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How To Get an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate

The airline transport pilot certificate is the highest level of pilot certification in the United States. The ATP is a completion certificate in terms of flight hours, academic requirements, and practical exams that is required for many of the most sought-after jobs in professional aviation.

Though the paths to obtaining an ATP certificate differ, the end result is a feat that any pilot can be proud of. Let’s go over how to get your ATP certification step by step.

What Is the Definition of an Airline Transport Pilot License?

The ATP is the world’s ultimate certification (or licence, in some countries). In the United States, there is also a Restricted ATP (sometimes abbreviated R-ATP), which allows certain pilots who do not meet the standard requirements to hold an ATP to receive a limited version valid only in certain US operations.

What Can You Do With an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate?

To fly for a Part 121 airline, to serve as pilot in command (PIC) in some Part 135 operations, or to fly an aircraft with more than 30 passenger seats, an ATP is required.
Due to insurance requirements, many more professional pilots may be required to hold an ATP. An ATP holder is entitled to all of the advantages of a commercial certificate and is presumed to have an instrument rating.

What types of aircraft can you fly with an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate?

An ATP entitles the holder to fly all aircraft in the category and class, with the exception of those that require an aircraft-specific type rating, special federal air regulation (SFAR) training, or optional endorsements, such as tailwheel-equipped aircraft.

Because type ratings must be flown to ATP standards, it is common for pilots to apply for their ATP certificate practical exam at the same time as they apply for a type rating.

The Benefits of Having an Airline Transport Pilot License

An ATP certificate makes a pilot very marketable because it demonstrates that he or she has invested significant time and energy in flight training as well as meeting the practical exam standards.
In 2014, the FAA mandated the addition of the Certification Training Program (commonly known as the ATP-CTP) for applicants of an aeroplane multiengine land class ATP. The additional course can add significant cost for pilots who complete their ATP training on their own rather than through an employer.

Airline Transport Pilot Certificate Requirements

Applicants for an unrestricted ATP certificate must meet the following requirements unless they are a former military or collegiate pilot who qualifies for one of the Restricted ATP exemptions:

  • You must be at least 23 years old to apply.
  • Have a strong moral compass.
  • You must hold a commercial pilot’s licence as well as an instrument rating in your category and class.
  • Follow the flight time requirements specified in FAR 61.159.
  • Pass both the written and practical exams.

How to Get an Airline Transport Pilot License in 5 Simple Steps

The steps to completing the ATP on your own are relatively simple for a pilot looking to complete the ATP on your own. By this point in your professional pilot career, you should be familiar with knowledge tests, practical exams, and what to expect on check ride day.

Step 1: Complete the Mandatory Minimum Hours

For pilots applying for an unrestricted ATP, a minimum of 1,500 hours total time, 500 hours cross-country flight time, 250 hours of flight time as pilot in command (PIC), 100 hours of night time, 75 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, and 50 hours of time in the aircraft class you are applying for the ATP in is required.

FAR 61.160 specifies the requirements for pilots seeking a Restricted ATP (R-ATP) based on the type of applicant (former military, collegiate aviation graduate, etc). It should be noted that the R-ATP is only valid for the aeroplane multiengine land class and does not meet the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

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Step 2: Finish the CTP Course if necessary.

A Certification Training Program is required only for applicants for an ATP or R-ATP in the aeroplane multiengine land class (CTP). The standalone CTP course lasts approximately one week and includes lectures on aerodynamics, meteorology, air carrier operations, and crew resource management (CRM).

This is supplemented by ten hours of aircraft training in a flight training device (FTD) and full motion simulator simulating an aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of at least 40,000 pounds. The FAA has compiled a list of approved CTP providers in PDF format.

Step 3. Pass the FAA Written Exam

The FAA written exam for ATP certificates ranges from 90 to 125 questions depending on the category and class.

It is an overall knowledge test that requires a 70% to pass and will generate a report at the end of the exam detailing items missed for review on your practical test.

Step 4: Complete the Required Flight Training

You can apply for the practical exam after you have completed the required minimum flight times and, if applicable, your CTP course.

There is no instructor sign off required, but depending on how you complete the ATP—as a standalone checkride, as part of an airline training programme, or concurrently with an aircraft type rating examination—you may need to go through a diverse training regimen to achieve proficiency.

Step 5: Complete the Practical Exam

Regardless of category or class, the airline transport pilot certificate is the highest level of certification available. Both the oral examination and the flight portion of the check ride are held to high standards, covering many aspects of normal and emergency operations, as well as manoeuvring, navigation, and various instrument procedures.

The temporary certificate will be issued following a successful practical. Keep in mind that your new certificate will say “Airline Transport Pilot,” but it will no longer show the instrument rating in the category in which you’re completing the check ride—this is already included in an ATP certificate.

A career in the airline industry begins with an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate.
Obtaining an airline transport pilot certificate is typically the beginning of a professional career and represents a significant achievement for any pilot. FLYING Magazine has resources for pilots at every stage of their flight training, whether they are pursuing their private pilot certificate, airline transport pilot certificate, or any rating in between. To stay up to date on all things aviation, sign up for the FlyingMag newsletter today.

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