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.
In Canada the term is, in fact, a “licence”
Cary Alburn says
Much ado about nothing. Really. Or as I often say when one of my grandkids says something momentous to a 6 year old but in the grand scheme of things is pretty meaningless, “whoop de doo!” 🙂
Nowhere on my first-issued Private Pilot certificate (in 1966) did it read license. We are certificated aircraft pilots. I agree with Jim McNeill. And when those DHS folks with assembled local police and their dogs demand to see your pilot’s license after you land simply to refuel, say, and demand to inspect your aircraft that just shows their lack of police power jurisdiction over your routine flight. No warrant, no search! Why is GA picked on constantly by this feckless administration that we have had since 2008?
LABELS DO NOT CHANGE THE UNDERLYING DEVICE. What you call it only emphasizes or disguises its function. GM does much more than cars and Hertz has nothing to do with the frequency of a radio wave. These pilot “permit slips” are hard earned with time and intellect being challenged as much or more that any military specialty designation.
The AOPA does a great job in teaching the public to respect the way we as pilots protect their safety above and below the airspace with fastidious execution of the rules of safe flying.
Would that those who hold drivers “licenses” do the same, 20,000 lives a year or more would be saved. Let them call it what they will, but remind them that those who have earned permission to fly rank way up there in executing their responsibility for having it.
It should be labeled an “AWARD”. >>> Having one and keeping it is an achievement.
This is an odd distinction-without a distinction. One gets a student pilot’s permit and logically a license should then be the next step. But it does crop up elsewhere too; my FCC General Radiotelephone Operator License (it conveys far more privileges than the “permit” you get by signing your name to a card) is called just that by the feds. But then in the regs they add in parenthesis that it is a “radiotelephone operator’s general certificate”, I think because that is the term used in radio-related treaties. In fact they do something similar for every license and permit they issue. Anyway, I’ll keep calling it a pilot’s license; the public sees it the same way as a driver’s license and would just get confused by any other term.
Honestly I prefer the term Certificate to Lisense.
Outside of aviation any teenage kid can get a lisense but you have to seek higher education to get a certificate.
Jim McNeill says
I’m a retired Designated Pilot Examiner and as such can speak with a small amount of authority on this subject. There’s a valid reason for distinguishing between pilot certificates and licenses. Licenses must be periodically renewed. Certificates do not. Other countries license their pilots, requiring them to test for renewal periodically. The U.S. certificates it’s pilots and the certificate is valid in perpetuity. The only thing you, as a pilot, have to do, is to meet the training (flight review) and recency of experience requirements to exercise your certificate. Check it out.
Kris Kortokrax says
If we followed you line of thought, then I wouldn’t need to renew my Flight Instructor “Certificate” every two years.
I wouldn’t need to renew my Medical “Certificate” periodically.
I hold both a pilot “certificate” from the US, and “license” from New Zealand. There are no differences between privileges, limitations and expiry for either. They are the same thing.
Jim McNeill says
Looking at NZ requirements, I found reference to a statement that NZ used the U.S. FAR as the basis for their regulations, modifying the language to meet their legal definitions. I suspect that’s why they call it a license but treat it as a certificate.
Gerald Althouse says
I’ve written dozens of writers and editors over the years about the fundamental mistake being made by otherwise professional authors. The FAA does not issue pilots licenses. I guess the term “license” sounds superior to cerificate and therefore, should command respect. Perhaps like the differences between “coordinator” and “manager”. Manager sounds a lot more authoritative but when used properly, is much different. The pinnacle of the continued incorrect use of “license” is PPL (private pilots license.). By the way, it’s not only Private Pilots who are referred to as licensed, it’s Commercial pilots as well. C’mon, we’re well past the time when “poetic license” should be used as the excuse to justify the chronic mistake.
Bill Doorley says
I’m sorry to say this, but it sounds like more of the typical, semantic nonsense beloved by bureaucrats and attorneys and totally irrelevant to the rest of us.
The air traffic control system is a mess. Over-regulation stifles innovation, particularly in general aviation. The cost of flying is going through the roof. Airports are rapidly going the way of the dodo as developers eye all that flat land for more shopping centers and ticky-tacky housing developments. Meanwhile, the FAA wants us to be sure to refer to that little plastic card in our wallets as a “certificate,” not a “license.”
It wouldn’t matter, except that one of those bureaucrats will get a bee in his bonnet about the “correct terminology” and start slapping pilots with fines if they refer to a pilot’s “license” and not a “certificate.”
I know I’m howling at the wind, here, but I just had to vent.
It never fails that sooner or later someone comes out complaining about ” big government” or “burocrat”. These people live day in and day out by the wide range of benefits afforded by the safety regulations and procedures established by our government. For all the know, if they fly as a pilot or passenger in GA or commercial airlines, they may very well be alive today thanks to the “big government” they hate so much.
Get a life people! And stop this knee jerk reaction that everything government does is bad.
Over and out!
The difference is a legal one – certificates are evidence of competency. A license is an exercise of “police” powers, which are/were considered to belong only to states.
In legal terms, a “license” is permission to do something that would otherwise be illegal to do.
The government has made it illegal to pilot an aircraft without permission either from the FAA or one of the Armed Forces.
The permission itself is “license” to fly.
So if one wants to take this sort of semanticism to the absurd extreme, then the document issued by the FAA giving an individual permission to fly an aircraft would be correctly called a “certificate of license.”
What I find difficult to understand is why it is important to draw the distinction.
The earlier comment from Tom is correct. The most important thing to know is what’s important and in my flying, whether that blue shaded card with the picture of Orville and Wilber on it is a “license” or a “certificate” is the 869,242nd most important thing I need to know.
I prefer the nomenclature “certificate” as “license” implies permission. If you know how to fly, you are free to do so without asking for permission. Governments do not grant rights, they can only restrict them. Those who possess a certificate have not had their right to fly restricted. If we as a society would get into the habit of thinking this way, as the founders of our country did, then we would not be asking why we are permitted to fly, but rather why we are not.
Interesting isn’t it? Every 16 year old has a drivers license but the FAA just can’t see themselves giving the o.k. for a license so they just give pilots a “certificate”. Even the guys that fix your toilet have a plumbers license. Even more interesting is that their med folks contend that they are really the ones that “license” pilots because without the 3rd class medical you essentially don’t have a license to fly either – rather powerful and somewhat inconsistent with societal norm don’t you think? The importance of emphasis on piloting skills takes second place to preposterous so called “health” issues like sleep apnea and arbitrary cholesterol numbers. You would think they would want us to spend our time polishing up on what was important like accelerated stalls and the like rather than worrying about whether the AME was going to find something to ground them………….