Do Pilots Licenses Expire?

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For anyone who has ever wanted to spread their wings and fly, there’s no better role than that of a pilot for this.

Being a pilot is exhilarating. It takes you to unimaginable heights and lets you see things from a different viewpoint – quite literally.

While there is the glamour of a jet-setting life, there are also stringent requirements that need to be met to obtain a license.

Is getting a pilot’s license a one-time activity? If not, how does one keep the license current? That’s the focus of this blog post.

Let us start with a quick summary of licenses. When it comes to the types of licenses that can be sought from the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States, it can be:

  • Student pilot certificate
  • Recreational pilot certificate
  • Private pilot certificate
  • Commercial pilot certificate
  • Airline transport pilot certificate

A student pilot certificate is what a learner needs during the training phase for anyone above the age of 16 years. Flight training can be either through a dedicated college program or via a flight school.

The certificate is not needed to take flying lessons but is a must when it’s time to apply that learning.

Once past this stage, choices abound and the license that has to be earned also differs.

These license types can be seen as a hierarchy for aircraft piloting. They dictate the distance and types of aircraft you can fly.

The license type also has a bearing on aircraft class or type rating that pilots can add to their repertoire. For e.g. airplane pilots seeking a multi-engine land class rating.

A recreational pilot license is relatively easier to obtain as it needs fewer training hours.

A recreational pilot aspirant should be at least 17 years of age. If flights within 50 nautical miles from the airspace that you depart from look like a good starting point, then this is the license type to apply for. This is a good avenue for Adventure enthusiasts.

As a next step, holders of recreational pilot licenses can also earn the distinction of obtaining a sport pilot certificate.

A holder of a private pilot’s license can fly their own or rented planes. This license comes with nil to very limited scope for earning remuneration by the holder.

They can ask their co-passengers to split fuel costs etc. However, care should be taken to ensure that it is not a commercial arrangement, but is more voluntary and personal.

In a way, this is a step further than flying for sport or recreation.

Commercial pilots can seek payment for their flight services. Common jobs that a commercial pilot’s license can fetch are ferry pilot, aerial tour services, etc. Another frequently explored route by commercial pilots is to obtain a flight instructor certificate.

If long-haul journeys or transporting either passengers or cargo with a well-known airline is what you aspire for, then an airline transport certificate or license is necessary.

An airline transport license is the most stringent and is the only type that requires a first class medical certificate without exception.

Although these are broadly the main categories, there are more specific proficiencies that exist in the aviation sector.

For instance, IR or Instrument Rating is a top-up certification for a commercial or airline pilot. It is a certification that attests to a pilot’s ability to fly safely under unfavorable weather.

Getting a license is hard work. It involves passing a written test, oral exam, and physical exam.

It also means clocking the mandatory flight hours and specific hour of ground school. After all this, a pilot would want to keep his or her privilege active at all times!

Circumstances may not always permit that though. If for any reason a pilot has not put his or her licensed rights to use for a long time, what should they be aware of before they resume flying?

Does a private pilot license expire?

There is no specific expiration date for a private pilot license. That means there is no need for a new license at any point. Licenses are subject to suspension though.

There is, however, a need to meet a set of criteria when the license is exercised after a long time. These are called currency requirements.

How often does a private pilot have to fly to stay current?

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The currency requirements dictate that a pilot must have flown, i.e., taken off and landed an aircraft of an appropriate category and class within the last 90 days.

This is of course, after having obtained the necessary medical certification. The flight review is only required once every two years.

What about a student license? Student pilot licenses also do not expire, but they will have to be surrendered when a higher certificate is achieved.

Private and commercial pilot licenses are, after all, quite popular choices. So, similar questions may arise about commercial pilot licenses too. Let us look at the requirements for these licenses.

Does a commercial pilot license expire?


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As with private pilot licenses, a commercial pilot license also does not expire. Once issued, it can be utilized for life, unless it is revoked for some reason.

A pilot does need to have a current, valid medical certificate to legally function as a commercial pilot. Another factor to keep in mind is that peripheral qualifications, e.g., instrument ratings are valid for a specific amount of time.

How often does a commercial pilot have to fly to stay current?

A pilot’s proficiency is dependent on how many hours of flight time they clock. The same currency requirements apply in a standard manner across license types.

Meeting the number of take-off and landings within the specified calendar months or days applies to commercial pilots too.

How much does it cost to renew a pilots license?

Unless the licenses were issued in the 1940s, there should be no need to renew them. There is, however, a cost associated with meeting the currency requirements.

For eg., medical certificates expire and renewal expenses may be incurred. Any additional flight training obtained might add to this too.

Private pilot license currency requirements

Currency requirements are a set of tests that pilots have to meet to fly legally. These are:

· A once-in-24 months or biennial flight review has to take place. This can be performed by a flight


· A recent, third class certificate from a medical examiner is necessary.

· If not flying solo, then 3 take-offs and landings must be completed.

To fly solo though, it’s enough to meet the first two points.

What is the difference between currency and proficiency?

Proficiency refers to the skills and aptitude that a pilot acquires to become competent at his or her job. Additional training, if necessary, can be sought to achieve this.

Currency though can be missing if a pilot has not spent much time flying or lacks recent flight experience. Documenting that currency requirements have been met is one way to demonstrate proficiency.

How long does a private pilot license take to get?

Depending on how many hours or days in a week you dedicate to your learning, it can take between six months to a year to obtain a private pilot’s license.

This of course includes the time needed to learn to fly an aircraft in the first place and putting in the minimum flight hours.

This period also usually involves time taken to complete the necessary formalities to obtain a license.

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FAQ relating to whether pilots licenses expire

How long is a pilot’s license good for?

The answer is for life. Once earned, it is a right that need not be renewed. To be able to exercise that right though, there are prerequisites that need completion. They are the currency and proficiency requirements.

These requirements are easier to meet compared to the more stringent eligibility criteria that have to be satisfied to get the license in the first place.

How often do pilots have to recertify?

By recertification, reference can be drawn to the currency requirements that need to be met. Else, there is no need for licensing recertification.

To establish currency, a biennial flight review is a must. This could, in a way act as a test of continued proficiency.

In addition, a recent medical test and recent flight experience log will also be essential.

Does a US pilot license expire?

No, an FAA-issued license does not expire. This applies to all types of licenses that pilots can hold.

Instead of asking for reapplication for a new or fresh license, there are established tests and documentation requirements that need to be met in lieu.

So, once obtained, a US pilot license is permanent.

Can you lose your pilots license?

Yes, pilots can lose their licenses through suspension or revocation. This can happen because of a violation of rules.

A few instances of gross misconduct that can lead to a pilot losing their license could be reaching the wrong destination, flying under the influence of narcotics or alcohol, etc.

There is a cooling-off period involved. Licenses can also be voluntarily surrendered. 

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