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High-altitude endorsements are required by the FAA to operate pressurized aircraft at certain altitudes. Learn everything about earning it in this expert guide.
If you want to fly certain types of aircraft at higher altitudes, then you might have to obtain a high altitude endorsement. But with how many different certifications, endorsements, and licenses there are for pilots these days, it can be hard to keep track of what’s what and what you have to do for each one. So what about high-altitude endorsements?
A high-altitude endorsement is a certification that allows a pilot to fly pressurized aircraft which operate at a maximum altitude (or service ceiling) of at least 25,000 feet MSL. To earn this endorsement, you must complete and log the necessary training.
In order to fly certain aircraft higher than 25,000’ MSL, a pilot must have this endorsement. This is because at high altitudes, the air is much thinner, and the pilot needs to be specially trained in order to fly in these conditions. In this article, we will discuss what a high-altitude endorsement is and how to get one.
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What are High-Altitude Endorsements?
Like most things in our little corner of the world, we must look to title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) to give us the skinny on high-altitude endorsements. In short, a high-altitude (HA) endorsement is necessary to operate a pressurized aircraft in certain conditions. But this is where some people start to get confused about the HA endorsement, so let's take some time to clear up what that means in the first place.
According to 14 CFR, pressurized aircraft (with regards to this type of endorsement) are those that have a sealable door or canopy and is designed for operation at altitudes in excess of 25,000ft MSL. In other words, if the airplane is pressurized and has either a maximum operating altitude or a service ceiling which is at least that high, then you must have this endorsement to fly it.
Who Needs a High-Altitude Endorsement?
Note from the paragraph above that the endorsement is required if the plane meets those criteria. It doesn't have anything to do with whether or not you personally will be flying the aircraft at altitudes of 25,000 feet or higher, it's only to do with what the aircraft's specifications call for.
That said, it's important to note that you don't have to have an HA endorsement to operate any pressurized aircraft. People get confused on this because of the wording and the use of "pressurized aircraft" within the code. This endorsement is only needed for pressurized aircraft that operate at the aforementioned altitude or above.
I think I've belabored that point enough, it's just important to understand what it is and when it's really needed. So now let's move on and talk about how to actually get the high-altitude endorsement!
How Do You Earn High-Altitude Endorsements?
There are two main things you need to complete in order to earn your HA endorsement: ground school and real-worl flight training. We'll take a look at both of them and make sure you know exactly what you have to do to earn your endorsement.
Complete High-Altitude Ground Training
The first step is to complete the required ground training. This can be done by finding a trainer or instructor that is authorized to provide the necessary training. The topics that the ground training has to cover to earn this kind of endorsement are:
- High-altitude airflow and aerodynamics
- High-altitude meteorology and weather forecasting
- Hypoxia (symptoms, causes, and effects)
- Remaining conscious without additional oxygen
- How to use supplemental oxygen systems
- Decompression sickness (symptoms, causes, and effects)
- How to use emergency decompression devices
- How aircraft pressurization systems work
- Cabin pressurization controls and their operation
- Automatic pressurization features
After you have completed and logged the required ground training, you will then need to get a logbook endorsement from your instructor. This is simply your instructor's way of saying you’ve completed the required training and are now ready to begin your flight training.
Complete High-Altitude Flight Training
The next step is to complete the required flight training, which will again require you to work with an authorized trainer or instructor. This can be done in in a simulator that is approved for high-altitude training or in an actual pressurized aircraft. The topics that your covered are:
- How to safely operate the aircraft at altitudes of at least 25,000’ MSL
- How to use the aircraft's pressurization system
- How to use the aircraft's supplemental oxygen system (if it has one)
- How to handle emergency descent and the associated procedures around it
- How to recognize and deal with the symptoms of decompression sickness
Once you have completed your flight training, you will again need to have your instructor provide a logbook endorsement. This is to certify that you’ve completed the required flight training and are now ready to operate aircraft at high altitudes. A sample of what the endorsement might look like can be found on Page 17 of AC 61-65F from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
How Long Does it Take to Earn a High-Altitude Endorsement?
When you're becoming a pilot in the first place, you undoubtedly spent a decent amount of time completing your initial ground training while also racking up the flight time needed to earn your wings. But don't worry, obtaining this endorsement doesn't take nearly as much time or effort.
In most cases, you can complete the required ground and flight training in just a day or so. Of course, this will depend on your schedule and how much time you can dedicate to it at once. Some training centers offer a single day course that includes all of the training necessary to earn multiple endorsements, including your high-altitue endorsement.
For example, Flying A Turbine is a training company that provides a single-day course where you can earn your high-altitude endorsement, high-performance endorsement, and complex endorsement at once. This involves 6 hours of training on the ground and 1.5 hours of flight training in total, so even less time is required for just the high-altitude endorsement on its own!
Are There Any Exceptions to a High-Altitude Endorsement?
Within 14 CFR 61 referenced above, there are also a few different exceptions provided for certain pilots and people that might not have to earn an HA endorsement in order to fly the types of aircraft described above. This could save you the time and money associated with getting endorsed, so it's worth knowing if they apply to you.
Exceptions to the high-altitude endorsement include:
- A pilot who has been pilot in command (PIC) of pressurized high-altitude aircraft previous to April 15th, 1991.
- A pilot who has completed a proficiency check in order to obtain a pilot rating or pilot certificate previous to April 15th, 1991.
- A pilot who has successfully completed a proficiency check through the FAA under 14 CFR part 121, part 125, or part 135.
- A pilot who has completed a PIC proficiency check from the United States military
As of now, those are the only exceptions that are provided. So unless you fall into one of the categories above, you will need to get an HA endorsement in order to fly aircraft at high altitudes.
How Much Does a High-Altitude Endorsement Cost?
Okay, so now you know what an HA endorsement is, how to get one, and roughly how long it takes. But there's still one more vastly important question that needs to be answered: how much does it cost?
The answer, unfortunately, isn't as straightforward as we would like it be since it depends on a variety of different factors. These include where you're located, which training school you're going to, and whether you'll be training in a simulator or in an actual pressurized aircraft. That said, it's far cheaper to earn this endorsement than it is to earn your pilot's license in the first place (as well as many other types of ratings or endorsements!).
On average, you can expect to spend about $600 to $1,200 to earn your high-altitude endorsement. This may seem like a lot of money at first, but keep in mind that it's a one-time cost that will allow you to fly at high altitudes for the rest of your career.
And if you're thinking about becoming a commercial pilot, then this endorsement might be necessary for your career path in the first place.
Do Commercial Pilots Need a High-Altitude Endorsement?
Even though an HA endorsement is often overlooked by people who are considering becoming a pilot, it's something you have to keep in mind if you want to be a commercial pilot and take advantage of one of the most advantageous careers in the world.
After all, commercial planes are pressurized, right? Of course! If you've ever been on a commercial airliner, then you know that they are pressurized so that passengers and crew can breathe normally at high altitudes. Addtionally, these planes fly at altitudes higher than what’s discussed above as the HA threshold.
So unless you meet one of the exceptions that we talked about earlier, then you will need to have this endorsement in order to fly a commercial airliner.
Is a High-Altitude Endorsement Worth it?
We've talked about what an HA endorsement is, how to get one, and how much it costs. But the question still remains: is it worth it?
The answer is a resounding yes! Even though it might cost you a few hundred dollars and take some extra time to earn your high-altitude endorsement, it's more than worth it in the long run. Just think about all of the doors that will be opened up to you once you have this valuable piece of paper in your pilot's license!
So if you're thinking about becoming a commercial pilot or want to fly aircraft at high altitudes, then make sure to get your high-altitude endorsement. It'll take less than a day to earn one and it's something you won't have to worry about anymore moving forward. For the time and effort required, it's one of those things that is absolutely worth doing!