How to Become a Commercial Pilot

Pilots · 7 min read · Nov 11, 2021
How to Become a Commercial Pilot

The functions of a pilot are highly challenging and demanding, but they can be rewarding. Keep in mind there are essential certifications and training required to become a pilot. On the other hand, there are numerous opportunities for employment, and you can earn significant revenue while traveling.

If you like air travel and open skies, you might consider doing it on commercial flights. Learn how to make your dreams a reality. To know more about how to become a commercial pilot, keep reading as we guide you through the details.

Young people in a cockpit of a flight simulator, training to become commercial airline pilots.
Image source: Lufthansa

What does a commercial airline pilot do?

Before taking the path to becoming a commercial pilot, you need to have clear what you will be doing. Commercial airline pilots fly passenger and cargo multi-engine aircraft. The pilot could also operate aircraft for emergency services in emergencies such as fires and rescue missions. Some are asked to fly charter flights, perform aerial crop dusting and aerial photography duties. During take-off and landing and during the entire flight, both the captain and copilot will have to collaborate to keep the airplane safe. Following their landings, commercial pilots have to fill out an official form confirming details of the flight and the needs to be corrected if they are found.

To summarize, the day-to-day life of a commercial airline pilot involves the following tasks:

  • Checking engines and other aircraft systems before flying by following a standard checklist.
  • Ensuring the correct balance of the weight on the plane is achieved.
  • Checking flight schedules, fuel, and weather conditions take-off.
  • Keeping communication with the control tower and air traffic control.
  • Controlling the plane’s systems and flying it along the corresponding route.
  • Monitoring fuel consumption and reporting any issues.
  • Ensuring smooth takeoff and landing.

How hard is it to become a commercial airline pilot?

We mentioned at the beginning that the functions of a pilot are highly challenging and demanding, but they can be rewarding. And the same applies to the steps to becoming a commercial pilot.

There are different requirements to become a commercial pilot. For example, commercial pilots must have good eyesight and be able to monitor several systems simultaneously. And there are more medical requirements you need to fulfill to be eligible to get a private pilot certificate and a commercial pilot license. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Medical Ratings of the Federal Aviation Administration

The FAA has set three levels of medical ratings to award pilots with the corresponding medical certificate. The top-level is called the first-class medical certificate, and it requires the following:

  • Pass a voice test that requires the ability to hear an average conversation from a 6-feet distance.
  • Have 20/20 vision, or eyesight corrected to 20/20 with glasses or lenses.
  • Meet specific medical standards for cardiovascular and neurological health.
  • Colorblindness is not acceptable.

The FAA also has set disqualifying criteria, so you need to make sure you do not fall into such standards, which include but are not limited to:

  • A history of heart attacks.
  • Heart issues such as a valve replacement.
  • A history of drug abuse.

Another requirement that the Federal Aviation Administration regulates in the United States is the FAA Student Pilot Certificate. This certificate is needed when beginning flight training with an instructor.

Private Pilot Certificate

Getting this certificate is the next step in your path to becoming an airline pilot with a commercial pilot license.

After you become eligible by medical rating and you are granted the FAA Student Pilot Certificate, you can go to a private pilot school to start taking your theoretical lessons on the ground. There you will get the knowledge you will be applying when planning and carrying out your first flight.

Next, you will start your flight training by doing simulations with a flight instructor provided by your flight school. At this point, you start building your flight experience.

When you finish all the lessons in the flight school curriculum, you have to take a written test to certify your aviation knowledge in areas such as aerodynamics, weather, flight instruments weather, etc. The FAA also regulates this test in the United States, and it is known as the Private Pilot Knowledge Test.

Finally, after passing the written test, you are required to take the Private Pilot Practical Exam. This exam, also regulated by the FAA, is known as the check ride since it consists of assessing your flying skills, knowledge of practical applications, and instrument flight rules in the cockpit during a flight.

Passing this final assessment will grant you the private pilot certificate, and you will be ready to fly single-engine aircraft.

Commercial Pilot License

So, you have covered the first group of requirements to become a commercial pilot, but any airline pilot needs to get a commercial pilot license. To get the license, there is a different set of requirements you need to fulfill.

First, you need to earn your Instrument Rating according to IFR (Instrument Flight Rules). This allows you to fly in low visibility conditions only using flight instruments.

Once you get your instrument rating, you need to start your commercial pilot training. The requirements to start this training include being 18 years or older and having at least the second-class FAA medical rating.

Now things get interesting for you. To complete the commercial pilot training, you are required to log at least 250 flight hours. From the 250 hours, 100 hours must be as Pilot-In-Command (PIC) and 50 of cross-country. Similar to the private pilot certificate, you will need to pass a written exam and the check ride from the FAA. Once both are passed, you will get your commercial pilot license.

A woman controlling a flight simulator, learning to get a commercial pilot licence.
Image source: https://www.at-one.aero/

Becoming a Commercial Airline Pilot

After getting your commercial pilot certificate, there are some other things you still need to do to become an airline pilot finally.

Getting the commercial pilot certificate does not immediately permit you to fly multi-engine airplanes. And most airlines have this type of complex aircraft to fly their passengers. So, you need to get your multi-engine rating together with your commercial pilot license first.

With these two things, you can become a flight instructor, something that will come in handy to start accumulating flight time. To become an instructor and collect flight time, you only need to get a certified flight instructor or CFI rating which can be achieved by taking a CFI course.

But why is accumulating hours of flight time so important? You may ask. Well, the reason is that you need a minimum number of hours of flight time to work as a commercial pilot for an airline.

For example, those intending to the US must record 1.500 hours in their logbook before getting their airline transport pilot certificate and getting hired by the airline. It usually takes two years to gain some of the flight time required for an airline pilot certificate. US pilots must have more than 1000 hours of work time before becoming commercial pilots.

In short, the steps required to get an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) go like this:

  1. Earn your CFI rating. This gives you the flight instructor certificate and you can start working and accumulate the time.
  2. Earn your Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument or CFII rating. This is related to the IFR.
  3. Earn your Multi-Engine Instructor or MEI rating. This relates to the multi-engine rating you should have gotten before.
  4. Log the minimum hours required to be hired and become an airline pilot.
  5. Get your new airline pilot job.

What education do you need to be a commercial pilot?

To be a Commercial Airlines Pilot, you don’t need a college diploma. If you choose to go to college while also pursuing your pilot credentials, joining the Airline Pilot Club International should be a good idea. Joining helps you begin building your network, giving you further insights into the industry while helping you find an attractive employer after school.

While you don’t need a specific diploma or degree, most pilots seek some university education related to the aviation field, such as aeronautical engineering, aeronautical science, aviation management, or airport management.

Now you may be thinking that it seems not easy and that it is a very long process. But it would help if you were not discouraged. The truth is that the process is shorter than it looks. The most difficult or actually what takes more time is accumulating the flight hours. Private pilots take around 2 to 3 months to get their certificates. Then, the average amount of time to get the minimum hours of flight time required for becoming a commercial pilot is two years. Fortunately, along this time, you can work and take the courses you need towards getting all the certifications mentioned above.

On the other hand, you need to consider costs when deciding on taking the path to become an airline pilot. To be honest, it is not cheap. Most flight schools offer comprehensive programs which guide you along the whole certification and training process, but those programs usually cost between $70,000 to $80,000. However, these programs typically include around 250 hours of flight time that counts towards your final goal. And this is essential.

So, is all this worth it? Let’s see.

A commercial airlines aircraft flying above clouds at sunset.

Is becoming a pilot worth the cost and the effort?

Whether you are beginning your career, changing careers, or just trying to make your dream of flying true, the short answer to this question is yes. It may be expensive, but it is definitely worth it. Let’s see why?

Airlines need pilots

If you have been thinking about becoming a commercial pilot, you may already know that airlines are coming short in the number of pilots they have.

With an increasing demand for travel resulting from countries worldwide opening their borders after the long lockdowns generated by the pandemic, airlines are noticing the shortage of qualified pilots is a big issue for their business.

Many commercial pilots were furloughed or went into early retirement when the pandemic hit the industry. And they are not coming back.

Moreover, Boeing conducted a study that showed more than 804,000 new pilots will be needed by 2037. In another research, Airbus also showed that the industry will require over 450,000 new airline pilots by 2035.

This only means one thing for you who are trying to learn how to become a commercial pilot. There are plenty of job opportunities waiting for you, and one single opportunity will quickly pay back the investment required. How is this possible? Keep reading, and you will see.

What is a commercial pilot’s salary?

In 2018 a professional pilot made an average of $115,670 yearly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The next year, pilots earned a median wage of $147,000. Of course, this will not be the case for a newly hired pilot. So, how can you get to earn the highest salaries?

Airlines flyers typically start their careers at a regional airline as first officers. Most international aviation pilots have the highest salaries. Your salary increases as you escalate positions as a captain. If you decide to move on from your role as the first officer to a major airline, you can expect to see a small salary reduction during the first year, but it will slowly recover.

Commercial airline pilots sitting in a cockpit with headphones, flying an aircraft.

Final words

There are different things to consider when thinking about whether to become a commercial pilot or not. Apart from the money and time investment it requires, it would help if you considered other aspects of life.

For instance, commercial pilots usually leave for work and stay away from home for a considerable period. Commercial pilots are a special kind of nomads, but this might be the best job for you if you like visiting and discovering new places.

Also, most pilots can start working once they get their private pilot license or as flight instructors after getting the flight instructor certificate. Even some flight schools prepare you to start working as part of a flight crew while taking ground school lessons. And with all these opportunities, you can begin paying any loans and recover the investment much faster.

So, are you ready to start your pilot adventure?

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Aeroclass Team
A team of professionals with a deep passion for the aviation industry bringing you the newest and the most striking industry-related news and content.

4 comments

  1. Eglė Bartaševičiūtė says:

    Hi, Neil!

    It is never too late to start a new career or a hobby, so go ahead and give it a try! Meanwhile, you can also read about some of our top picks of flight schools and courses to get inspired and see what possibilities there may be for you.

    Best wishes,
    Aeroclass Team

  2. Neil Dearham says:

    I am 46 and want to eventually start my dream of becoming a pilot. Is it too late?

  3. Eglė Bartaševičiūtė says:

    Hi, Isoa!

    We wish you all the best in your pursuit of a new career path as a pilot!
    Meanwhile, you can also read about our top picks for best flight schools and courses for further inspiration.

    Best wishes,
    Aeroclass Team

  4. Isoa says:

    Thanks, I’m 27 and looking for a career change,this helps alot in trying to achieve my childhood dreams to be pilot.

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