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Home > Blog > Commercial Vs Private Flying What Are The Differences

Commercial vs Private Flying: What Are The Differences?

Posted 27 Apr 2022

Commercial vs Private Flying

From licence requirements to training, here’s everything you need to know about how private and commercial flying compare to each other.

Much of the path you will go down on your aviation journey will be determined by your long-term goals and what you wish to achieve.

When it comes to aviation, there are generally two different tracks for aspiring pilots to follow. The first is that of private flying, which is the kind of aviation undertaken by individuals who wish to fly for enjoyment and recreation. The second route is commercial flying, which is the track of choice for those who wish to build a career in aviation.

While, initially, the paths are very much the same for those undergoing training to become a professional pilot and those who wish to pursue flying as a hobby, the road definitely diverges as you go further.

For those looking to understand the key differences between private and commercial flying, as well as those who hope to discover which path is better suited to their needs, this article contains an in-depth breakdown of both. From licence requirements to training, here’s everything you need to know about how private and commercial flying compare to each other:



 If you are an aviation enthusiast who dreams of piloting big airliners full of passengers from one city to the other, then the path of commercial flying is the one you should be following.

Commercial flying is the kind you undertake in an effort to earn money in return for your aviation skills. If you want to make a career out of aviation, then you will be requiring a licence that falls under the category of commercial licences as mandated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).



There are a few different types of commercial licences out there. Which one is best suited to you depends heavily on your long-term goals with regard to aviation. The three main types of commercial licences are the Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), the Multi-crew Pilot Licence (MPL) and the Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL).


Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL):

The CPL is the licence of choice for most professional pilots. In order to acquire this licence, the applicant must show a total of 200 hours of flight time.

Out of these 200 hours, 100 must be spent in command of an aircraft, with the others being completed via dual instruction with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). A solo flight totalling 300 nautical miles is also necessary. In addition to this, at the time of application, the aspiring pilot must show a Class 1 medical certificate, which ensures that an individual is fit to fly without being a danger to themselves or others.

The applicant must also pass theoretical exams in a series of aviation-related subjects, which include Air law, Aircraft general knowledge - airframe/systems/powerplant, Aircraft general knowledge - instrumentation, Mass and Balance, Performance, Flight planning and monitoring, Human performance, Meteorology, General navigation, Radio navigation, Operational procedures, Principles of flight, Visual flight rules (VFR) communications.

In order to fly at night, a pilot will have to apply for an additional Night Rating on top of their CPL, which qualifies them to fly after dark.

The CPL also allows you to fly single-engine aircraft. To pilot multi-engine varieties, you will have to get additional ratings.

Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL):

For those who are sure about wanting to pursue a career as an airline pilot, the ATPL is a great option. It takes the basics of the CPL, adding an extra component with multi-crew training towards the end.

This is relatively harder to obtain as compared to the CPL due to its specific nature. The licence allows a pilot to carry nine or more passengers in an aircraft.

Once training is complete, a pilot is awarded the frozen ATPL (fATPL), after which they can apply for jobs with various airliners. However, the licence is unfrozen only after the pilot has acquired a total of 1500 hours of flight time.


Multi-crew Pilot Licence (MPL):

For those hoping to gain employment with a certain airline, the Multi-crew Pilot Licence is a great option. The licence is airline-specific and bypasses most of the single-engine training that is part of the CPL and ATPL requirements.

The MPL focuses on training pilots in flying aeroplanes with multiple people in the crew. It introduces the aspiring pilot to an airline cabin environment much sooner than the ATPL.

The licence comes with a job guarantee in the airline through which the training takes place, and is thus not very flexible.

To fly a single-engine aeroplane, such as light aircraft, the pilot will have to undergo additional training on top of that required for the acquisition of the MPL.



 If you are interested in aviation for the thrill of flying and wish to pursue it as a hobby, then the private flying track is the one for you.

Private flying, or recreational flying, is when a pilot pursues aviation without expecting financial compensation in return for their services. Private flying is for those who are in it purely for their love of aviation and mainly wish to fly smaller aeroplanes such as light aircraft.


The licences for private flying fall under the general aviation category, according to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of the United Kingdom. There are different types of general aviation licences you can get depending on your goals and interests.

The most popular of these are the Private Pilot Licence (PPL) and the Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL).

Private Pilot Licence (PPL):

This is most often the licence of choice for beginners and hobbyists mainly because, as compared to the CPL, it is much easier to obtain.

The requirements for the PPL are not as stringent, with the total flight time requirement being only 45 hours, out of which 10 must be of solo flight unaccompanied by a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI).

Apart from this, the applicant must have a Class 2 medical certificate, which does not call for a medical exam as rigorous as the one required for Class 1 certificates. The minimum age requirement for the PPL is 18 years.

A proficiency in nine theoretical subjects is also necessary, with a minimum of 75% marks in exams for subjects including meteorology, navigation, air law, and principles of flight.

Like the CPL, ATPL and MPL, the PPL is recognised pretty much the world over and gives its holder the ability to fly almost anywhere in the world with the exception of North Korea.

All a pilot must do before jetting off is ensure they know and abide by the customs requirements of the foreign airspace they are entering, and they are good to go!

Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL):

This licence is a bit more specific as compared to the PPL. While the PPL allows its holder to fly any type of aircraft, given they have the required ratings, the LAPL only allows the holder to fly light aircraft.

This makes it the perfect licence for pilots who do not wish to fly heavy aircraft, such as the multi-engine variety, and are content with flying only within UK airspace.

The LAPL is not recognised outside of the UK, and if a holder wishes to fly abroad, they must upgrade their licence.

As compared to the PPL, the LAPL is easier to obtain as it only requires 12 hours of total flight time. It is also better suited to younger aviation enthusiasts since the minimum age requirement is 17 years.



There are several factors one should consider before settling for a certain aviation path. The most important of these are your long-term aviation goals.

Whether you are certain of a career in aviation, wish to try your hand at it before diving in head-first, or are just in it for fun, your aviation goals will determine which licence is best for you, which will, in turn, dictate your trajectory.

Apart from this, it is also necessary to keep your budget in mind, with certain licences coming with lower overall costs as compared to others. Here is a list of pros and cons of the two types of flying to help you figure out which is best suited to your goals. 





 Following are the pros of commercial flying:

Ability to work as a professional pilot: If you have the right training and get a job with a good employer, aviation can be a very financially rewarding career option.

A CPL-holder can easily apply for jobs that allow them to fly in exchange for monetary compensation. If you upgrade your skills by getting a Multi-engine Piston Rating, you can fly heavier aircraft such as airliners as well.

A career in aviation can allow you to travel all over the world and get paid in exchange for it. For an aviation lover, that’s a win-win!

Greater skillset: To become a professional pilot, a greater skill set is required, which means stricter training. While this may initially feel like a con, the fact that you are getting so much flight experience adds to your standing as a pilot.

A career in aviation is challenging, and you are bound to evolve both as a person and as a pilot as you go along your aviation journey.


Following are the cons of commercial flying:

Expensive: The CPL is a much more expensive option as compared to the PPL, due to the long hours of training required, the greater costs that come with applying for a Class 1 medical certificate, as well as the licence itself. However, if you are an aviation lover who is set on a career in flying, then investing from the get-go is well worth the costs involved.

Strict schedules: While you may be able to fully enjoy the destinations you travel to while flying privately when you’re piloting a commercial airliner, you have to adhere to strict schedules. You cannot extend or shorten your stay as per your convenience. Instead, the needs and requirements of the job must be kept in mind at all times.





Following are the pros of private flying:


Licence easier to obtain: One of the main reasons amateur pilots gravitate toward the PPL is the fact that it comes with far less stringent requirements as compared to the CPL. As discussed above, the total flight time required is significantly less than what is expected with a CPL, and the medical certificate is also much easier to obtain.

There are a fewer number of subjects tested in the theory component of your training, so you can save the extra hard work for when you are sure about a career in aviation. With its ease of access, it makes trying out aviation for beginners and hobbyists much more convenient.

Less expensive: The PPL is not as expensive as its commercial counterpart, with the LAPL being even less expensive than the standard PPL. This makes it a great option for aspiring pilots who are on a relatively tighter budget and do not wish to invest a large amount of finances into aviation from the get-go.

Relaxed learning environment: Since there is no career-related pressure involved, the PPL can be obtained through a much more relaxed environment.

The less stringent requirements also help alleviate any anxieties the aspiring pilot may have in relation to flying.

Private flying allows a beginner to experience the fun side of aviation before diving into the world of multi-crew flights and heavier aircraft.

Once aspiring pilots fall in love with aviation through private pilot flight training, they can graduate to the more serious training without feeling too overwhelmed.

You can also enjoy the destinations you travel to without worrying about strict schedules or waiting passengers!   


 Following are the cons of private flying:

Cannot earn off flying skills: The most obvious downside of private flying is that holders cannot fly in exchange for financial compensation. This means there is no possibility to earn a livelihood off of a private licence.

However, if you are a hobbyist who is not interested in an aviation career, the PPL should suffice well enough.

Limited in scope:
Due to the fewer hours required for training, a private pilot does not undergo the same type of rigorous training as a CPL-holder, which means their skills are limited.

A PPL holder will have to make the effort and challenge themselves if they wish to become a more skilled pilot and obtain more ratings.


Aviation clubs such as Sherburn Aero Club offer training for private pilots, many of whom go on to pursue aviation in a more professional capacity.

With a fleet of light aircraft ready to fly as well as other training options such as flight simulators, aviation clubs are great for both private as well as commercial pilots.


 Sherburn Aero Club, which has been operational since 1964, is the ideal place for most of your training and flying needs. We cater to brand new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.

We offer dedicated CPL training as well as comprehensive PPL (A) training and the required experience for operating aircraft at night.

With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, we also offer a dedicated day-long Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL) course for those wishing to get the certification, running the first Sunday of every month.


For those who wish to experience the thrill of a flight for fun or to help fuel their aviation dreams, Sherburn offers experience flights for the newbie, as well as the veteran.

The flight experience option is also available for people who wish to take to the skies for special occasions, even if they aren’t into aviation for the long run.

In addition to that, if you are looking for a hangarage for your own aircraft, need servicing or repairs, want to buy a new aircraft or aviation equipment, or are just looking to enjoy and watch the aircraft, Sherburn Aero Club is the place to be.

Call us on 01977 682 674​​​, email us at flightdesk@sherburnaeroclub.com, or message us via our online contact form for more information on private and commercial flying, licencing, as well as the training facilities and airfield available at Sherburn.


Photo by Victor Zhuk on Unsplash 



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