What is an ATP Certificate?




The ATP, or Airline Transport Pilot, certificate is the highest pilot license level issued by the FAA. As such, it’s sometimes called the “doctorate of flying.” 

What is the ATP?

As the name suggests, the certificate is designed to be the license you need to fly for the airlines or charter operators. But anyone can get an ATP so long as they possess the right number of hours in their logbook, usually 1,500. 

ATP certificates are issued with most of the same ratings as other pilot certificates. For example, airplane-single and multiengine land certificates are separate.

Since many people never complete the checkride for the ATP Airplane-Single Engine, it’s common for a pilot to hold the ATP-Multi Engine with Commercial-only privileges for Airplane-Single Engine.

There is no Instrument Rating on an ATP. However, instrument skills are considered integral to the certificate and are tested on the checkride. 

What is an ATP certificate?

ATP certificates are not necessarily tied to a type rating, although ATP-licensed pilots most commonly seek type ratings.

As such, type rating standards are taught and tested to the ATP standards. But, it’s possible to have a type rating added to a Commerical or even Private certificate. 

Who Needs an ATP?

The ATP is required to work for a Part 121 airline as a pilot. For Part 135 non-scheduled operators, the pilot in command must possess an ATP. 

ATPs are only issued with the following ratings:

  • Airplane Single Engine
  • Airplane Multi Engine
  • Rotorcraft Helicopter
  • Powered-Lift
  • Type ratings

If your operation doesn’t fall under those listed, such as operating as the pilot-in-command of a lighter-than-air craft, then you would need only the Commercial rating. 

Additionally, FAR Part 61.167 states that the ATP enables you to teach certain other pilots in air transportation in the aircraft you’re typed for. This includes training in the simulators, FTD, and aircraft. 

What is the Restricted-ATP?

Previously, airline first officers only needed a Commercial certificate to get hired. As a result, airlines could hire new pilots with as few as 250 hours of experience.

When the rules changed and required all Part 121 operators to hire only ATP-certified pilots, a bridge was needed to avoid a pilot shortage. 

The Restricted ATP certificate was born. The R-ATP could be issued with 1,000 or 1,250 of experience for certain pilots who had graduated from university aviation programs. The precise hour requirement, be it 1,000 or 1,250, depends on how much of the course curriculum is aviation related.

How Do You Get an ATP?

For most pilots, getting the ATP is the final step on their flight training journey and the first step in their careers as airline pilots

Unlike the Private and Commercial certificates, the ATP has no specific flight training requirements. However, you must attend a ground school course which includes simulator time. Beyond that, the amount of flight training is just enough to get you proficient enough for the checkride, so long as you are already rating the in the aircraft. If you attend a Part 141 school’s ATP program, it will have a set number of hours needed to get graduate.

The hours needed to get the certificate are generally built while working. For most pilots, this means working as a flight instructor. As you get near the magic number of 1,500 hours, start checking boxes and make sure you have all the requirements.

For example, you might find yourself booking more instrument or night flights to ensure you have all the requirements. The precise numbers are listed below or, of course, in your FAR/AIM.

FAA Requirements for the ATP Certificate

Here’s a look at FAR Part 61, Subpart G, which lists the eligibility requirements for an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. 

  • Must be 23 years of age
  • Be able to read, speak, and write English
  • Be of good moral character
  • Have a Commercial with an Instrument rating
  • Certificate of completing an Airline Transport Pilot training program (Part 61.156)
  • Pass a knowledge test and practical test (checkride with oral and flight tests)
  • Have the aeronautical experience listed below for the Airplane category ratings (Part 61.159)
  • 1,500 hours of total time, which must include
    • 500 hours of cross-country
    • 100 hours of night
    • 50 hours in the class of airplane
    • 75 hours of instrument (actual or simulated)
    • 250 hours of PIC time in an airplane, including 100 cross-country and 25 night

Cost to Get ATP

Since most of the aeronautical experience you need for the ATP comes from working as a Commercial pilot, the cost of getting the certificate is low compared to your earlier ratings. 

For pilots on the airline track, the ATP checkride is often rolled into your first type rating checkride as a new hire.

Passing the hour requirements, ATP training course, and written exam will be a condition of being hired and getting a training slot. Then, upon passing, you’ll receive your ATP Airplane Multi Engine with the appropriate type rating.

If you do it all on your own, the out-of-pocket expenses will include the following.

  • Aircraft rentals to get to 1,500 hours and meet all of the other FAA requirements
  • ATP training program
  • Knowledge exam fees
  • Ground training in preparation for the oral exam
  • Flight training in preparation for the practical exam
  • Examiner’s fee

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