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This question was originally going to be "Is it possible to earn an ATPL without also ending up with at least one airliner type rating?", but I thought I'd broaden it just a bit (hopefully not too broad).

Requirements for an ATPL in the United States include 1,500 hours total flight time with several minimums in various special conditions and as PIC, "applicable to the aircraft category and class". My question is basically, "what is the definition of 'applicable'?".

For instance, it is theoretically possible, and even useful, to obtain an ATPL in the ASEL class (so the answer to my original question is "yes"; you can earn the FAA's highest certification level without being signed off on anything close to the type of aircraft Southwest or Delta have in their fleet). You could get that license and fly Cessna singles for Ravn Alaska (formerly "Era Alaska" of Discovery Channel fame) or any of the other bush airlines around the country.

However, that represents a lot of flight time before you can even sit the written tests and fly the checkride; 1,500 hours total (250 as PIC), 500 of that XC (100 as PIC), 100 hours night (25 as PIC), and 75 hours real or simulated instrument time (no more than 25 hours in a flight simulator, 50 if you're training under Part 141), all in single-engine fixed-wings. If you then wanted to progress to multis and thus eventually become useful to a major U.S. domestic airline, you would have to start from scratch as a student pilot in the AMEL class.

... Or would you? That's the question; how much of your flight time and/or certification level in one class is "applicable" by FAA regs toward any other class of the same category at the same level of certification? It seems unfair for a pilot with a fairly high ASEL certification to have to start from scratch on flight hours just to fly a plane with floats, or more than one engine, or both. However, they are different classes for a reason; more, or at least different, knowledge and experience is required to taxi a float plane on a lake or to get a multi-engine plane off the flight line. So while there is definitely a lot of overlap between the four "Airplane" classes, it's not 100%.

How about applicability of flight time and certifications to other categories? I'm particularly interested in the "rotorcraft-gyroplane" class and the "powered lift" category, as these were developed as aircraft hybrids which AFAIK have a significant skills overlap with a fixed-wing aircraft. Does flight time in an autogyro count in any capacity towards flight time in a fixed-wing, or vice-versa? How about flying a Harrier? In 50 years when the Osprey makes its way to GA in come capacity, how would existing civilian airplane and/or helicopter pilots get rated to fly it (I hope not by amassing 1,500 hours in an Osprey)? How about something completely different? Even between a fixed-wing and a helicopter there's some overlap (though I'd imagine even the chief pilot of a major airline would be out of his depth in a B204).

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The answers to your question lie in 14 CFR 61.159 for airplanes. Your quoted times for the ATP in the airplane category are correct but some of that time is total time as a pilot, some is just in category and only a small fraction of it is in category and class.

For example, in your hypothetical situation, you have an ATP in ASEL category/class and wanted to add the get the ATP AMEL. All you need to do (aside from any knowledge tests you may require) is 50 hours in AMEL. Of the 1500 hrs TT in airplanes, only 50 are required in class. This is the same to add ASES and AMES ATPs. You could have a certificate with ASEL,ASES,AMEL and AMES all that ATP level all with only 1500 TT as long as you had at least 50 hours in each class.

The situation for rotorcraft/helicopter is similar and can be found in 14 CFR 61.161. To get an ATP helicopter, you need 1200 hrs TT but the only hours that need to be in category and class are:

  • 15 hours at night,
  • 200 hours w/75 PIC, and
  • 25 hrs in actual or simulated IMC

You could accomplish all of that within the 200 required hours. The 200 hours needed in helicopter still count as total time and can be applied toward a fixed wing ATP.

ATP powered-lift requires 250 hours PIC in category with some sub-requirements out of that 250 hours

  • 100 XC powered-lift
  • 25 night powered-lift
  • 75 instrument hours powered-lift

The FAA does not currently issue ATP in rotocraft/gyroplane so you are out of luck there.


If you wanted to min/max optimize the above requirements and get ATP in all of the above the hard category and class requirements boil down to:

  • 50 hrs airplane single-engine land
  • 50 hrs airplane single-engine sea
  • 50 hrs airplane multi-engine land
  • 50 hrs airplane multi-engine sea
  • 200 hrs rotorcraft helicopter
    • 15 hrs at night
    • 75 hrs pilot in command
    • 25 hrs actual or simulated IMC
  • 250 hrs powered lift pilot in command
    • 100 hrs cross country
    • 25 hrs night
    • 75 hrs actual or simulated IMC

At this point you would have:

  • 650 hours TT
  • 325 hours PIC
  • 40 hours night
  • 100 hours cross country
  • 100 hours instrument

Now lets fly 400 hours XC in a single engine (slow and economical) with at least 60 of those hours at night and all of it PIC.

Now we have

  • 1050 TT
  • 725 PIC
    • 400 hrs airplane (at least)
    • 75 rotorcraft helicopter
    • 250 powered-lift
  • 500 XC
    • 400 hrs in airplane
    • 100 hrs in powered lift
  • 100 night
    • 60 hrs in airplane
    • 15 in helicopter
    • 25 in powered-lift

Unless I'm missing something, this is all of the requirements for the ATPs except total time. Go fly anything for another 150 hours and then take the ATP helicopter checkride. Then fly another 300 hours in anything and take all of the other ATP checkrides with 1500 TT.


It is also worth pointing out that type ratings and ATPs are different things. A type rating can be added to a private pilot certificate (though the checkride will be conducted at ATP standards). You can also earn your ATP in an airplane that doesn't require a type rating (e.g. getting an ATP AMEL in a Piper Seminole).

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  • $\begingroup$ Good answer. I found that if you are earning your ATPL in the AMEL class, you are required to take a special airliner training course including at least 10 hours simulator time, above all other requirements for an ATPL. The regulation is slightly vague; the title of the section states it's a regulation for someone getting their ATPL "concurrently" with a multi-engine class or type rating (the usual path for an airline pilot), but the language by itself would apply to anyone who would end up with an ATPL-AMEL certificate, even if they already had an ATPL in single-engine classes. $\endgroup$ – KeithS Jul 22 '15 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithS Yea, I'm not familiar with the changes there. When I did my ATP AMEL you just needed a normal written (choice of a 121 or 135 written) and a checkride. $\endgroup$ – casey Jul 22 '15 at 23:02

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