This is still the rating most people have in mind when they hear a friend say, "I am a pilot." The day a person passes the flight exam for this rating is the day the FAA bestows an extremely large set of flying permissions. The new Private Pilot can legally fly to any airport in the country, from the smallest grass strip to JFK in New York.
She can fly airplanes with one, two, four, six seats or more. She can fly in the daylight, or at night. And subject to "endorsements" and "type ratings" just about any single engine airplane is available to her. Flight training for Private Pilots who are taught by a free-lance instructor is governed by Federal Air Regulation (FAR) Part 61 subparts C and E. For those students who get their instruction from a formal school instead of from a free-lance instructor, their instruction will be governed by FAR Part 141, Appendix B. In either case, the new pilot will become accomplished in the hands-on flying skills of taking off, landing and navigating from one point to another. He will learn the details of operating at small unimproved un-towered runways and at large airports with control towers and radar controllers. He will receive instruction in, and will practice solo, flying cross-country to distant locations. He will learn to fly at night and will receive an introduction to flight by instruments only.
Private pilots are not allowed to fly for pay, but there are a couple of small exceptions. For example, if a Private Pilot is flying with friends, they can split the costs equally. A Private Pilot can use an airplane to travel to business locations. And a Private Pilot with at least 500 hours of flight experience can participate in various charitable flights even though participants might pay a fee.
By regulation, a Private Pilot will attain at least 40 hours of experience (under part 61 or 35 hours under Part 141) which will include at least 20 hours of instruction and 10 hours (five hours under Part 141) of solo practice. And that 20 hours of instruction, by regulation, will include at least three hours of cross-country training, three hours of night training, three hours of instrument training, and three hours of review for the flight examination. (Since these 12 hours of regulatory instruction leave only eight hours of the 20 hours of instruction mandated, nearly all students will receive more than 20 hours of instruction. Full details are here)
At the end of the training, the would-be Private pilot will undergo three examinations- a written exam, an oral exam and a flight exam. The written exam is multiple choice and must be successfully completed before taking the oral and flight exams. The oral and flight exams occur somewhat simultaneously. One side note about the written exam is that a person who holds a Private or Recreational License for airplanes is not required to take any more written exams for any other type of aircraft.
Medical Exam – Yes, there is that. A would-be Private Pilot must pass a third-class medical examination which is conducted by an FAA aero-medical doctor. This is the least stringent of the medical examinations and is generally not a problem for healthy individuals with correctable eyesight. In many cases, even those individuals with some level of disability can attain a waiver with the help of their flight instructor, local FAA office, and aero-medical doctor. This examination is repeated every five years for pilots under the age of 40, and every two years for pilots over that age.
In 2016, Congress Directed the FAA to amend the regulations concerning medical examinations, directing that the Third Class Exam for Private Pilots be eliminated for pilots who have had an exam within the past ten years. Those rules are supposed to be in place by mid - 2017.