All too often, students look at the private pilot license as a stepping stone to other things. But the private is a powerful certificate that grants amazing privileges to its holder. What can you do with a private pilot license? Maybe a better question is, what can’t you do with it!
Every flight instructor reading this is obligated now to point out that there are limitations on the private license, including that you cannot get paid for your flying. But there are lots of exceptions to even that!
What can you do with a private pilot license? Here are ten examples to get you started.
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1. Take Family & Friends Flying
Once you’ve gotten your license, one of the most fun things you can do is share flying with the people who are closest to you. They’ve all heard how much you love flying and how much you’ve learned from your flying lessons. So show them what it’s all about!
Private pilots are allowed to carry passengers, just not for hire. Interestingly enough, private pilots can split the costs of a flight with friends and family.
That means if you have a group who wants to fly with you, they can help you pay for it all. The FAA uses the term “pro-rata share;” you must pay for your part of the flight.
If you have one other person, then you can divide the costs in half. If there are four of you, you must pay for a quarter. Costs can include rental fees, fuel, and whatever other costs are associated with the actual flight.
Many pilots learn to fly in two-seat aircraft, limiting the number of passengers you can carry with you. But there’s no limit on the type of plane a private pilot can fly as long as they meet the ratings on your license.
If you are rated to fly single-engine land airplanes, you can fly any of them, so long as they are less than 12,500 pounds and not turbine powered.
If you’ve never flown a four or six-seater, the first step is to find one for rent. Upgrading to a four-seat Cessna or Piper is easy, and they fly very similar to the smaller varieties. Before you can rent it, the FBO will require a check-out with their instructor to familiarize you with the plane. It’s not a test or anything–it’s just a quick and easy flight lesson.
Six-seaters are usually high-performance airplanes, which will require more training. Likewise, “complex planes,” with flaps, adjustable propellers, and retractable landing gear, will require additional training.
[If you want to pick up an extra headset for friends to fly with you check out our post on the best aviation headsets.]
2. Fly at Night
Your training included a few hours of night flight, and you’re allowed to fly anytime you like.
Night flights are a lot of fun since they provide a beautiful view of the world from above, especially over cities. Airports are neat at night, too.
3. Check Out a Fly-In or Aviation Festival
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Lakeland, Florida, host the first and second-largest fly-ins in the world, respectively. EAA Airventure in Oshkosh is a colossal aviation festival.
Hundreds of airplanes converge on the town every year in late July. Sun-n-Fun is its southern cousin, and nearly as big. It takes place in Lakeland, near Orlando, every April.
Both events are part fly-in, part industry trade show, and part airshow.
You’ll see planes from all different areas of aviation and meet pilots from all over the world. There are seminars to learn new skills and plenty of pilot toys to check out.
Flying into these events takes a little planning. There are always special traffic procedures to handle the astonishing amount of aircraft that converge on these airports.
At Lakeland, for example, they divide up both the main runway and its parallel taxiway into thirds, creating six separate landing areas and touchdown points. It can be intense, but with a little planning, it’s worth the trouble.
There are also many regional aviation meet-ups and fly-ins all over the country. Find the local place to fly-in for weekend breakfasts or barbecues.
Another option is an aerobatic competition, which is also a lot of fun if you can find them in your area.
4. Learn a New Skill
One thing that keeps aviation interesting is that there’s always something new to learn.
The private license is just the first step you take. You might buy a Cessna and fly for fun for the rest of your aviation career, but that doesn’t stop you from trying new things and expanding your skills.
A few of the things you can try out are aerobatics, flying a taildragger, or mountain flying. These are all skills that your license allows you to do, but they generally aren’t covered in your training.
All you have to do is find a flight instructor who is an expert and get a few hours of dual instructor. Taildraggers; high-performance planes with more than 200-horsepower; and complex planes with flaps, retractable landing gear, and constant-speed propellers require an instructor endorsement.
And, of course, many pilots love honing their skills enough to pursue other ratings. The instrument rating takes your flying to the next level by teaching you how to fly like the professionals.
It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a big challenge, but your flying skills will improve ten-fold.
5. Take a Business Trip
A private pilot may, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft in connection with any business or employment if:
(1) The flight is only incidental to that business or employment; and
(2) The aircraft does not carry passengers or property for compensation or hire.
Look at all of the general aviation airports that serve the communities in which you work. Many FBOs have courtesy cars or access to rental cars.
6. Fly for a Charity
You’re allowed to donate your time to charity flying with a private certificate.
Examples of the most popular charities involve providing flights to people who need distant medical care or helping move rescue pets to their forever homes.
There are also environmental charities conducting survey flights or taking scientists aloft, or taking passengers who have always dreamed of flying on trips.
Flying Magazine has compiled a great list of many aviation charities. The choice of charities varies depending on your region of the country.
7. Take Your Date Night to New Heights
Want to impress a special someone? Try a romantic flight! It can be a simple trip around the pattern if they’re nervous or as involved as a weekend trip to the mountains or beach.
The $100 Hamburger trip for a romantic dinner after a cross country is a date never to be forgotten, and it doesn’t have to be a hamburger.
8. Fly Internationally
There aren’t any substantial limits on traveling with your private license; you can fly all over the world.
If you’re on a trip and you’d like to go flying, it may be as simple as heading to the nearest GA airport and going up with an instructor.
Depending on the country and their requirements, you may even be able to rent a plane and go up alone.
If you want to stick closer to home, check out some closer borders you can legally cross. Canada, Mexico, and The Bahamas all make outstanding aviation destinations. Flying internationally requires a little bit of studying to make sure you understand your destination’s rules and regulations.
There are always little differences to brush up on. If you’re renting a plane, an instructor will help you with a check-out flight. If you’re on your own, call AOPA or the country in question’s aviation department.
Of course, once you put home behind you, you might not want to stop anytime soon. How about South America, the Caribbean, or maybe Europe? Many pilots dream of flying around the world in a general aviation airplane. What an adventure!
There are plenty of blogs and stories to check out from pilots who have done it. Joining the “Earthrounder” club is truly a bucket list dream.
9. Go Traveling and Sightseeing
You don’t have to leave home to see some cool stuff. The United States has one of the most varied landscapes of any nation.
From sea to shining sea, America is made for flying. An aerial tour of the country is a great way to see a lot and to see it in a way that many people would only ever dream of.
Private pilots can fly nearly anywhere. For most of the country, VFR flying requires no notice and no approvals. Just hop in your plane and go!
Remember, if you are a flat-lander traveling to the mountains, it’s a good idea to look into getting a mountain check-out flight from a knowledgeable certified flight instructor.
Even if you don’t want to go far, there are many places to see from the air closer to home.
10. Share Your Passion for Aviation With Others
You already know that you can take folks flying, but there are other ways to share your passion.
The FAA Ground Instructor certificate is a great way to get into mentoring and teaching. The certificate requires nothing more than a few written exams.
After a little bit of studying and passing those tests, you get your license and teach ground school classes. It’s an easy first step towards becoming a flight instructor, and it puts you ahead of the game if you ever wanted to get your commercial.
Ready to get your private pilot license? Check out our private pilot ground school to get started.