The Difference Between Pilot Certificates, Ratings and Endorsements

the difference between pilot certificates and endorsments

In a previous article, we discussed the six types of pilot certificates a person can obtain.  It’s easy to confuse pilot certificates with pilot ratings and pilot endorsements, so it’s important to know the difference. A private pilot or commercial pilot can add a rating on to their certificate to advance their opportunities. In a similar way, he or she might find that an endorsement from an instructor is necessary for some types of flying.

Here are a few different types of pilot ratings and endorsements that can be added onto a certificate:


An instrument rating allows a pilot to fly by sole reference to the instruments in the flight deck, and without any reference to the ground outside. This type of rating can be added on to a private pilot certificate or commercial pilot certificate.

Instrument Instructor

A certified flight instructor (CFI) must add an instrument instructor rating to his certificate (CFI-I) in order to instruct students that want to obtain an instrument rating. Makes sense, right?


A multi-engine rating is an add-on rating to the private pilot certificate. A multi-engine rating is necessary for most advanced training schools, and for those who want to go on to fly in the airlines. For others, it’s an optional add-on rating. A multi-engine rating will allow a pilot to – you guessed it – fly in a twin engine aircraft.  (Aircraft with more than two engines require a type-rating specific to that aircraft.)

Multi-Engine Instructor

A CFI that wants to instruct in a multi-engine airplane must first obtain a multi-engine instructor rating (MEI).


Pilots who already have a private pilot certificate can add a seaplane rating to their certificate. Seaplanes, also called floatplanes, require just a few hours of additional training in order for a pilot to become proficient enough to fly them – as long as the pilot already has a private pilot certificate.


A helicopter rating can be obtained as an add-on to the Private Pilot Single-Engine Land certificate, similar to a seaplane rating. It’s a quick and easy add-on for those that already have private pilot certificates. For those that don’t already have a private pilot certificate, helicopter training would also involve private pilot training.

Pilot Endorsments

In addition to ratings, pilots can earn endorsements to supplement their flying careers. An endorsement is basically a “sign-off” from a certified flight instructor that states that the pilot has received the required training for the particular task. Among the endorsements that pilots can obtain are:


For aircraft that have a tailwheel configuration instead of tricycle gear, extra training is needed for the pilot, mainly because a tailwheel has different landing and steering characteristics than a tricycle gear aircraft.  There is no minimum hour requirement to obtain a tailwheel endorsement, but it usually takes just a few hours of landing practice to get it.

High Performance

A high-performance aircraft is an aircraft that has more than 200 horsepower.  These aircraft are faster than typical aircraft that private pilots fly, and a high-performance endorsement ensures that a pilot will operate a more powerful aircraft safely.


A complex endorsement is needed for aircraft that have retractable landing gear, movable flaps and a controllable-pitch propeller. Flying an airplane with these complex systems requires an additional endorsement from a certified flight instructor because systems and procedures will be different on a complex plane than a non-complex aircraft.

High Altitude

High altitude flying means that a pilot much be familiar with oxygen requirements, oxygen systems, rapid decompression procedures and pilot health problems like hypoxia. Since these topics aren’t covered in much detail during private pilot training, any pilot that wishes to fly a high-altitude capable aircraft must receive an endorsement from an instructor stating that they’ve received additional training.

These explanations should help clear up any confusion surrounding pilot certificates, ratings and endorsements. A certificate is the main pilot license that gives you privileges to fly a specific category and class of aircraft. Ratings and endorsements give you additional privileges to use alongside your certificate.

Happy flying!

  • Obidare Paul
    Posted at 05:08h, 18 November

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    • Phoenix East Aviation
      Posted at 06:21h, 18 November

      Obidare Paul,

      Please use our contact form and submit your inquiry.

      Thank you.

  • Adil Amjid
    Posted at 06:48h, 18 November

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    Posted at 07:43h, 18 November

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    Posted at 13:49h, 18 November

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    Posted at 09:32h, 20 November

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    Posted at 20:43h, 20 November

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    Posted at 08:29h, 28 November

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