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As per a recent answer:

  • A Private Pilot certificate removes a lot of the restrictions of the recreational cert. You're no longer restricted in where you can fly*, the number of passengers you can carry, can fly at night, and are even allowed some (very limited) business use. You still can't be compensated for being a pilot, though.

  • A Commercial Pilot certificate allows you to work as a pilot, and fly for compensation or hire.

But... why does this distinction exist? If you can be trusted to fly safely on a Private Pilot license, why can't you be trusted to do the exact same thing while getting paid?

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Nobody can be trusted to fly 100% safely. It doesn't matter if you are a brand-new private pilot or a 10000 hour ATP, flying always involves some level of risk. This risk hopefully decreases as pilots gain more proficiency, and the logic is that the more you are exposing the general public to risk, the lower that risk should be.

This is also why different levels of medical certification exist- the FAA accepts that is reasonable to accept a greater level of risk to yourself and your family and friends than it is to expose the general public to.

There are also some additional risks directly involved with receiving compensation. A "mission mindset," where a pilot may accept unacceptable risks because they are too focused on their mission, is already a contributor to many general aviation accidents even when compensation is not involved. It goes without saying that being paid to do something adds additional pressure that may influence any pilot to decide to fly when a no-go decision would be more appropriate.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you know if lobbying by pilot unions had something to do with it as well? $\endgroup$ May 19, 2023 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanReez, I doubt there's any need to lobby - it really isn't very controversial to require a higher standard of a professional. Would you hire a Private Pilot over a Commercial Pilot? $\endgroup$ May 19, 2023 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall yes, I definitely would, as I've previously taken several flights with a friend of mine who has a Private Pilot license. Whether or not I'm paying for the flight doesn't change how I perceive the level of risk. If it's acceptable free of charge it's also acceptable when I'm paying and vice versa. $\endgroup$ May 19, 2023 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough then, but there's a level of trust and knowledge you have with your friend that the general public doesn't have with a stranger. $\endgroup$ May 20, 2023 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ But the public doesn't know that. How would you know whether or not to trust a pilot you've never met? There is a general presumption that someone advertising commercial services (of any sort) has been vetted somehow, and is qualified and competent to do what they advertise. What part of that do you not understand or agree with? $\endgroup$ May 20, 2023 at 0:55
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That one is not so much a decision of the FAA, but rather the power vested in Congress, under Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, giving it broad discretionary power to regulate interstate and international commerce. As such, Congress can have a very large reach in these matters, and demand that pilots who are part of such commerce be subjected to higher standards of scrutiny, than people flying for purely recreational purposes.

Now exactly what a higher level of aviator skill for interstate commerce flying has to do with requiring a pilot be able to perform interesting but stupid parlor tricks like lazy eights and watered down chandelles is beyond me. The majority of commercial jobs as a pilot are out of reach until you obtain an airline transport pilot’s license as well. Ultimately the real reason that you cannot fly for compensation or higher (or may do so in a very limited capacity - see §61.113) is because the government says so.

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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately this narrow interpretation of the Commerce Clause is long obsolete. The Supreme Court ruled all the way back in 1942 that even someone who doesn't participate in commerce can still be subject to Congressional regulation. So the Feds could easily restrict non-commercial aviation as well if they so desired. $\endgroup$ May 20, 2023 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ I am focusing more on commercial aviation than recreational aviation with this post. $\endgroup$ May 20, 2023 at 1:03

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