Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wednesday Search Challenge (6/20/12): What kind of pilot doubled in number over the past decade?

As you know, there are many different kinds of pilots: private pilots, helicopter pilots, captains of airline transports (for the record, my brother is an airline transport pilot).

Over the past decade we’ve seen a remarkable growth in airline travel.  50 billion miles flown in 2001 vs. 867 billion miles in 2011.  (Source: Advisory Council for Transportation Statistics: 2001 data, 2011 data.)  

Amazingly, the total number of US pilots has stayed roughly the same—except in one category. 
Today’s question:  What is the one category of pilot (that is, with a specific kind of US pilot’s license—such as commercial, airline transport, helicopter, etc.) that has more than DOUBLED between 2001 and 2011? 

See if you can figure it out!  (Your first task is to find out how many different kinds of pilot licenses there are...)  

As usual, please include HOW you figured it out and your best estimate about how long it took you to solve the challenge.  

Search on! 


  1. I see 2 categories that fit:

    Rotor craft: 2001=7727, 2011=15298
    Glider: 2001=8473, 2011=21268

  2. Searched: 2011 pilot license statistics

    "Other" certificates (helicopter and glider) doubled from 16,200 in 2001 to 36,900 in 2011

  3. There appear to be 2 categories that fit the criteria: Gliders and Rotorcraft (Helicopters/Gyroplanes). To be completely accurate, Gliders are the only one that have *more than doubled*

    Search method:
    1. Google: "List of types of Pilot's license"
    Result #2 looked promising, but not really.
    2. Back to Result #1, Wikipedia:
    Scroll down..." Number of Active Pilots" Focus on Source data - Reference #13, " FAA Active Airmen": 3.

    Download table #1:
    Either eyeball numbers or setup calculator to show percentage increase from 2000-2009
    Rows 15 & 16 (Rotorcraft, Gliders) show a 197% and 227% increase.

  4. I started by texting a couple people I know. First one texted back a guess of commercial licenses. Did a search for [commercial pilot licenses] and this link caught my eye

    A link in that post took me to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association Statistical Databook and Industry Outlook

    Looking at the 2011 book has previous changes in FAA licenses for many years.

    Based on what I saw there on page 42 I'll say that the answer is rotorcraft licenses.

    15 minutes

  5. Answer: Helicopter-only pilots (specifically, "private helicopter-only" and "airline transport helicopter-only", but not "commercial helicopter-only").


    [ types of pilot licenses ]
    Leads to Wikipedia page about pilot certification in the US ( ). This has a section on the number of active pilots that lists several types, but it doesn't give numbers for the years in interest.

    [ FAA us pilot statistics ]
    Leads to an FAA website titled "U.S. Civil Airmen Statistics" with annual statistics for 1999-2011 ( ). For each year, a table of several Excel spreadsheets is available. Table 1 for each year summarizes the number of each type of pilot. Comparing the data in Table 1 for 2001 and 2011 reveals two categories for which the 2011 number is more than double that for 2001: Helicopter-only and glider-only.

    However, after reading the footnotes, it appears that there was a significant change in the methodlogy for counting "glider-only" pilots starting in 2002, and it appears to be the change in methodology that resulted in the dramatic increase. Therefore, "helicopter-only" appears to be the only category that experienced the increase in question.

    I also consulted Table 7 for each year. This table breaks down the types of "rotocraft" licenses and the number of pilots holding various combinations of licenses. Helicopter-only pilots appear to be split into three categories: private, commercial, and airline transport. Of these, only the numbers for "private" and "airline transport" experienced the more-than-doubling; "commercial helicopter-only" pilots went from 4,886 to 9,417, which is only about a 93% increase.


    About 20 minutes total, broken down as: 5 minutes pursuing a couple random guesses + 5 minutes to find the FAA page + 10 minutes interpreting and comparing the spreadsheets.

  6. A search on 'united states pilot license statistics 2001-2011' brought up the FAA's US civil airmen statistics page, which features statistics on every type of non-military pilot classification available in the US. And the winner would be rotorcraft certifications - increasing from 7770 in 2002 to 15220 in 2011. The 'sport' certification which was established in 2004 has also experienced a dramatic increase, from 134 in 2005 to 4066 in 2011.

    Took about 3 minutes to find the exact information. Another few minutes to figure out what exactly a 'sport' certification was.

  7. Sport Pilot. Took me about 1 minute. I used this search phrase in Google "number of pilots in us" and came up with this webpage:

  8. UAV pilots (drone pilots). Search time: 0 seconds. The steep rise in these pilots was discussed on the "Talk of the Nation" that aired yesterday on my local NPR station (wpln).

  9. If I found the correct information, this took me surprisingly little time to find.

    I did a search for "popular AND pilot AND growth AND license" and the first result was a link to this site ( which then led me to a pdf ( of the 2011 General Aviation Statistical Databook and Industry Outlook.

    There, starting on page 41 there is a section about Pilot Population. There, I was able to see the different pilot certifications: student, recreational, sport, airplane, rotocraft, and glider. The numbers were given from 1990 through 2011, so all I had to do was see which category doubled.

    You are looking for one, but there are in fact, two categories that have more than doubled: rotocraft has gone from 7727 to 15220 (which I guess is less than doubled, but barely) and glider, which jumped from 8473 to 21141.

    I tried cross referencing this on the FAA site (, but their stats seem to only go back to 2002.
    This took me about 7-10 minutes.

  10. I'm pretty sure that there are two categories of pilot license that have almost doubled between 2001 and 2011 - although one can be discounted as the classification method changed in 2001, adding 13000 extra to the numbers. The valid one is rotorcraft licenses (although this hasn't quite doubled). The invalid one is glider licenses.

    The search took under 2 minutes to locate a source (and a bit longer to read and verify the data) and write this!

    My approach was first to define terms. Using Google quickly showed that I needed to search using the term "pilot certification" rather than "pilot license" - and a wikipedia article categorised types of license. I then headed over to which is great for this sort of unstructured statistical data search and put in
    'pilot certification 2001 2011'

    This gave a number of web-sites with numbers of pilots by year allowing me to identify my targets - although the first ones were old data with forecasts for 2010 and 2011. However it allowed me to find a good source for the data that was reproduced each year - by taking the title of one of the listings. I then did a search for
    "2011 general aviation statistical databook" on Google. (Tried 2012 but the latest seems to be 2011).

    This gave as one of the links. There were 7727 active FAA certificated rotorcraft pilots in 2001 and 15220 in 2011 - so not quite doubled. However glider certificates went from 8473 in 2001 to 21826 in 2002 due to the change in counting and 21141 in 2011 (so a fall from 2002). The recalibration of numbers is mentioned in the 2006 and earlier reports but not in the 2010 or 2011 report.

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  12. Rotorcraft pilots went from 7770 to 15220

    Google for "FAA Active Airmen"
    Second Link: "US Civil Airmen Statistics - FAA"
    leads to:

    First Entry in table: "Estimated Active Airmen Certificates Held"
    Pilot--Total 617,128 627,588 594,285 613,746 590,349 597,109 609,737 618,633 625,011 631,762
    Student 1/ 118,657 119,119 72,280 80,989 84,339 84,866 87,213 87,910 87,296 85,991
    Recreational (only) 227 212 234 252 239 239 278 291 310 317
    Sport (only) 4,066 3,682 3,248 2,623 2,031 939 134 NA NA NA
    Airplane 2/
    Private 194,441 202,020 211,619 222,596 211,096 219,233 228,619 235,994 241,045 245,230
    Commercial 120,865 123,705 125,738 124,746 115,127 117,610 120,614 122,592 123,990 125,920
    Airline Transport 142,511 142,198 144,600 146,838 143,953 141,935 141,992 142,160 143,504 144,708
    Rotorcraft (only) 3/ 15,220 15,377 15,298 14,647 12,290 10,690 9,518 8,586 7,916 7,770
    Glider (only ) 4,5/ 21,141 21,275 21,268 21,055 21,274 21,597 21,369 21,100 20,950 21,826

    Rotorcraft went form 7770 to 15220.

    1. I'm not sure that based ont these numbers that it
      has more than DOUBLED between 2001 and 2011.
      2002 = 7,770 & 2011 - 15,220
      it doesn't give a statistic for 2001. 7,770 X 2 = 15,540. So the 2011 statistic of 15,220 falls a little short of that 2002 statistic doubled.

  13. Glider Only Licenses have increased from 8473 in 2001 to 21141 in 2011.

    I found this by searching (with google) US private pilot's licenses issued by year. Followed a link to

    Here, I opened a pdf of "2011 General Aviation Statistical Databook & Industry Outlook" Where I found the information on page 3.1

    This took about 5-7 minutes.

  14. There were three categories that I found to have more than doubled: Sport, Rotorcraft and Glider.

    Dates that I found were from 2001-2009

    Sport increased from N/A to 3,248
    Rotorcraft increased from 7,775 to 15,298
    Gliders increased from 9,387 to 21,268

    Several changes to the law increased these numbers.

    Table 1:

    I searched for 'Licensed Pilots' and saw a Yahoo Answers with a source citing AOPA.

    To find the FAA link I searched 'number of licensed helicopter pilots'

    Two sources, similar numbers and one being the FAA. Less than 10 minutes.

  15. Rotorcraft (only) went from 7,770 to 15,220. found the info on FAA's website with help from my colleagues at FlightAware. Sports went from 0 to 4,066.

  16. According to this data (pg 42):

    Sport(only) went from * to 4066.
    Rotorcraft(only) went from 7727 to 15220.
    Glider(only) went from 8473 to 21141.

    Found by Googling "pilot census 2001", "pilot census 2011" and then followed a few links from some of the top articles.

  17. I first thought it might be the new Sport Pilot license, so I searched on "Sport Pilot License Rates". That just gave me a bunch of links to how much it would cost to get a Sport Pilot license.

    Next I tried searching for "Sport Pilot Numbers". The first return for that was for the Wikipedia entry for Pilot Certifications in the US. In their "Number of active pilots" section, it contained a link to the FAA. On the FAA site, the first link was to a nice Excel spreadsheet with all the data.

    Answer: Rotorcraft.


  18. Sorry, forgot to mention. Took about 10 mins.

  19. I started with a search for "increase in pilot's licenses 2011"
    First hit was

    This page linked to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association’s annual Statistical Databook

    From here I found the 2011 General Aviation Statistical Databook & Industry Outlook

    In this PDF, on page 41, in a chart labeled "Active FAA Certificated Pilots and Non-Pilot Certificates Held (1990-2011)" I found that rotorcraft licenses increased from 7,727 in 2001 to 15,220, which is roughly 7,727 doubled.

    So I'm saying the answer is a rotorcraft license.

    Took about 12 minutes.

  20. Glider pilots?

    Googled "What kind of pilot doubled in number over the past decade?" Found Wikipedia article for "Pilot certification in the United States", which lists different types of pilot certificates. Citation links to page of US Civil Airmen Statistics. Table 1 contains Estimated Active Airmen Certificates Held 2000-2009. Comparing the 2000 to the 2009 column shows glider pilots went from 9,387 to 21,268.

    Question asks for 2001-2011, but I figured it can't be that different, right?

  21. Rotorcraft (7k to 15k)


    1. googled "What kind of pilot doubled in number over the past decade?"

    2. 5 link was for wiki article on Pilot certification in the United States

    3. section on number of active pilots had refrence link to website.

    4. followed refrence to

    5. table 4 had license data from 2002 - 2011

    Search time was around 10 min

  22. The answer I beleive you are looking for is Recreational / Sport certificate. The Sport certification was created in 2004 and has largely replaced the Recreational certificate.

    Although the recreational statistics have dropped over the last 10 years if you combine the stats with Sport class the numbers have increased over 10 times. (from 316 in 2001 to 4,293 in 2011)

    Beyond that the only other category of pilot that saw dramatic increases are the Rotocraft Only certificates. Which includes Gyroplanes and helicopters. The Helicoptor section has seen the greatest gains. The Private/Commercial/Airline Transport Helicopter
    class have all seen increases near double.

    All of this was obtained with a google search of 'pilot statistics'. Which yeilded

  23. Maybe it was me, but this one seemed pretty easy.

    Like you suggested, I first did a search for "US Pilot's License" which took me to wikipedia. It listed 6 different certifications one could hold, but also said you are rated based on aircraft. So it's hard to say how many different "types" of pilots there are.

    Farther down, it listed the active number of pilots according to the FAA for 2009. This lead me to the FAA site with stats you could download. I simply looked for the ones for 2011 and it gave me a spreadsheet showing pilot types (student, sport, etc) for each year. Just a simple comparison shows that most have stayed relatively the same since 2002 except Rotorcraft only pilots. In 2002, there were approximately 7700. In 2011, there were approximately 15,200.

    Long story short, helicopter only pilots have more than doubled since 2001.

  24. Seriously its not rec. Its sport pilots, heard it on aviators

  25. "other" meaning helicopter only and glider only. Took less than 5 minutes. First googled types of pilot licenses for general info and found the main site, of which this is a section: Reviewed the chart: FAA Certificated Pilots 1929-2011. Slower than it might have been because I used an iPad.

  26. Glider certificates have more than doubled.

    I first searched for "2001 2011 pilot license doubled" and went to the 4th link for the wikipedia article . I was interested in the sources that the article used to find more concrete numbers.

    In the article, there was a section for the number of active pilots that sourced to

    I clicked to the source (#13 on wikipedia) and went to . The FAA page had statisitics for 2000-2009. Table 4 was for the "Estimated Active Pilot Certificates Held by Class of Certificate." I downloaded this file and then divided the 2009 number of certificates by the 2009 number of certificates for each class and found that the only class that had more than a 100% increase in certificates was the Glider class(+127%) while total certificates decreased by 5%. Rotorcraft class licenses almost doubled, but only increased 97% during this period.

    Since the first place I looked linked straight to the FAA, this challenge only took about 5 minutes.

  27. Rotorcraft (helicopter) pilots

    FAA data and statistics

  28. Random guess, but my gut says it's Drone pilots

  29. Rotorcraft Only

    Google search on faa pilot statistics led met to this page:

    Opened table 4 and found category which doubled.

    ~5 Minutes

  30. I'm just gonna guess and say Sport Pilot. Took me 5 seconds to confirm the designation on wikipedia.

  31. I'm going to guess the drone pilots for the military.
    That is the only thought that came to me.
    I did not spend any time researching.

  32. There are two types. The first is Sport pilot, which didn't exist until 2005. As of the end of 2011, 4,350 Pilots held this certificate. In addition, The number of pilots who hold only a rotorcraft rating has nearly doubled from 7,727 to 15,220.

    I went to the FAA's website and looked at their Civil Airmen Stats (

  33. Took me longer to figure out how to post the comment than to find the answer.

    According to FAA data (here:

    Helicopter, Commercial Gyroplane 288.9%
    Commercial Glider 128.6%
    Airline Transport Helicopter 102.0%

    have all doubled since 2002 (not 2001 - data doesn't go back that far).

    There are 4 other (of 37) categories that fell between 90 and 100% growth, although they haven't strictly "more than doubled."

    Total time commitment for this project - prior to the inevitable problems posting - is 18 minutes.

  34. Sport pilot. I Googled "fastest-growing pilot's license" and the first hit was; the description said "light sport pilot" was the fastest-growing type. A few of the hits farther down the results screen confirmed it.

    I would guess it took me about 20 seconds.

  35. Starting with the suggestion to research types of pilot licenses took me to Wikipedia and from there to the article specific to the United States (Pilot certification in the United States -

    Footnote 13 led to the FAA statistics for pilots at, though that was only for 2000 through 2009. The area that *more* than doubled was commercial glider pilots (per table 1 and compared with table 8), so I did a second Google search to find statistics for commercial Glider pilots which took me to the same set of statistics, but for 2002-2011. This second set of statistics shows the second number needed to confirm the change over the time range specified.

    In 2001, there were 1,101 commercial glider pilots. In 2011, that number was 4,260. Note that this also jibes with the master table showing the number growth in category Commercial, Other.

    I spent about ten minutes in order to check these figures and to confirm see if the language (as noted by others between "licenses" and "certificates") and the categories made sense.

    If I'd simply guessed, I would have said gyrocopter, based on some recollection that licenses for those pilots was increasing among hobbyists.