What is a type rating?

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Answer by Thomas Zerbarini:

The quick answer: A type rating is a rating that is required by the FAA due to the complex characteristics of an aircraft. If an aircraft is over 12,500 lbs Maximum Gross Takeoff Weight and/or is powered by turbojet engines then a type rating is required.
The FAA has an excellent description of the various certificates, rating and type ratings:
Basic pilot certificates are: (a) student; (b) sport; (c) recreational; (d) private; (e) commercial; and (f) airline transport pilot. Examples of other certificates include (a) flight instructor and (b) ground instructor.
Pilot certificates have associated ratings. All certificates except the student pilot certificate have at least one aircraft category/class rating (e.g., Private Pilot with ASEL rating). A type rating is required for any aircraft over 12,500 lbs MGTOW and/or with a turbojet powerplant. There are also ratings for operating privileges (e.g., instrument rating.)
An endorsement attests to the completion of ground and/or flight training required for airman certification testing, or for specific operating privileges. The endorsements required by 14 CFR Part 61 fall into several broad categories:
Student Pilots: Because a student pilot certificate has no aircraft category and class ratings, operating privileges and limitations for solo are conveyed exclusively through instructor endorsements. Endorsements in this category are usually limited not just to category and class, but also to a specific make and model.
Testing for Certificate or Rating: To take a practical test for a pilot certificate or rating, the applicant must have endorsements attesting to aeronautical knowledge and flight proficiency (including aeronautical experience and practical test preparation required in 14 CFR 61.31(a)(6). The flight instructor applicant endorsements for completing the fundamentals of instruction and spin training also fall into this category.
Recurrent Training: To maintain the operating privileges conferred by a pilot certificate or instrument rating, the pilot must have the appropriate endorsement for satisfactory completion of required recurrent training (e.g., flight review or, if needed, instrument proficiency check).
Aircraft Characteristics: The requirement for a type rating is limited to large (greater than 12,500 lbs MGTOW) and turbojet-powered aircraft. However, certain small and piston-powered aircraft have characteristics that require additional training for safe operation. For example, 14 CFR 61.69 specifies training and experience required for towing a glider. Specific aircraft training requirements are outlined in 14 CFR 61.31, and instructor endorsements that attest to the satisfactory completion of this training are the mechanism used to confer the necessary operating privilege. Endorsements related to aircraft characteristics include those for complex, high performance, high altitude, tailwheel, and glider ground operations. In addition, 14 CFR 61.31(h) provides for "additional aircraft type-specific training" in those cases where the Administrator has determined that such training is required.
Here is a link to the list of aircraft that require a type rating:
Once a pilot earns a certificate with associated category and class ratings as well as add on type ratings, they never expire. The catch is that to exercise the privileges of your earned certificates and ratings you must maintain currency and recency of experience. Just like any training, if you keep current its easy to stay current. If your currency lapses it usually requires more training to shake the cobwebs off.
Thomas Zerbarini

What is a type rating?

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