For Pilots, the FAA issues certificates (not licenses) divided by the privileges granted, the Category and the Class; Ratings are also attached to certificates.

For most pilots the first certificate after the student pilot certificate will be PP-ASEL (private pilot, airplane single engine land). The privileges for this one are private, indicating that the pilot cannot fly for compensation. The category is airplane rather than, for example, rotocraft or lighter-than-air. The class is single engine land rather than, for example, multi-engine sea. After the private, the usual progression sees the pilot add an instrument rating, which hones the pilot's skills and allows the pilot to fly in some types of inclement weather, depending on the capabilities of the airplane they fly.

In some parts of the of the country, students are testing for the sport pilot certificate as their first certificate, but with the complexity of the New York metro airspace and the restrictions on the sport certificate, the private is a much more suitable as a first certificate. Also note that the sport pilot and recreational pilot certificate are only good within the United States. If you want to do an outback flying tour, for example, you will need at least a private pilot certificate.
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Did you know?...

The federal government didn't get into the pilot certificate game until 1917. Until then, pilot certificates in the US were issued by a private group called the Aero Club of America, a child of the AAA, and occasionally by the state governments.

Aero Club certificates #1-5 were issued in 1911 to a group of already qualified pilots in alphabetical order by name. This is why the Wright Brothers had certificates #4 and #5, not #1 and #2.Shades of Mr. Burns: "Social security number? Naught, naught, naught, naught, naught, naught, naught, naught, Two. Damn Roosevelt"
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