Getting a Canadian pilot’s licence [Part 1: Licence options]

I was recently asked by a friend how to go about getting a pilot’s licence in Canada and how much it would cost. I thought this would make for an interesting multi-part series of posts so here it is: my guide to becoming a licensed pilot in Canada.

The posts in this series are as follows:

In this first part, I will talk about your options when it comes to licences and give you an idea of the advantages and limitations you can expect. Before I begin, keep in mind that I am just a student of the art of flying and this represents my understanding of the Canadian system. Please feel free to correct me where I am wrong and/or add to the information I present here.

In Canada, (according to the Canadian Air Regulations) there are four levels of aeroplane licences which build on eachother:

  • Recreational (actually this is a permit but I will talk about it too)
  • Private
  • Commercial
  • Airline Transport

Technically only the last three build on eachother since you don’t need a recreational permit to get a Private Pilot’s License.

Recreational Pilot Permit

Requirements CARs 421.22, Privileges CARs 401.22

To obtain an RPP, you must

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Hold a Category 4 medical certificate (basically your family doctor says you’re in good health)
  • Have obtained at least 60% on the written test and in each of the four areas of the test
  • Have completed at least 25 hours of flight instructions as prescribed in the CARs

As a holder of the RPP you can only fly in Canada, during day time, in VFR conditions and you can only carry one passenger at a time (CARs 401.22). You cannot add any extra endorsements to this permit (i.e. night flying, instrument rating, etc.)

This works well in the summer when the days are long and weather is nice but expect to be grounded during the fall and winter.

Private Pilot Licence

Requirements CARs 421.26, Privileges CARs 401.26

For a PPL you must:

  • Be at least 17 years of age
  • Hold a Category 3 medical certificate (performed by an approved aviation medic)
  • Complete at least 40 hours of ground school as prescribed in the CARs
  • Obtain 60% on the written test and in each of the four areas of the test (PPAER)
  • Complete at least 45 hours of flight training as prescribed in the CARs

As a holder of a PPL you can fly in Canada and the US, during day time, in VFR conditions and you can carry as many passengers as the plane can take. You can also add endorsements such as IFR and night flying to your licence.

This is a common licence as it gives you the flexibility to add more endorsements after getting it and increase the days in a year when you can fly.

Commercial Pilot Licence

Requirements CARs 421.30, Privileges CARs 401.30

For the Commercial Pilot Licence you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Hold a Category 1 medical certificate
  • Complete at least 80 hours of commercial ground school
  • Obtain 60% on the written test and in each of the four areas of the test (CPAER)
  • Hold a private pilot’s licence
  • Complete a minimum of 200 hours of flight, with at least 100 hours pilot-in-command and 20 hours cross country
  • Complete 65 hours of commercial flight training as prescribed in the CARs

With a commercial licence you can exercise all the privileges of a private pilot. You can add the VFR over the top endorsement and become an instructor as well (after completing the instructor courses). Note that you still have to pass the night requirements to fly at night.

If you have a commercial license you can be hired to work as a pilot by companies.

Airline Transport Pilot Licence

Requirements CARs 421.34, Privileges CARs 401.34

This is the top licence level you can achieve. It is needed to be able to fly with the “big boys.” To get an Airline Transport Pilot Licence you must:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Hold a Category 1 medical certificate
  • Obtain 70% in each of three written examinations (Meteorology, Radio Aids to Navigation and Flight Planning (SAMRA), Air Law, Aeroplane Operation and Navigation General (SARON) and Instrument Rating (INRAT)
  • Hold a Commercial Pilot Licence
  • Complete at least 1500 hours of flight with 250 hours of pilot-in-command, 100 hours at night, 100 hours of cross country flight, 75 hours of instrument time

With this licence you can fly the big jets for Air Canada, Westjet, and so on. It’s a long way there and quite expensive, but if you want to make a career out of flying, I would say this is the way to go.

So there you have it: the four levels of licensing available in Canada. If you have any questions or additions, please leave them in the comments and keep checking this blog for information.