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Home > Blog > Light Aircraft Vs Commercial Planes

Light Aircraft vs. Commercial Planes: Key Differences Explained

Posted 26 May 2023

In this guide, we will discuss the key differences between light and commercial aircraft, their licence requirements, and which one you should get!

In this guide, we will discuss the key differences between light and commercial aircraft, their licence requirements, and which one you should get!

Aircraft come in all forms and sizes but generally, they can be divided into two categories: light aircraft and commercial aircraft. These two aircraft make up the majority of planes in aviation and each has an important role in various aviation-related fields.

Light aircraft are the primary choice for pilots who want to fly as a hobby. These smaller and lighter aircraft don’t require as much training as opposed to commercial planes which makes them the perfect way for people to enjoy the thrills of aviation without committing to exuberant fees and training requirements.

Commercial planes, on the other hand, are what make modern transportation possible. These planes are the backbone of the transportation industry and are used to either carry cargo or people. To fly a commercial plane, pilots need to go through strict and lengthy training requirements. There are, of course, a lot of career benefits to becoming a commercial pilot as well.

In this guide, we will discuss the key differences between light and commercial aircraft, their licence requirements, and which one you should get!

Light Aircraft – A Flying Experience Like No Other

Light aircraft are what catapulted the aviation industry to what it is today. After the first successful light aircraft flight by the Wright brothers, everyone focused on manufacturing light aircraft as they were efficient and relatively easier to manufacture. In fact, light aircraft are singlehandedly behind the boom in interest when it comes to leisure flying. These aircraft allow everyday folks to train and become private pilots who get to choose from multiple types of light aircraft.

By definition, light aircraft is any aircraft with a Take Off Weight (TOW) of around 6,000 kgs or less. These planes come in a variety of form factors but there are two designs that are the most popular among private pilots.

The first is called a fixed-wing aircraft. As the name suggests, these aircraft have a fixed and rigid wing system that can be found in most typical aircraft. You can even think of these aircraft as miniaturised versions of larger commercial aircraft (more on this below). Fixed-wing aircraft are perfect for training purposes and can be used for aerobatics and leisure flying too. They are an all-in-one solution for pilots that need a versatile flying machine that can cater to their needs.

For example, if you want to just tour or fly across the country, then a fixed wing will provide an excellent flying experience thanks to its aerodynamic design, efficient engine, and precise controls. These aircraft even feature a range of onboard instruments as well. These instruments allow pilots to fly fixed-wing aircraft in various conditions.

Instrument Flying (IF) enables pilots to fly in conditions with low visibility like in the event of a thick fog, heavy rain, or even at night. This is why fixed wings are a pilot's best bet when it comes to flying in any condition.

The second type of popular light aircraft is called a flex-wing aircraft. These aircraft truly offer a surreal flying experience. Unlike fixed wings, these aircraft have fabric-based wings which allows them to flex in the air. Flex wings also usually feature a trike-like body and an open cockpit.

These design choices make them extremely lighter than fixed-wings and the best part is that they also feature a highly fuel-efficient engine which makes them a great flying machine for all types of leisure flying.

Since these aircraft also feature an open cockpit, pilots get to experience a completely new way to enjoy and appreciate flying. Imagine this: you are several hundred feet above the ground, it’s a comfortably cold and lightly cloudy day, and you are soaring across the skies with nothing but a windshield separating you from the environment!

Flex-wings allow pilots to truly take in their environment. They can look around them and truly feel the elements while in the air! Not to mention, these aircraft are also fantastic for ariel photography!

Although these planes can only seat one or two people, unlike fixed wings that can seat up to two to six people, they are still an extremely smart and fun choice for private pilots who want to experience the thrill of aviation.

Commercial Aircraft – Aviation’s Crown Jewel

If light aircraft helped launch the aviation industry, commercial planes can be regarded as having catapulted the industry to the stratosphere! Commercial planes are truly a feat of engineering and innovation. These aircraft are perhaps humanity’s best invention and showcase our ingenuity and ambitions.

Commercial aircraft are the backbone of the modern aviation industry. In 2019, 4.5 billion people travelled via air with over 100,000 flights operating daily – and this number is expected to increase year-over-year, especially after 2023 as the world reopens again and flight operations go back to normal.

Commercial aircraft are relatively humongous planes that can seat several hundreds of people at a time. These planes work in the same way as fixed-wing planes, but of course, they are powered by twin engines that are designed for high output and fuel efficiency. These aircraft weigh considerably more than light aircraft and can carry several hundred pounds of weight. Some commercial planes can even carry up to 400,000 kg at a time!

In addition to this, commercial planes also contain a range of advanced instruments. Since these aircraft transport people, the aviation industry has set extremely strict guidelines for how these planes should be operated. Due to these strict guidelines, commercial pilots are also held to an extremely high standard.

Commercial pilots are expected to not only extensively train but they must also keep up with several medical requirements and may even be subject to regular screening. These restrictions and guidelines are one of the reasons why flying has become one of the safest ways to travel in the modern world.

Key Differences Between Light and Commercial Aircraft

Here are some of the key differences between both aircraft:

Capacity (Size)

The first thing that you will notice about both aircraft is their size. Light aircraft are designed to carry around two, four, or at most six people. They also have a take-off weight of around 5800 kgs, which means that you can’t transport commercial-grade goods in these aircraft either.

We have already discussed the two most popular subtypes of light aircraft, but there are other, even lighter aircraft as well, like ultralights and microlights. These aircraft differ from one another but the one thing that they have in common with each other is their weight and size.

Commercial planes, on the other hand, can carry 100s of passengers at a time, and that is excluding luggage! These planes are built with extreme precision and are designed to last a very long time with the help of maintenance. You can even find double-decker planes and commercial aircraft with in-house bars! Cargo planes also fall in the same category as they are used for commercial purposes. Cargo planes are designed to accommodate as much cargo as possible, which is why they have minimal seating space and maximum room for storing goods.

Certification and Licence Differences

Another key difference between commercial and light aircraft is the type of licence required to operate them. For light aircraft, you will require a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) or a Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL) which is geared for people who want to fly for fun!

A LAPL will entitle you to fly any type of light aircraft and this type of licence also happens to be the quickest way to get into the cockpit due to its relatively relaxed training requirements. There are also several certifications that you can complete on top of your private licence which can allow you to fly in various conditions, such as at night or using Instrument Flying Rules.

A commercial licence is for people who want to have an aviation career. In simple terms, any plane that is used for commercial purposes will require a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) or an Airline Pilot Licence (ATPL). This type of licence is generally considered to be more expensive and extensive to obtain than a regular Private Pilot Licence, however, it enables pilots to fly large passenger airlines and be associated with top airline companies.

As you can imagine, commercial pilots usually have a handsome salary with a range of benefits. They also have flexible timings and, of course, they also get the prestige of being a captain – a title that is revered in all walks of life. Commercial pilots can fly any type of commercial aircraft, and this also includes any type of light aircraft too!

The best part about these licences is that their training curriculum also overlaps which means that you can carry your training over to another type of licence too. Many pilots start their journey in aviation with a PPL and then graduate to more career-focused licences like an ATPL or a CPL when they are ready to fully commit.

Both CPL and PPL licences have various medical requirements too with a PPL (Class 2) having relaxed medical requirements while commercial pilots are required to be completely fit for obtaining a more extensive and thorough Class 1 medical certificate.

Operational Uses

Light aircraft may be the preferred choice for hobbyists and thrill seekers, but these planes can also be used for various other operational uses as well. For example, light aircraft are the default choice for aerial photography, surveys, and even wildlife conservation and medical services, which heavily rely on the use of helicopters.

Flex-wing aircraft, for example, are an excellent choice for people who want to monitor wildlife or take photographs without obstructions. Since these aircraft usually have an open cockpit design, pilots can look around more freely and explore their surroundings in a rich and unique way.

Fixed-wing aircraft are primarily used for training as they are designed to mimic the design and features of commercial aircraft. These aircraft are perfect for all types of pilot training and can also be used for aerobatics and other thrill-seeking purposes. Perhaps the best use of fixed-wing aircraft is for touring! These aircraft are excellent for flying cross country and you can even fly them in various weather conditions, so long as you have the necessary certifications.

Commercial planes are primarily used for transporting people and cargo. Passenger planes, for example, are designed with just one thing in mind: seating capacity. These planes efficiently make use of all the available space inside the fuselage to seat passengers and provide them with various amenities. Please keep in mind that some light aircraft may also be used for commercial purposes. Take crop dusting as an example! If an aircraft is intended to be used for commercial purposes, then the plane must be registered accordingly, and the pilot must also have the necessary licence to operate it.

Training for Light and Commercial Aircraft

Whether you choose to fly commercial or private light aircraft, the best and quickest way to make your aviation dreams come true is to go with a competent flight school.

Please keep in mind that while there are several types of flight schools in the country, not every school is built the same. For example, some schools may only be designed to train for light aircraft, and they may also provide their students with only one or two types of light aircraft.

Although you will be able to learn how to fly in these schools, if you want to train to be the best, then you will have to join a flight school that has a holistic approach to aviation.

Flight schools like Sherburn Aero Club, are designed to cater to every aviator’s needs. These schools can not only provide you with a fleet of aircraft, but they can also help you with applying for and maintaining your pilot licence.

We highly recommend that you go with an all-in-one school that offers training for both commercial and light aircraft. These schools will also typically have a stellar faculty that can teach you all about aviation – and they may even help guide you with your goals in aviation.


Sherburn Aero Club, which has been operational since 1964, is the ideal place for most of your training and flying needs. It is one of the largest flying clubs in the North of England and also one of the largest in the country.

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 in various types of light aircraft.

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 in the long run.

If you wish to begin your career in aviation or wish to take to the skies as a hobby, Sherburn’s flight training school offers private and commercial licences, along with pilot medicals to ensure a smooth journey going forward.

With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, 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.

Sherburn offers 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.

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 at 01977 682 674​​​, email us at flightdesk@sherburnaeroclub.com, or message us via our online contact form for more information on light aircraft, training requirements, licencing procedures, as well as experience flights and pilot training at Sherburn.


Photo by Gary Lopater on Unsplash 



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