If you pilot an aircraft, you probably tell friends you have a pilot’s license. Right? Maybe.
What you have now is a pilot’s CERTIFICATE. The FAA issues LICENSES for commercial space transportation.
The FAA recently began using certificate most of the time for aviation to differentiate it from space work, as well as from licenses issued by foreign nations.
The FAA issues certificates for aircraft activities — airman’s certificates, airworthiness certificates for vehicles and products, training, repair, etc.
The certificates and requirements have changed over the years. Until flight began to take off (pun intended) in 1905, there was no requirement for testing or approval. By 1926 the federal government moved to regulate aviation by creating the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce. Its first director was William MacCracken, Jr., who received the first pilot’s license in 1927.
Today, the names license and certificates are used interchangeable by many, even by the FAA on its website. That probably is because the change was so recent that many of the subjects have not been updated.
The Oklahoma City office of the FAA, where pilot papers are processed, has been using the term certificate for many years.
Call it what you like, but be sure to have it in your possession when piloting an aircraft.