The media is always on hand when an accident or incident involving a general aviation aircraft occurs. It seems that they watch like a hawk for anything negative news to promote. Be it for tv ratings, newspaper circulation, magazine sales, etc the watchful eye of the media has always been quick to carefully detail airplane crashes and near misses. The private pilot is always being scrutinized in the media and in many cases being referred to as an amateur pilot. The word amateur is defined in numerous ways. It can be defined as a person attached to a particular pursuit or study without formal training or pay. Another definition is someone who pursues a study or sport as an informal pastime or hobby. The definitions are similar and broad. The problem is that the term amateur pilot paints the picture of an individual who reads a magazine on flying airplanes, and then hops into the nearest cockpit and flies away. Acquiring a private pilot certificate and the legal means to fly an airplane indeed requires formal training as well as certain medical requirements as well as successful completion of numerous tests. So where does the word amateur come into the picture? In comparison, a private pilot flying for hobby and fun does in fact need substantially less training then a commercial pilot flying cargo or human beings across the sky professionally.
Flying for sport or hobby requires a private pilot certificate in the USA. There are also certificates available that require less training such as the Sport Pilot certificate. This certification carries with it certain stipulations due to the fact that it requires less training and is less costly to the student. The private certificate however provides the pilot with the ability to fly in controlled airspace which can be critical depending on where he or she lives or flies. Another difference between these two certificates is the need for a medical exam by a certified medical examiner specifically qualified and approved by the FAA. A Sport pilot certificate does not require the student to pass an aviation medical exam.
Future pilots must be able to understand, speak, and read English. Aircraft control towers and airports, use the English language for communication. This is actually true in most airports around the world, even where English is not the native language. Choosing a flight school is very important. Information is always available at your local general aviation airports. Training does not come cheap. A private pilot certificate requires forty hours minimum of actual flying time. This includes the time in the airplane with an instructor as well as time spent flying solo. Many flight schools recommend students seek a medical certificate from your local FAA certified physician prior to starting any training. Once the student has passed that, your flight school or private flight instructor will begin the process of both ground training as well as in-flight training. Ground school varies tremendously among students based on amount of time spent per week along with the rate of material absorption. Student pilots can acquire information through a variety of methods including the internet, training videos, and good old fashion books and manuals. At some point in your training beyond basic ground school, student pilots have to take a multiple choice written test, nowadays typically from a computer terminal, with software provided by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Upon passing the written FAA test, as it is referred to, you need to log in-flight training hours beyond the minimums required by the FAA. For a private certificate, students need to log solo time, night flying time, and demonstrate the ability to successfully compete cross-country flights which are flights from one airport to another. A check-ride, or final test, is then required with your local FAA designated examiner. The check-ride includes an oral test accompanied by a practical test where the student must demonstrate a variety of specific maneuvers and familiarity with the airplane. This is the point where the word amateur becomes skewed. With all the requirements met and tests passed, the student will be issued a private pilot certificate. Although a pilot’s experience is measured over time in flying hours and new pilots certainly lack air time when compared to a pilot who has been flying for years or even decades, it still seems a bit harsh to label a private pilot as an amateur pilot.