There’s a reason why the Private Pilot Certificate is often called “a license to learn.” It should be the beginning of your education as a pilot, not the end. In reality, every flight you make can provide opportunities to learn if you have the right attitude. But one of the best ways to become a better and safer pilot is by earning add-on ratings, even if you never put that rating to use once it’s in your pocket. Plus they’re challenging, fun and answer the question of what to do with that private ticket now that you’ve got it.

For example, a glider rating can usually be accomplished in a couple of weekends and, even if you never plan on flying without an engine again, it can do wonders for your stick and rudder skills along with understanding lift and where to find it. For that matter, a glider rating can help you prepare for flying without an engine when you least expect it. There are some well-known instances of airline pilots who attribute their successful dead-stick landings in part to their experience as a glider pilot. The glider-pilot captain of the Boeing 767 that suddenly became the famous “Gimli Glider” after it ran out of fuel comes to mind. Google it. It’s a fascinating story.

Then there’s the seaplane rating. Again, an educational and fun add-on to your private pilot certificate. Even if you will never own a floatplane, you’ll learn a lot that will make you a better pilot in your single-engine land airplane. You’ll become much more sensitive to wind direction and strength by watching the waves on a lake. And seaplane pilots also rely heavily on their stick and rudder skills, both of which will make you sharper in any airplane.

In our opinion, one of the most highly respected learning experiences of any add-on rating is the tail wheel endorsement. It’s also the one that will give you a lot of bragging rights. If you’ve ever met a taildragger pilot, you may have heard them whisper under their breath that real pilots don’t need that extra wheel. Learning to taxi, takeoff, land and taxi again in a tail dragger gives new meaning to the maxim “The flight isn’t over until the plane is back in the hangar.”

We haven’t forgotten ratings like commercial and the most frequently acquired of all add-on ratings: the instrument rating. But those are far more time-consuming, intense and expensive tickets to earn. On the other hand, there is no add-on-rating that will teach you more or be as useful as the instrument rating, even if you never fly in the clouds. You’ll learn precision in holding airspeed and altitude. You’ll learn to plan ahead and for the unforeseen. You’ll learn how to make a stabilized approach. You’ll learn to improve your radio skills. You’ll even learn how to stay alive on that day you encounter weather you didn’t think you’d ever fly in. Even if you are unable to complete your instrument training, what you do complete will make you a better pilot. You will really understand and appreciate that saying of “I’d rather be on the ground wishing I were in the air, rather than in the air wishing I were on the ground”. Time spent with a good CFII will give you skills that will serve you well on any future flight.

The same goes for working toward the commercial rating. Many of the commercial maneuvers are designed to increase safety and precision. And the practical test standards are tighter. For example, the commercial standards require that you hold your altitude within 50 feet vs.100 feet for the private check ride.

Ratings such as the multi-engine and various type ratings are another topic for another time. Can they make a single-engine private pilot better? Of course. Any training can. But you will spend most of your time on your way to a multi-engine rating learning what to do if you find yourself flying on one engine. And although a type-rating will certainly raise your game, the skills you learn will deteriorate quickly if you don’t use them in that type in the near future.

Finally there is a small financial benefit to adding a rating or endorsement. As an Avemco customer, all of the training and activities outlined here qualify for the Avemco Safety Rewards Program which may earn you up to a 10% premium credit*. Will it pay the cost of getting the rating or endorsement? No, but will it help? Yes. We provide a 10% credit because our experience tells us that pilots that train on an annual basis and continue to earn additional ratings and endorsements are less likely to have an accident than those that don’t.

The one thing we haven’t spent much time discussing is perhaps the main reason for getting any rating: It’s fun. The reason you became a pilot in the first place was because you loved the idea of flying. New ratings teach you new ways to love it.


*Premium credits subject to underwriting guidelines.

Avemco does not provide technical or legal advice, and is not affiliated with companies whose products and services are highlighted, advertised, or discussed in content contained herein. Content is for general information and discussion only, and is not a full analysis of the matters presented. The information provided may not be applicable in all situations, and readers should always seek specific advice from the FAA and/or appropriate technical and legal experts (including the most current applicable guidelines) before taking any action with respect to any matters discussed herein. In addition, columns and articles solely reflect the views of their respective authors, and should also not be regarded as technical or legal advice.