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How to Become a Commercial Pilot

Updated on November 4, 2014

There is More than One Route to a Career in Commercial Aviation

A commercial pilot in the U.S. is a person who is allowed to be paid for flying. Before you can be paid for flying any type of aircraft you must meet these minimum FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements:

- Be at least 18 years of age.

- Be able to read, speak, write and understand English.

- Hold a private pilot certificate or higher license from the FAA

- Meet the aeronautical experience requirements of a commercial pilot license that apply to the aircraft category (type of plane) and commercial class rating (type of work) sought.

- Take and pass the knowledge test.

- Pass the practical flying test.

Commercial Aviation is a Career

Being a commercial airline pilot is a career and, as such, requires both commitment and an investment in training and experience.

Unlike jobs which require little or no skill or training and where one simply applies, goes to work and collects a paycheck, commercial aviation requires a high degree of skill and commitment.

In addition to the opportunity to earn a good income which is usually accompanied by good benefits and travel perks, flying airplanes for a living is also a high status position. Since the beginning of aviation, airplane pilots have had a special aura surrounding them. People respect and admire airplane pilots as people set apart by their daring and ability to cut loose from the bounds of gravity and soar above the land below.

Flying airplanes is a glorious job and this glory and travel adventure associated with airplane pilots makes flying airplanes an attractive career option.

Simply wanting a career in commercial aviation or any other profession is not enough. People are not born with the knowledge and skill needed to be an airline pilot just as they are not born with the knowledge and skills needed to be a doctor, lawyer or any other type of professional.

Wanting to be an airplane pilot is a first step. However, this is simply a desired goal or objective. In order to achieve this goal and actually become a pilot takes work and commitment.

Before one can legally fly an airplane in any nation, let alone fly commercially, they need to successfully learn how to operate and fly an airplane and then pass a government test in order to obtain a license allowing them to simply fly an airplane.

The first level licenses usually simply allow a person to rent or buy an airplane and fly it alone. More extensive training and testing for higher level licenses are required to be able to fly for pay. Additional training and licenses are required depending upon types of planes being flown and different types of commercial flying services.

Regardless of what level of commercial flying one desires, the training needed to simply pass the tests for the required licenses needed before you can apply for commercial airline flying jobs is expensive in terms of both money and time.

Even if one has the money to pay for the training they will still have to invest hours of time sitting in classes, studying for tests, practicing in ground simulators as well in the air.

Paying for and working through the required training requires a commitment to putting in the time and effort needed to complete this.

Successfully completing training and obtaining the required licenses doesn't guarantee a job - it simply gives one the opportunity to apply and be considered for a flying job. Further, even though one has completed training and earned the required licenses, the licenses have to be kept up to date by piloting planes regularly in order to keep one's skills up.

If one finds flying work quickly this flying requirement will be met as you work. If you don't find work quickly you will have to pay to rent planes in order to maintain your licenses.

An American Airlines Jet at gate of Tucson International Airport
An American Airlines Jet at gate of Tucson International Airport | Source
Frontier Airlines at the gate at Tucson International Airport
Frontier Airlines at the gate at Tucson International Airport | Source
Small Corporate Jet - another option for Commercial Pilots
Small Corporate Jet - another option for Commercial Pilots | Source
A Northwest Airlines taxing at Las Vegas Airport
A Northwest Airlines taxing at Las Vegas Airport | Source
Wind sock at Las Vegas Airport provides pilots with last minute info on wind for take off
Wind sock at Las Vegas Airport provides pilots with last minute info on wind for take off | Source

Options for Training

If, after reading the above, you still feel that you want to commit to become a career aviator despite the money and time costs but don't have the money for commercial flight training, here are some lower cost alternative options.

One would be to attend flight school and train yourself. Most cities have flight schools that train people for their private pilot license, which is required before you can obtain any type of commercial license.

Many of these schools also offer training for commercial pilot licenses for small propeller driven aircraft. For jets and large commercial airliners (both passenger airliners which the airlines use as well as air cargo haulers like Federal Express) you will need to go to one of the smaller number of schools that specialize in this type of training. Most of these schools are located in the southern part of the U.S. where there is good flying weather year round. Even if you do go through and earn a license to fly the big jets that the airlines use, most major airlines will still require that you complete their flight school.

A second, no cost way of obtaining a pilot’s license is to join the Air Force and have them train you as a pilot for free. This costs nothing in terms of cash (you will actually get paid while going through flight school) but you will have to fly for the Air Force for a set number of years.

Upon leaving the Air Force you will have the license, training and experience which, depending upon what type of aircraft you flew for the Air Force, may or may not transfer directly to a commercial civilian aircraft. However, with some additional training in a particular aircraft type, you will be able to qualify for employment as a commercial pilot with an airline or a company.

Again, In the case of major airlines they will not only provide the training but usually require that you go through their training school regardless of your background and experience (as an airline employee, you will be paid to attend their school). While your military flying experience will not lead directly to an airline flying job, it will be a big plus in their deciding to hire you.

The final suggestion is to look abroad. The U.S. has a well developed aviation industry, but many countries abroad have a small aviation industry that is just now developing. People in these countries are becoming wealthier and want to fly more, so demand for airline services – both passenger and freight services – is increasing and airline companies in these countries are eager to hire pilots. With a commercial license and some experience you can often have them hire you and pay for the remainder of your training.

Flight Simulator view of Pilot Training

Suggestions for People Looking to Become Commercial Airline Pilots

A number of people who have left comments have asked about the requirements for becoming a pilot and for getting into pilot school.

As I said in some of my responses to comments, I don't have enough information to these specific questions.

My advice to those of you who would like a career in commercial aviation, is that you take time to check out your options by searching the Internet.

First, check out flight schools and then check out their requirements.

As stated in the Hub, there are a number of different options for commercial flying besides simply piloting major commercial passenger carriers.

There are freight carriers, smaller regional passenger airlines, charter planes, etc.

Licensing and other requirements will vary depending upon the type of planes and type of carriers as well as from nation to nation.

Do some Google searches using terms "airline flight schools", "airline flight schools Europe", and "airline flight schools Asia".

These are just three quick searches and when I did these searches they yielded names and websites for numerous flight schools.

Studying the information on the sites could either give you the answer to your questions or ideas for further search terms.

Landing at Cleveland Airport

Flaps up to slow down at Cleveland Airport
Flaps up to slow down at Cleveland Airport | Source
Taxing after landing at Cleveland Airport
Taxing after landing at Cleveland Airport | Source
Runway marker at Cleveland Airport
Runway marker at Cleveland Airport | Source
Taxing to terminal at Cleveland Airport
Taxing to terminal at Cleveland Airport | Source
Refueling at Cleveland Airport
Refueling at Cleveland Airport | Source
Cleveland Airport Control Tower
Cleveland Airport Control Tower | Source

© 2006 Chuck Nugent


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