Can You Fly For Compensation With a Private Pilot Certificate?

A Private Pilot Certificate doesn’t necessarily preclude earning money in aviation.

Vern Weiss

No person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire, nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft.

That’s what FAR §61.113 says and there’s no way to dance around it. By “compensation” we’re not just referring to money but, instead, anything of value.

This article should NOT be construed as legal advice. If you’ve got an idea to conduct operations (or validate them) as a private pilot certificate holder, the FAA and proper aviation legal counsel1 should be sought.

However the FARs do allow a certain degree of accommodation so long as a private pilot is paid by his or her business or employer and the flight is only incidental to that business or employment and the aircraft does not carry passengers or property for compensation or hire.

Doctor Franklin owns a Beech Bonanza (as required of all doctors who are pilots). Ol’ Doc Franklin wants to attend the Annual Physicians’ Conference on Obscene Medical Fees in Atlanta. His partner, Doctor Taylor wants to go along. Both men are salaried and flying on company time. Is this legal pursuant to FAR 61.113? Of course it is. But let’s say Doctor Phillips wants to ride along and offers to pay Doc Franklin for flying him to the conference. Uh-uh. No-can-do! Doc Franklin can split the cost of the aircraft expense with the other two doctors but that is as far as it can go.

The Federal Aviation Regulations are quite explicit about what can and can’t be done with a private pilot certificate. One thing that a private pilot can do is give airplane rides for a charitable event or non-profit organization. However, there are some additional restrictions found in FAR 91.146 that must be met.

A private pilot may accept reimbursement of expenses involved in search-and-rescue operations under the auspices of a governmental body. Fortunately, search-and-rescue operations are not an everyday occurrence so let’s talk about careers in which you can fly as a pilot and receive pay.

Probably the most popular means of employment permitting you to fly and accept compensation is that of an aircraft salesperson. The regs prohibit you from such gainful employment until you have accumulated 200 hours. But after you’ve got 200 hours total time you can demonstrate an aircraft in flight to a prospective buyer while making money to do it.

Do you have a glider club nearby? Once you accrue 100 hours and meet the requirements of FAR §61.69 you can tow gliders or non-powered ultra light aircraft and receive compensation for your services.

A light sport aircraft on the runway

Photo by: Michael Tefft

Want to be a test pilot? According to the FARs, under FAR Part 21 a private pilot may act as pilot in command for purposes of production flight testing light-sport aircraft to be certificated in the light-sport category.

The definition of what constitutes a violation has ricocheted back and forth between the courts and the FAA for years. Remember earlier I said compensation is considered anything of value? According to the feds, this also means that a private pilot cannot barter pilot services for goods or services. “If you’ll fly me to Oshkosh this summer I’ll paint your garage…or give you my tickets to Saturday’s Cardinals-Phillies game…or…” Sorry. It’s all verboten.

Although it is not flying per se, a private pilot can use the certificate for many aviation-related careers and some of them are quite lucrative. Visit any of the Internet job boards and type “private pilot” into the search window. You’ll find good-paying jobs looking for people with a private pilot certificate in software development, avionics engineering and development, aviation product sales, airport management, FBO management and even in the “dark side” of aviation (as far as pilots are concerned these days) “flying” UAVs. The private pilot certificate is a highly sought after commodity and can link your other professional skills with positions that are allied to flying.

Other areas in which private pilots have tried to skirt the regs is by doing aerial photography and pipeline/power line patrol flying. Well-known aviation attorney and writer John Yodice2 tells of one legal decision in which an attempt to nullify the restriction didn’t work. An employee of a power company proposed to his employer that he replace the company contractor used to fly patrols of its power lines. The rule of law is that the flying services must be incidental to the service being provided and the FAA said that since aerial power line patrol operations are a foreseeable and normal part of the power business, even if relatively infrequent, they are therefore not incidental. The power company must use commercially certificated pilots.

Careful of the “Smoking Gun”

Do private pilots fly for compensation and outside of the law? You bet. And some of them get away with it for a long time. There also have been local FBOs selling charters on their airplanes that do not hold Part 135 certificates and they merrily have got away with it; for a time. But run an airplane off a slick runway, clip a fuel truck with a wing or blow a tire on landing and the feds are going to put every aspect of your flight under their microscope. You don’t want it to surface that you received compensation for flying contrary to the FARs because it will become most unsavory for you. The FAA generally doesn’t fine pilots for violations. They go after certificate actions, which means suspensions or in extreme cases, revocation. More and more enforcement actions are blended into the Department of Justice these days so it isn’t worth making yourself vulnerable.

Keep your nose clean.

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Footnotes and References:

1 – I cannot stress strongly enough “proper aviation legal counsel.” There are attorneys running around out there who advertise in the Yellow Pages® that they are “aviation attorneys.” Was it Shakespeare that said, “A lawyer who holds a private pilot certificate does not an aviation attorney make?” Get recommendations and after talking to the attorney, if you are not dazzled by his or her aviation knowledge and expertise, run and don’t look back. I had to explain to one of those so-called “aviation attorneys” one time the difference between GMT/UTC and local time and that altitudes above 17,999 feet are called “flight levels.”

2 – Aircraft Owner’s & Pilot’s Association AOPA Pilot, “Interpreting the rules on business flying” John Yodice, October 1997

Competency vs Proficiency: A Look at Flying Aircraft Safely

When Flying Aircraft, Exceeding Flight Minimums = Maximum Safety in the Skies!

Margie O’Connor

Competency versus Proficiency. Flying aircraft competently means you have met the standards. Flying aircraft proficiently means you’ve taken that extra step to gain a certain comfort level in the cockpit – you’ve refined and built your competence to a point where you are confident (but not arrogant). As pilots, we must maintain certain minimums to fly legally. But sometimes the minimums only make us competent…not proficient.

Take for instance the fatal aircraft crash of a Piper Arrow on approach to an airport under a moonless night sky with Visual Flight Rule (VFR) conditions. The pilot held a commercial license, instrument and multi-engine ratings and more than 2,000 flight hours.

How did this happen to a seemingly competent pilot? Despite his impressive history of qualifications, he had only logged 2 night take-offs and landings the previous month; prior to that, it had been 7 years since he had flown at night! And yet, he still chose to fly.

Good judgment so often goes hand-in-hand with practice and training. And everyone is different. The challenge is recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and admitting to when you may need a little extra to gain the edge necessary to become safe. To exercise your piloting skills safely and proficiently, you must avoid getting wrapped around the word “minimum” and strive to hone your skills.

Many General Aviation (GA) pilots are part-timers so flying on a regular basis isn’t always possible because of competing demands. So determining your level of proficiency is sometimes difficult. Looking at where you’re at in your flight training often provides a good gauge. For instance, if you just got your instrument ticket (congratulations) you’re undoubtedly more proficient than the general aviation instrument rated pilot who only flies the minimum 6 approaches within the preceding 6 months, to keep “current”.

Most are aware of the flight minimums but just in case you’ve forgotten, fly with me as we go through a refresher. Who knows, you may just discover a thing or two about your competency level and just maybe, how to achieve that level of expertise that will make you a much safer pilot.

Regulatory Minimums for Flying Aircraft

Recent Flight Experience (FAR 61.57 (a) and (b))

Simply put, if you plan to take your significant other up flying because you think it would be insanely romantic to propose to her during the flight (or if you’re just heading somewhere warm with all your newly acquired friends) then you must have made 3 takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days.
And if you plan to fly at night, those takeoffs and landings must be to a full stop and performed during the period from 1 hour after the sun goes down to 1 hour before the sun rises (now that’s early morning).

Flight Review (FAR 61.56) – previously known as the Biennial Flight Review (BFR)

Once you achieve the coveted ability to pilot an aircraft as the sole manipulator of the controls (very cool), you must maintain your privileges by undergoing a flight review roughly every 2 years, consisting of 1 hour of ground and 1 hour of flight. If you recently passed a test for an advanced rating or license (think Commercial or Instrument), you are exempt. Passing a phase of the FAA’s pilot proficiency program also qualifies.

Instrument Experience (FAR 61.57 (c))

To fly in weather less than VFR minimums or straight-up IFR weather, you must have your instrument rating (duh). And to comply with the regs, you must have performed 6 instrument approaches, holding and tracking, and intercepting and tracking using navigational systems within the 6 months preceding the month you are flying in either in an aircraft or a flight simulator (could this get any more confusing?).

If you have access to an aviation training device, then 3 hours of instrument experience within the 2 calendar months preceding your flight will suffice. You still must perform 6 instrument approaches, holding procedures, intercepting and tracking and 4 unusual attitude recoveries (from various configurations).

And it gets better. You can combine aircraft, simulator and training device to fulfill the requirements- yay! If you choose to accept this route, you must still log the 6 instrument approaches within the preceding 6 calendar months (plus the intercepting, tracking, and holding) but you can combine your flight experiences using the different modes.

Instrument Proficiency Check (FAR 61.57 (d))

Bummer. You failed to meet the minimum instrument experience requirements within the preceding 6 months or maybe you’ve been away from flying longer than 6 months – if you fall into either category, then to regain competency, you must undergo an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC) with a designated examiner, an authorized instructor or other qualified pilot.

Working to exceed the minimums and gain expertise not only makes you a better pilot but also makes you safer in the air. And I, for one, would much prefer to be a contributing member of the friendly skies rather than a dangerous blob, flying “fat, dumb, and happy”.

When you go beyond your personal flying limits (or you purposefully break the rules…think little devil on your shoulder), you tend to get uncomfortable which can land you in some less-than-desirable situations.

Regaining Competency Flying Aircraft and Beyond!

Cessna 182 on the runwayPlentiful options exist to help you in your quest for competency and beyond. More flight time, conducted with a great fight instructor, is always a good place to start. But if cost is an issue, many less expensive (often free) alternatives exist to help get you back into the cockpit, brush up on your current capabilities or gain the experience and knowledge to dominate the skies!

A Rusty Pilots Seminar (provided by AOPA) may sound like an event planned for a retirement community but in reality, it’s an excellent way to get back into flying if the only thing you’ve “piloted” for the past (fill-in-the-blank) years has been your automobile.

A Rusty Pilots Seminar is free (which is always good) and offered at many locations (check the Rusty Pilots Seminar link for a list of seminars near you). I chose one close to my sister-in-law so I was able to combine a visit with the event. The seminar consisted of a few hours of ground lecture (with ample coffee and food provided), which fulfilled the 1-hour ground requirement for the annual flight review. Aircraft and instructors were available afterward (yes a fee but nominal) to complete the flight requirement per FAR 61.56.

The WINGS program (provided by the FAA’s Safety Team or FAASTeam) is another great way to get closer to proficiency. You learn through seminars, online classes or actual flight training. Sign-up is-you guessed it-FREE and many of the classes are free, too.

Remember, gaining expertise in flying aircraft takes consistent practice over time…10,000 hours, to be precise…yep, according to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, research shows that’s the magic number.

So open a book…or a browser and get studying. And the next time you embark on a flight into the wild blue, remember to do a self-check. Are you just flying the minimums or are you doing what you can to become an expert aviator in the sky?

Happy flying…safely and proficiently!

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.


Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). (2001). (Identification: IAD01FA038).

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