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Flying For Hire: Privileges And Limitations Of A Commercial Pilot Certificate.

By Gregory J. Reigel

© 2005 All rights reserved.


Many people, both pilot and non-pilot alike, think that if a pilot has a commercial pilot certificate he or she can get paid for flying. However, the commercial pilot certificate alone does not grant the privilege of receiving compensation for flying under all circumstances. Commercial pilots must be clear on both the privileges and limitations of their airman certificate.

In many instances, a commercial operator certificate is also needed in order for the commercial pilot to be able to legally accept compensation, whether monetary or otherwise, for flying. If a commercial pilot receives compensation for flying persons or property for hire in the absence of a required commercial operator certificate, the pilot risks an enforcement action that could result in suspension or revocation of the pilotís commercial pilot certificate.

Privileges and Limitations

Federal Aviation Regulation 61.133 provides that ď[a] person who holds a commercial pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft (i) Carrying persons or property for compensation or hire, provided the person is qualified in accordance with this part and with the applicable parts of this chapter that apply to the operation; and (ii) For compensation or hire, provided the person is qualified in accordance with this part and with the applicable parts of this chapter that apply to the operation.Ē This language is broad and appears to authorize a commercial pilot to fly for compensation or hire with minimal limitation. But, before a commercial pilot accepts payment for his or her flying, further analysis is necessary to make sure that this privilege is not limited by some other part of the FARís.

Further review of the FARís leads to FAR Part 119 which states that a commercial operator certificate is required when a pilot operates a flight carrying persons or property for compensation or hire. The most common of these certificates are the Part 121 (airline) and Part 135 (on-demand charter) certificates. Although this rule appears to require a commercial operator certificate for all flight operations in which the commercial pilot is flying for compensation or hire, fortunately, this is not the case.

The Part 119 requirement for a commercial operator certificate is qualified. A variety of flight operations are specifically excluded from this certificate requirement. The exceptions include flight instruction, nonstop sightseeing flights, ferry or training flights, crop dusting, seeding, spraying, and bird chasing, banner towing, aerial photography or survey, fire fighting and powerline or pipeline patrol, to name a few. A commercial pilot can receive compensation for these flight operations without having a commercial operator certificate.

Some of the opportunities, such as flight instruction, are fairly straightforward with respect to what is allowed and not allowed. Yet, even with flight instruction, a commercial pilot who is receiving compensation for flying must be certain that he or she is clearly operating within the parameters of FARís relating the flight operation at hand. Quite often, the flight operation may be conducted within the ďgray areaĒ of the FARís. In those situations, an experienced aviation attorney can help to clarify whether the commercial pilotís receipt of compensation is legal and consistent with the FARís.

For a commercial pilot trying to build flight time to meet the minimum flight time requirements required under commercial operator certificates, the flight operations excluded from the commercial operator certificate requirement provide the opportunity for the commercial pilot to get paid while he or she is building flight time. In the absence of these exceptions, a commercial pilot trying to build flight time would be required to beg, borrow or buy the time.


A commercial pilot certificate grants a pilot the privilege of earning compensation in exchange for flying. However, this privilege is not as broad as it would first appear. While opportunities to legally fly for hire exist, without a commercial operator certificate they are limited to certain specific operations. At the end of the day, commercial pilots need to be aware of the limitations placed upon the privilege of flying for hire in order to avoid situations that could compromise their commercial pilot certificate.

The information contained in this web-site is intended for the education and benefit of those visiting the Aero Legal Services site. The information should not be relied upon as advice to help you with your specific issue. Each case is unique and must be analyzed by an attorney licensed to practice in your area with respect to the particular facts and applicable current law before any advice can be given. Sending an e-mail to Aero Legal Services or Gregory J. Reigel does not create an attorney-client relationship. Advice will not be given by e-mail until an attorney-client relationship has been established.

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