If you haven’t yet read our Introduction to Flying, then we recommend giving it at least a precursory browse. What follows is a Q&A outlining precisely what’s involved in the Private Pilot Licence (PPL) course from start to finish.
What Is The Private Pilot Licence (PPL)?
PPL stands for ‘Private Pilots Licence’, and it’s effectively the aviation equivalent of a drivers licence. A PPL entitles pilots to fly an aircraft privately with non-commercial passengers, and requires renewal after 5 years.
The PPL course is an introduction to aviation. It’s the foundation for pilot training where you’ll build experience and add additional flying privileges later on — such as IMC ratings to enable you to fly in difficult weather conditions, or even Aerobatics.
What Are The Entry Requirements For The PPL?
There’s no academic qualifications needed for the PPL. However, unlike a driving licence you need to pass a formal medical examination, and must have completed at least 45 hours of flight training (10 of which solo) to qualify to take the practical exam. To maintain your current rating you need to fly a specified number of hours a year.
To learn more abut the Medical Requirements check out our page here.
The only other requirement for the PPL is that students are at least 14 years of age. However, for a student to fly solo (typically after 15 hours of training), they must be 16 years of age and hold at least a Class Two Medical. Licences are only issued to people over the age of 17.
What Is Required During The PPL Training?
Most approved training organisations (i.e. flight schools) in the UK teach the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) PPL Syllabus. The EASA-PPL allows unrestricted flying throughout Europe. It is the most flexible of the PPL courses, and the preferred choice for commercial pilot students following the Modular Route.
► More On The EASA-PPL
Provided the holder of the EASA-PPL has the correct ratings, it entitles the holder to fly:
- EASA registered aeroplanes registered in the EU and
- Non-EASA registered aircrafts in the UK.
However, as suggested in the title of the licence, it is a ‘Private’ licence and is purely for private flying only — not commercial operations that lead to remuneration.
► PPL Practical Training
The practical side of the training progresses from general handling, to circuits and finally navigation.
1. Students firstly learn about the controls and the effects they have on the aircraft.
You’ll master the skills of climbing, descending & turning. The training consists of at least of 45 hours training: 25 hours with an instructor, 10 hours solo. Most students will take longer than the minimum 45 hours, with averages varying from school to school. Be sure to check this average out when considering flight schools.
2. Students complete several ‘circuits’.
These are essentially small rectangles flown around your home airfield, consisting of a taking off, en-route and landing section. In practising this you’ll perfect all phases of a flight before you solo.
3. Finally, students move onto navigational & instrument training.
During this time you accumulate a number of solo hours — including completing a 150 mile trip, and landing at two other aerodromes other than their base (all solo).
The practical training is accompanied by ground briefings from your flight school. Your instructor will usually fully brief you before every flight, and aim to answer any questions you might have.
► 9 PPL Examination Subjects (Topics)
All of the above practical requirements must be completed along with pass marks of 75%+ on 9 multiple choice examinations:
- Flight Performance & Planning
- Human Performance & Limitations
- Air Law
- Operational Procedures
- Aircraft General Knowledge
- Principles of Flight
At first these may sound intimidating, but they don’t require any prior knowledge of aviation. With enough exam practice students don’t usually struggle with the theoretical aspect of the course.
Fly GA’s PPL Exam Software was designed by PPL instructors; it enables subscribers to learn the 9 PPL topics with ease. Currently it’s undergoing some changes, and it’ll be back up soon.
► PPL LST Exam
You need to complete a practical radio examination followed by a Licensing Skills Test (LST). The LST is carried out with an approved Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) examiner who assesses your flying — much like a practical driving test. A typical test lasts around 2 to 3 hours, bringing all your flight training together.
When a student passes their LST they'll be able to apply to the CAA for the issue of a Private Pilot Licence (PPL), and Single Engine Piston Rating which qualifies them to fly single engine aircraft.
How Much Does The PPL Course Cost? How Long Does It Take To Complete?
Taking into account all core expenses a PPL can cost between £8000 — 11000. This assumes the minimum 45 hours of training.
A number of variables and individual circumstances impact the cost of the PPL(A). To learn more read our detailed cost breakdown here: How Much Does It Cost To Become A Pilot?
► PPL Course Packages
Flight schools usually offer a fixed price for the course, but be sure to clarify the following:
- Hourly aircraft hire rate including an instructor.
- Landing fee and Touch & Go fees for the entire course.
- School membership fees.
- Exam fees, including ground exams and flight test fees.
- Cancellation and no-show fees.
► Pay & Go
You don’t need to buy a package deal. Some learners opt to do “Pay & Go”. This tends to work out more expensive in the long-run, but may offer you a little more flexibility.
Those that Pay & Go should expect to pay £150+ per hour. As always, shop around for the best deal. Be sure to account for practicality (e.g. the ease of getting to your chosen school).
► Additional Costs
There are additional fixed costs to account for, such as:
- Additional hours: These are usually charged at the normal hourly rate at the school.
- Class One or Two medical fees: The Class One costs £330 and the Class Two usually costs around the £100-£150 mark.
- Equipment and study materials: These can amount to approximately £400-500 depending on whether you decide to purchase your own headset (which on their own can cost as much as £600).
- Examiner and licence issue fees: These are found on the CAA Scheme of Charges document.
The cost of fuel is often included in your package or hourly rate.
► Course Duration
Despite the minimum requirement for 45 hours tuition for the PPL, the national ‘pass average’ is between 55 and 60 hours. Passing in 45 hours is feasible provided you can maintain continuity without large breaks in learning. The good news is you’re flying for enjoyment, so the course duration may not particularly bother you!
Ground school exams must be passed in an 18 month period. By committing to one session a week, students will often do two or three hours within that slot. This means that students can aim to comfortably pass the PPL in a year*. In fact, very determined students pass in less than two months.
*You should allow for poor weather and holidays when estimating how long the course will take to complete.
What Are The Privileges Of Holding A PPL?
► EASA-PPL holders are permitted to:
- Fly an aircraft with a take off weight that does not exceed 5700kgs.
- Fly during daylight hours in visibility greater than 3km remaining in sight of the surface at all times.
- Carry passengers without payment. Sharing expenses is allowed.
- Receive remuneration for flight instruction for up to PPL training.
Is My PPL Licence Valid Forever?
Your EASA-PPL is valid for lifetime, but your Single Engine Piston Rating is only valid for two years. To keep this ‘current’ you must fly at least 12 hours in the last year before expiry, of which one hour must be with a flying instructor. If you fail to do this you must then re-validate your rating with an approved CAA examiner.
What’s Next After My PPL?
It doesn’t have to be the end! Check out the other qualifications and ratings you can add to the PPL by following our links below:
- Night Rating (NR)
- Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) Rating
- Instrument Rating (IR)
- Flight Instructor Training
- Aerobatic Certificate