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How to Become an Airline or Commercial Pilot

EXPECTED WAGE:
$111,680
Unemployment:
2%
Education:
Bachelor's degree

The majority of airline pilots start their career flying commercially. A high school diploma or equivalent is required. Most pilots need a bachelor's degree. The FAA or Federal Aviation Administration provides a commercial pilot's license to all pilots who are paid to fly. An ATP or Airline Transport Pilot certificate is also mandatory. Instrument ratings, the ATP and multi-engine ratings can be granted which enhance pilot privileges. Certain employers require this certification.

Education & Training

Many pilots start their flight training with flight schools or independent instructors. FBO or fixed base operators often provide a large variety of general aviation services including: maintenance, aircraft fueling, flight training and on-demand air transportation services. Some FBO's consider themselves to be a school or training facility. Other flight schools are part of 2 year and 4 year programs through colleges and universities.

Once the aforementioned certification has been obtained, pilots typically log thousands of flight hours in order to secure a position with major or regional airlines.

Due to the expansive training offered, the military has traditionally been a vital source of experienced pilots. An increase in duty requirements however has lessened the incentives for these pilots to leave military aviation and transfer into civilian territory. The majority of pilots who leave the military typically transfer directly into the airlines as opposed to working in commercial aviation.

Additional Requirements

Beyond a high school diploma, some employers need more certification. For instance, flight instructors need to obtain specialized FAA-issued ratings including: CFI or Certified Flight Instructor, CFII or CFI-Instrument certification, MEI or Multi-Engine Instructor, MEII or MEI-Instrument and possibly others. Agricultural pilots required knowledge of agricultural practices, herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.

Specialty requirements are in place for helicopter, glider, airship and banner towing qualifications. The FAA certifies numerous civilian flight schools. These range from large state universities to small FBOs. Pilot training is a component of many 2 and 4 year aviation degrees. Additionally, an instrument rating is required by commercial pilots. This rating is necessary for flying through limited visibility conditions such as extreme cloud cover. Pilots carrying passengers at night or more than 50 miles from their origin point require an instrument rating.

Interviews can be an intricate process for positions with regional or major airlines. They typically reflect the FAA exams for instrument ratings and pilot certificates. Airlines commonly conduct their own aptitude and psychological testing in order to ensure that wise decisions can be made under pressure and that the pilots are of good moral character.

According to the FARs or Federal Aviation Regulations, newly hired commercial and airline pilots may undergo moderate-term training on the job. This training usually consists of 25 hours of flight time and 6 to 8 weeks of ground school. As well, numerous type ratings for particular aircraft are required through employer training. Examples include Cessna Citation and Boeing 737 certification typically earned by pilots who have initially earned their commercial license.

Lastly, all pilots must prove their recent experience performing certain maneuvers. Pilots are required to execute certain procedures and maneuvers a given number of times within a specific time period. Regular medical examinations are also required on an annual basis.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Individuals seeking a professional pilot career typically receive their ratings and licenses in the order listed below:

A) Student Pilot Certificate
B) Private Pilot License
C) Instrument Rating
D) Commercial Pilot License
E) Multi-Engine Rating
F) Airline Transport Pilot Certificate

Every rating and certificate requires completion of a written exam and a practical flying exam or check ride in a suitable aircraft. Many pilots obtain their CFI or Certified Flight Instructor ratings once they obtain their commercial pilot certificate. This enables them to accrue more experience and flight time faster with less personal expense. Check FARs for current licensing regulations.

Commercial Pilot’s License:

Applicants need to be a minimum of 18 years old to qualify for a pilot license and need to meet hour requirements. Student pilots need a logbook in order to keep detailed records of their flight experience. Depending on their school, their ground instruction time is logged as well. The flight instructor must endorse this logbook in order to the student to be eligible to take the practical and FAA knowledge examinations.

Of course the detailed medical exam must be passed as well as all of the flight experience and knowledge requirements. To be commercially licensed, a practical flight exam and written exam must be taken. The pilot's vision is determined to be correctable to 20/20 through the physical exam and no physical handicaps can exist.

Instrument Rating:

The instrument rating, also called the IMC or instrument meteorological conditions to allow pilots to fly during low visibility. To qualify for this rating, 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command and 40 hours of instrument flight experience are required. Other requirements detailed in the FARs are also needed.

Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certification:

All pilot crew with a scheduled commercial airline must acquire ATP certificates as of 2013. In order to earn the ATP certificate, applicants must have a minimum of 1500 hours of flight time and be at least 23 years old. Pilots typically maintain one or more aircraft-type ratings. This enables pilots to fly aircraft that require specific training. Certain exceptions are detailed in the FARs along with alternate requirements.

Regular examinations for practical flight applications and physical health must be passed in order to successfully perform the duties outlined on their certificate.

Other Experience

Merely having the minimum time requirements to obtain a rating or certificate are not always enough to secure certain jobs. In order to make up for training payments until they are hired by a major airline, numerous commercial pilots start their careers as on-demand charter pilots or flight instructors. Typically, these positions require less experience compared to airline jobs. Once pilots have accrued enough flying hours, they may apply to major airlines. Newly hired regional airline pilots have approximately 2000 flight experience hours, whereas newly hired major airline pilots have approximately 4000 hours of flight time.

Skills and Qualities that will Help

Fast Reaction Time: Pilots have to be able to quickly respond with accurate judgment to any impending danger since warning signals can appear suddenly.

Problem-Solving Skills: Pilots have to identify complex situations and determine appropriate solutions. For instance, when the plane encounters turbulence, pilots need to assess the weather patterns. At times they may contact air traffic control to request an altitude or route change.

Communication Skills: Clear communication is necessary in order to convey information to air traffic control. Listening skills are vital for following instructions.

Observational Skills: Pilots continually ensure all systems are working correctly by constantly watching over gauges, dials and screens throughout the flight. Watching for obstacles and other aircraft is a vital component of maintaining situational awareness. Good color vision and being able to judge the distance between things is important.

How To Advance

Advancement depends on a seniority system outlined in a variety of bargaining contracts. Flight Engineers may advance to First Officer positions after 1 to 5 years. First Officers may become captains after 5 to 15 years. A captain may become Director of Aviation or Chief Pilot within large companies.