Starting out

To get a pilot licence, you must:

  • hold a current medical certificate (appropriate to the level of licence)
  • pass a theory exam
  • complete the relevant flight training
  • complete the minimum number of hours flying time
  • pass the flight test.

You may also need a a general English language proficiency (GELP) certificate. This is only required at the recreational pilot licence (RPL) stage.

How long it takes to get a pilot licence

The time it takes to get a licence can depend on a few factors including:

  • if you're training full time
  • if you're flying on an ad-hoc basis
  • aircraft availability
  • weather conditions
  • your financial situation.

An average student will qualify for a private pilot licence (PPL) after 55-60 hours of flying. If completing training on a part time basis, say 1 hour a week, this will take just over 12 months. Full time training will take about 2 months.

For a commercial pilot licence (CPL) the 150-hour course full time will take around 12 months to finish. If you decide to train on an ad-hoc basis, the minimum number of hours you must have will increase to 200 hours and this will take between 2-3 years.

Licence types

Recreational pilot licence (RPL)

Recreational pilots can fly light, single-engine aircraft as the pilot-in-command, independently of a flight training organisation, without supervision. You must be 16 years old to get an RPL. RPL holders can:

  • fly up to 25 nautical miles from the aerodrome where the flight began, the chosen training area, or a direct route between the two
  • fly private operations with day visual flight rules (VFR) in a single engine aircraft with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 1500kg.
  • an RPL holder with a recreational medical certificate will be limited to carrying one passenger.

Private pilot licence (PPL)

Once you have passed your RPL test, you can go for your private pilot licence (PPL). You must be at least 17 years old to get your PPL.

Private pilots can fly anywhere in Australia, fly many types of aircraft, and gain similar operational ratings to a commercial pilot. You can also share aircraft hiring costs with your passengers.

Generally, you cannot earn an income through flying – you need a commercial pilot licence for that. But a PPL holder can also hold a flight instructor rating with very limited training endorsements.

You must also hold the appropriate aircraft category rating on your PPL. A pilot licence must have at least one of the following category ratings:

  • aeroplane
  • helicopter
  • gyroplane
  • airship
  • powered-lift aircraft.

As well as the class or type rating for the aircraft you want to fly. You can apply for another category rating on your licence once you get your initial licence and category rating.

Commercial pilot licence (CPL)

Commercial pilots can conduct private and commercial flight operations. You must be at least 18 years old to get your commercial pilot licence (CPL).

With a CPL, you can co-pilot any operation and be pilot-in-command of any operation except the following:

  • multi-crew aircraft in air transport operations
  • an aeroplane certified for single-pilot operations with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of more than 5700kg in air transport operations
  • turbojet aeroplanes with a MTOW of more than 3500kg in air transport operations.

Similar to the PPL, you must hold the appropriate aircraft category on your CPL and the class or type rating for the aircraft you want to fly.

Airline transport pilot licence (ATPL)

Air transport pilots can conduct private and commercial operations. You must be at least 21 years old to get your air transport pilot licence (ATPL).

With an ATPL, you have private and commercial licence privileges, and you can co-pilot and be pilot-in-command of any operation. You need an ATPL to command large airline-type aircraft.

You must hold the appropriate aircraft category rating on your ATPL and the class or type rating for the aircraft you want to fly. The ATPL with the aeroplane category rating (ATPL(A)) includes the privileges of an instrument rating.

Flying solo

When you’re ready to start flying solo, you must apply for either a class 1 or class 2 medical certificate or a recreational aviation medical practitioner's certificate through the Medical Records System (MRS).

To apply for a medical, you’ll also need an aviation reference number (ARN). Applying for an ARN in myCASA is quick and easy – you’ll need proof of identity, so have your ID documents handy.

As well as an ARN, it’s a good idea to apply for your Aviation Security Identification card (ASIC). An ASIC is a background check required by law and it allows you to operate at any airport in Australia. You can apply for an ASIC through any of the ASIC issuing bodies listed on the Department of Home Affairs website.

Last updated:
4 Dec 2021
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