Aircraft Categories and Classes Explained

One of the most common questions in the aviation community, especially for beginning pilots and mechanics is: What are the aircraft categories and classifications? According to the FAA, an aircraft category refers to the “intended use or operating limits” of a particular group of aircraft. The classification of the aircraft refers to a group of aircraft with the same types of characteristics. However, the class and category is dependent on whether you are talking about pilot certificate ratings or aircraft categories and classes.

Aircraft Categories

Aircraft categories are different depending on whether you are talking about the aircraft or the pilot’s certificate.

Pilot Certificate Categories

  • Airplane – Engine-driven, fixed-wing aircraft
  • Lighter-Than-Air – Aircraft that uses a gas that is lighter than air in order to rise and remain in the air.
  • Powered Parachute – A powered type of aircraft that has a flexible wing, frame and wheels. The wing is not in the proper position or ready to provide lift until the aircraft is moving.
  • Rotorcraft – Flight is maintained by one or more spinning rotors.
  • Weight-Shift-Control – Also known as a hang glider. This aircraft contains a motor but is only directionally controlled by changes in the center of gravity rather than by control surfaces.

CFR 14 Aircraft Categories

When we talk about aircraft categories in relation to the size and maneuverability of the aircraft, we are talking about the categories as they are listed under CFR 14.

  • Acrobatic – These airplanes have no flight maneuver restrictions other than limitations posed by certain flight tests. They have a maximum of nine seats, not including pilot seats and that weigh no more than 12,500 pounds.
  • Commuter – defined as a multi-engine, propeller-driven aircraft with 19 or fewer passenger seats and weighing less than 19,000 pounds.
  • Experimental – Issued under a special airworthiness certificate. These aircraft are typically used for research and development, crew training, exhibition, air racing and market surveys. They can also include amateur-built or kit-built aircraft, and they can be light sport or unmanned aircraft.
  • Light Sport (LSA) – Operates under a special airworthiness certificate. This is any sport aircraft that does not fall under the designations of kit-built, gyro-plane or transitioning ultralight.
  • Limited – reserved for military aircraft that have been converted and/or modified for civilian use.
  • Normal – Aircraft contains nine or fewer seats and has a maximum takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or less. Not approved for acrobatic flight.
  • Primary – These aircraft have special airworthiness certificates, and they are manufactured in accordance with a production certificate.
  • Restricted – Aircraft designed for a specific use, such as agriculture, forest services, aerial surveying and weather control.
  • Transport – More than 10 seats weighing more than 12,500 if jet engine. If piston-engine, greater than 19 seats and a maximum takeoff weight of more than 19,000 pounds.
  • Utility – Contains nine seats or less not including pilots and has a maximum takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or less. These airplanes are approved for limited aerobatics.

Aircraft Classifications

When we talk about aircraft classifications, we are talking about groups of aircraft that have similar flying characteristics when it comes to their propulsion, in-flight handling, and the way they land. Classifications also correspond closer to the airman certificate categories than they do the aircraft categories.

  • Airplane – Single-engine land or sea or multi-engine land or sea
  • Rotorcraft – helicopter or gyroplane
  • Lighter-Than-Air – balloons or airships
  • Powered Parachutes – land or sea
  • Weight-Shift-Control – land or sea

Maintenance for Your Single-Engine or Multi-Engine Fixed-Wing Aircraft

Double M Aviation is your Lakeland headquarters for aircraft maintenance. Our A&Ps are experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to inspecting, repairing, and maintaining acrobatic, utility, commuter, and normal single-engine and multi-engine piston, turbine and turboprop airplanes weighing less than 12,500 pounds. We offer piston and turboprop engine repair, airframe inspections, propeller balancing, exterior painting, and interior upgrades, all types of inspections, and certified weighing.

To get your aircraft maintenance and upgrades performed in a timely manner, call us at 863-940-3450.


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