Find out Aircraft Category and Class Difference?

This blog will discuss the difference between aircraft class and category, digging deeper into what characteristics make up each.The aircraft category classification can be further subdivided into airmen certification and aircraft certification categories. "Airmen certification" refers to the type of aircraft that a pilot is rated to fly and is thus explained:

  •  Airplane: A fixed-wing engine-driven aircraft that is heavier-than-air.
  •  Lighter-Than-Air: These aircraft generate lift by being inflated with a gas that is lighter than air. Examples of this include blimps, balloons, and dirigibles.
  • Powered Lift: Synonymous with vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), these aircraft do not require a long runway to take off and land. Once airborne, the aircraft can transition to horizontal flight using a tiltrotor or direct thrust. Marine and naval forces commonly employ powered lift aircraft as they can easily land on aircraft carriers without the need for an arresting gear.
  • Glider: These heavier-than-air machines are built without an engine and must be towed to the desired altitude before flying.

The FAA uses "aircraft certification" categories to classify aircraft by size and other aspects such as capacity and mobility. These classifications help define the type design of aircraft for the purpose of issuing an airworthiness certificate.

  • Normal:  Normal planes perform nonacrobatic operations, have a seating capacity of nine or less, and weigh under 12,500lbs at takeoff.
  • Commuter: Slightly larger than normal aircraft, commuter aircraft are propeller-driven, multi-engine planes that hold less than 19 passengers. Commuter aircraft must weigh less than 19,000lbs at takeoff.
  • Transport: Unique to this aircraft category, the passenger capacity and maximum takeoff weight of transport airplanes are dependent on their engine type. For example, aircraft that are propeller-driven and carry over 19 passengers are transport craft.
  • Utility: Utility airplanes share the same size requirements as normal aircraft but are allowed to perform basic aerobatic maneuvers.
  • Aerobatic: With very few restrictions, aerobatic planes are commonly used in air shows and aerobatic competitions.

A particular subdivision of the aircraft certification list is the special airworthiness certification category.

  • Limited: Describes decommissioned military aircraft which can be modified for civilian use.
  • Restricted: These aircraft are restricted to performing designated functions like aerial surveying, weather control, or advertising.
  • Primary: Flown only for personal use, primary airplanes have a max capacity of four passengers and the requirement for an unpressurized cabin.
  • Experimental: This designation applies to both aircraft built by aviation enthusiasts or those designed to test new aerospace technologies.

Classes further break down the airmen classification list to define the rating that one must have before operating the aircraft.


  • Single-Engine Land: This applies to single-engine fixed-wing aircraft that can only land on land.
  • Multi-Engine Land: Describes non-seaplane aircraft that have two or more engines.
  • Single-Engine Sea: Less than 3% of all pilots hold a seaplane rating. These single-engine aircraft can land in various bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and oceans.
  • Multi-Engine Sea: The least common in the airplane class, multi-engine seaplanes can fly longer and hold more passengers than their single-engine counterparts.


  • Gyroplane: These small aircraft use a large horizontal rotor to generate lift before using an engine-driven propeller for forward thrust.
  • Helicopter: Universally recognized, helicopters are heavier-than-air machines that use spinning rotors for lift and horizontal motion.


  • Airship: Airships are a type of aircraft that generate lift using a gas such as helium, which is lighter than the atmosphere, to generate lift. They are then propelled forward by the use of an engine.
  • Balloon: Popular with tourists worldwide, manned balloons rely on a lighter-than-air gas to generate lift but do not possess an engine.

With a better understanding of the FAA's classification system, one can appreciate the various ratings and airworthiness certificates they might encounter. At ASAP Inventory, you can find new or obsolete parts for a wide variety of aircraft. With access to an inventory of over two billion in-stock items, ASAP Inventory can help fulfill your operational requirements with ease. Please browse our website today and use our Instant RFQ service for a competitive quote in just 15 minutes or less.


April 16, 2021

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