) is relatively easy. And now that you're a smart aviation consumer you now how to get top value for every dollar you spend on flight instruction.