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Commercial Airline Pilot Job Description

Updated on July 2, 2013

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.

The primary responsibility of commercial airline pilots is to see to the safety of their passenger and crew, which may occasionally prevent them from flying their planes, especially under adverse whether conditions. The vehicles they handle are highly complex machines that can affect the lives of those in the air and on the ground. They thus demand specific qualifications for quality job performance.


Commercial airline pilots fly airplanes that carry passengers while following a fixed schedule and route that spans the United States of the world. Their shifts are highly irregular, covering an average of 75 hours per month in the air and 150 hours per month in non-flight duties such as writing reports and training. They often spend up to three days a week away from home, but receive accommodations, food and ground transportation from their employers as part of the layover. The number of years on the job determines working hours and routes. Federal law mandates retirement at age 65 because the job can be physically and mentally taxing.


To become a commercial airline pilots requires training from a facility or instructor approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, although many also learn their skills from the military. Airline companies demand the passing of aptitude and psychological tests, and at least two years of college for applicants, so most pilots have bachelor’s degrees. Pilots need a commercial license for transporting passengers, an instrument rating to fly during when visibility is low and airline certification. They may start their careers with charter planes or crop dusters, then work for small airlines or corporations, and then become first officers with major airlines. After many years of experience, they may then advance to become captains.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics state that airline pilots earned a mean annual $118,070, as of May 2011, with lows under $57,420 yearly, and highs above an annual $187,199. Airline Pilot Central shows how pay for a single airline can change according to type of aircraft and experience. As of 2012, hourly pay rates for captains at United Airlines ran $137 for those in charge of A320s and B737s, $159 for B767s and B757s and $190 for B747s and B777s. For experience, hourly rates for captains started at $177 in the first year, became $182 in the fifth year and jumped to $190 in the 12th year.


Although a growing population will increase the use of air travel from 2010 to 2020, jobs for airline pilots are expected to increase by only 6 percent, which is less than the 14 percent predicted for all jobs in all professions, and less than a third the projected growth of 21 percent for all commercial pilots. Consolidation in the industry will reduce job opportunities. Competition will be strong, with many more applicants than openings. Those with previous experience with military, cargo companies or regional airlines will have the best chances with major airlines.


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    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      5 years ago from Asia

      Certainly not a salary to be sniffed at. Mind you, they deserve it for handling some scary conditions and situations, while being responsible for hundreds of lives. I've been through a few dodgy flights, and I certainly wouldn't want to be in control and responsible for so many people at that point.

      Shared, pinned, tweeted, up and interesting.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Interesting information. Good to note that airline pilots are paid decently well in line with their specialized and highly demanding job requiring great care and precision.

      Voted up/interesting.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Voted Up and Useful! You always provide should a clear view of what life could be like in these different vocations. I appreciate the research and the excellent presentations.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      I think I went into the wrong job! with wages like that its well worth it, but seriously it is a job that has to be done by someone with a steady hand and mind, so they are definitely worth the money, nell

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      5 years ago from USA

      I'm glad to see that pilots earn a decent wage. They deserve it. After reading, I can see the many facets of a pilot's life. It must be very difficult to balance work and family.

    • tammyswallow profile image


      5 years ago from North Carolina

      In this profession, it is good to know that the requirements to become a pilot are stringent. I can understand the pay. Pilots not only have to learn how to operate the plane under any conditions, they have to learn how to manage flight attendants and sometimes crazy passengers and recoginize terrorist situations. Excellent hub!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      5 years ago from Florida

      I have a son that I would like to see learn to be an airline pilot, but he isn't interested at all, darn it. They make such good money....

      Very Informative, and I voted this Hub UP, etc.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      5 years ago from Western NC

      Awesome! My jaw dropped at what they make. That's fantastic!

    • vespawoolf profile image


      5 years ago from Peru, South America

      It's sounds like a competitive field. I know this is a demanding career, so no wonder the wages are good. An interesting read. Thanks! Voted up and shared.


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