Sometimes we get questions about "commercial pilots," by which people mean pilots working for air carriers (who hold an ATP) rather than people who hold a commercial certificate.

Other times, we have people asking questions specifically about holders of a commercial certificate.

Although its usually pretty easy to tell in which sense the word is being used, should there be a way to differentiate between these two usages of the term commercial pilot?

One thing that occurs to me is that maybe we can tag questions with "commercial-certificate" or "ATP-certificate" (and also student, private, recreational, sport pilot) for questions specifically related to pilot certification questions as per Part 91.


3 Answers 3


A quick search on the site reveals that for most questions (e.g. here and here), the term "commercial pilot" refers to pilots who get paid to fly, rather than the license. I suggest we keep it that way, since non-aviation users are probably not familiar with CPL and ATPL.

I just found out that we don't have tags for the full name of the licenses (we have "ppl", but a search on "private" only returns "private-airport"). "ppl" tag has a description, but not "cpl" and "atpl".

"Commercial pilot" is also different to "airline pilot". Airline pilots typically don't tow banners, give aerial tours, or do crop dusting.

  1. For questions which refer to pilots getting paid outside airliners, use "commercial-aviation" to avoid confusion (we already have that one).
  2. For questions referring to airline pilots, use "airline-pilot".
  3. Currently there is no "certificate" or "license" tag. We have an "airman-certification" tag, but it relates to pilots, mechanics, controllers as well. A "pilot-license" tag would be helpful to tag questions which is related about "a permit which allows one to operate an aircraft". Alternatively we can create one tag for each type of pilot license (private, sport, etc.).

I think the best interpretation of the term 'commercial pilot' is a pilot who gets paid to fly. This includes, but is not limited to, airline pilots.

From the context of the question it is often easy to see whether the airline pilots are meant or a broader group of pilots. Tags like , or usually give it away.

I would not mix this with licensing. Especially we shouldn't say that equates to . In general airline pilots do not require an Air Transport Pilot License (ATPL) to fly as Second in Command (SIC) which is the official term for co-pilot. The big exception is the USA which deviates from ICAO Annex 1 and requires the SIC to be in possession of an ATPL, while in most countries a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) is sufficient to fly as SIC in an airline, sometimes combined with a frozen ATPL.

Only if question are specifically about licensing then the licensing tags apply, in preference in combination with a jurisdiction.

  • $\begingroup$ But that's not how the questions are asked. Lots of questions on exercising the privileges of a Commercial Certificate which use the phrase commercial pilot. Unless you think we should edit those to say commercial certificate $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @rbp when it is specifically about privileges of the CPL, then the CPL tag applies. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima Mod
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 20:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I don't agree with that. In my experience when a layman says "commercial pilot", he means an airline pilot, regardless of whether he is 'captain' or 'co-pilot'. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima Mod
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 20:42

If we created "commercial pilots license" and synonym "cpl", "airline transport pilots license" and syn. "atpl", and "private pilots license" and syn. "ppl"... does that suffice for the world? or do we need more?

Seems to me we have three things, of differing types: persons, jobs, and licenses to be that person doing that job. Meaning if I am being paid to fly a banner, I am a person (commercial pilot) doing a job (commercial piloting (?)) and needing a CPL (?).

If I fly 747's from France to the US and back for a living, then I'm a commercial pilot and an airline pilot and a (captain or first officer), and I need an ATPL (?).

Seems like an awful lot of tags, just for the US/FAA. How many more would we need to add European, South American, Chinese, etc.?

  • $\begingroup$ I think all jurisdictions have similar licensing structure, so why not use generic terms $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ agree with @rbp - e.g. "ppl" would refer to private pilot license anywhere around the globe. A question about Part 61 in the US can be tagged as "ppl" "faa". $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ PPL, CPL, MCPL (which we don't have in the US), ATPL, SPL (Sport Pilot License, never seen it abbreviated), RPL (Recreational Pilot License - again, never seen it abbreviated) -- there are probably more that I'm just not thinking of :) $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 20:10

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