Recreational Certificates vs. CASA issued Flight Crew Licences

In September 2014 CASA introduced a significant number of Flight Crew Licensing reforms, this has led to the introduction of the Recreational Pilots Licence (RPL) effectively a replacement for the previous GFPT which was a staged version of a restricted Private Pilots Licence.

There is the continual debate about which is better, the recreational certificate or a CASA issued licence? The answer is: neither, but they are different. There is a reason why the ranks of RAAus pilots is growing fast and many private, commercial, airline and military pilots are also members of RAAus and fly our aircraft: simply because it is fun and affordable. But there have been recent changes. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority approved a new licencing system in September 2014 that recognises the need for a purely recreational licence and now offers a relatively simple transition into the formal licencing system with the Recreational Pilot Licence (RPL).

What's the difference between the recreational pilot certificate and the Recreational Pilot's Licence? How do I choose which one to go with?

A Recreational Pilot Certificate allows you to:

  • Fly a two seat recreational registered aircraft in uncontrolled airspace during daylight hours within 25 nautical mile of your departure aerodrome.
  • Use a Driver Licence self-declared health standard.
  • Take a passenger when endorsed to do so.
  • Fly further in uncontrolled airspace with an additional Navigation endorsement.
  • Fly in good weather conditions (VMC)

Compared to recreational flying, a Recreational Pilot Licence (RPL) adds:

  • Fly aircraft with more than two seats up to 1500kg Take-off weight and additional passengers if you hold a Class 2 Medical.
  • Flying in controlled airspace
  • Use a GP issued Recreational Aviation Medical Practitioner - Certificate (RAMP-C) medical
  • Fly aerobatics (extra training required)

Or, with a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) or higher licence

  • Fly at night (with extra training beyond the PPL)
  • Fly on instruments / in cloud (with a lot of extra training)
  • Use a CASA issued Class 2 Medical Certificate

That seems like a lot of extra capability, but it comes at a cost. The average pilot gaining their PPL spends around $20,000 on it. That's three times as much as the average recreational pilot! You also need to get and maintain a class 2 aviation medical, not always feasible for some potential pilots.

You also have to ask yourself if you need all these extras. Many people start off with great plans of taking many family and friends all over the country. The reality is that most 4 or more seat aircraft fly with less than 2 people most of the time. Just go stand at the local airport gate and see how many people get into Cessnas, Beechcraft and Pipers. Paying a lot more for the training and for the aircraft doesn't make a lot of sense if most of the time you don't use it.

But you don't have to choose!

Start with recreational now and if after a couple of years of enjoying flying you find you do want to expand your horizons and go for your private licence, all your experience counts. An experienced RAAus pilot may need only minimal hours to convert to a PPL and after that you can fly both aircraft, whichever is the more appropriate for the flight you are doing.