Tom Gets His ATP (Part 1): ‘Because It’s There’

Why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to another written test and a checkride … especially this one? Of course, the Airline Transport Pilot certificate (ATP) is required to be captain of a scheduled airliner. But what about the non-airline-bound pilot? What motive does he or she have for pursuing the Airline Transport Pilot ticket?

Lower Rates? Earning the ATP requires a high level of proficiency and professionalism. So, one reason to get your ATP might be to get a discount on aviation insurance. Does it work? In a word, no. To the best of my knowledge there’s no insurance underwriter that gives a discount to ATP holders. For that matter, even the Commercial ticket doesn’t get you a discount (although in some types of airplanes many underwriters require the “Commercial” to get insurance at all).

Greater Exposure? In fact, most insurance companies feel a Commercial or ATP pilot might be more likely to lose a court case should their flying result in a lawsuit. Think about it — it would be easy to sway a non-aviation jury against a pilot by claiming he or she should have performed better by virtue of the advanced certificate. “A Private Pilot might be excused for such an occurrence,” the lawyer might argue, but “a Commercial or, especially, an Airline Transport Pilot should have known better.” Advanced pilot certificates might actually work against you (and your insurance company) in the unlikely event you’re taken to court. This possibility offsets the true benefits of the advanced training and proficiency, so it’s a “wash.” So far as your insurance premiums are concerned — you don’t get a discount for the advanced license, but at least you don’t get charged more for the potentially increased liability.

The Airline Transport Pilot certificate is the pinnacle of aviation credentials. To hold the ATP is to say you meet the most stringent requirements placed on any pilot by the FAA. It’s the “doctorate” of the aviation world. In my case, I wanted my ATP “because it’s there.”


  • You must be at least 23 years old;
  • Hold at least a Third Class medical (First Class to exercise the privileges of the ATP);
  • Be able to read, speak and understand the English language; and
  • Be of “good moral character” (whatever that means).


  • A Commercial pilot certificate and Instrument Rating in the category and class (for instance, “airplane, multiengine”);
  • 1500 total flight hours, including at least:
  • 500 hours of cross-country flight time;
  • 100 hours of night flight time; and
  • 75 hours of instrument (actual and simulated) flight time in airplanes


  • 250 hours PIC in airplanes;
  • 100 cross-country as PIC; and
  • 25 at night as PIC.

There are provisions for substituting some simulator experience, second-in-command time, and a number of logged takeoffs and landings for the required flight experience. It’s also possible to earn ATP privileges in single-engine airplanes only. Read FAR Part 61 and the ATP Practical Test Standards for details. Note: The rules differ somewhat for pilots aiming for an ATP in amphibious airplanes or helicopters.

Pure jet” airplanes, turboprop and piston airplanes with a maximum certificated takeoff weight over 12,500 pounds require the pilot-in-command to have an FAA “type rating.” The type rating is a notation on the pilot’s certificate allowing PIC privileges in the specific “type,” or make and model of airplane. Earning a type rating consists of passing a checkride to ATP standards in a specific type of airplane (or in some cases, an approved flight simulator). The written test is not required for a type rating.
Translation: A Commercial or even a Private pilot can earn a type rating and the applicant doesn’t have to meet the flight experience requirements of the ATP to earn the type rating — so, you’re in luck! …if your buddies chip in and buy you a CitationJet for your birthday, that is.

The ATP certificate requires the pilot to complete a written examination and a practical (oral and flight) test. In Part II, we’ll look at the ATP written examination — including why you should study both Parts 121 and 135 before signing up for the test.