How to Become a Commercial Pilot: License, Requirements & Training

Jan 24, 2022

If you love the open skies, then maybe a career as a commercial pilot is your calling. Learn about the training and education necessary to make this dream a reality.

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What Can You Do with a Commercial Pilot License?

Generally, commercial pilots are responsible for flying an aircraft. In addition to fixed schedule flights, they can fly charter flights, crop dusters, emergency planes, and rescue operations. Job duties for this career include ensuring the weight of the plane is balanced, communicating with air traffic control, operating and controlling the plane, monitoring gauges, navigating the aircraft, and execution of emergency procedures if necessary.

Becoming a commercial pilot opens many job opportunities in flying
commercial pilot

Commercial Pilot Requirements

Degree Level None; some commercial airlines require a bachelor's or 2 years of college
Experience Commercial pilots must be 23 years old and have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours logged
Licensure and Certification Must log 250 hours of flying time and pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) practical test for licensing; Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification required to work for commercial airlines
Key Skills Communication skills; excellent vision and physical health; aeronautical knowledge
Median Annual Salary (May 2020)* $160,970 (for all Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Commercial pilots must first train as private pilots, which allows them to learn the basics of flying before progressing into more complicated planes and situations. Private pilot training may include instruction from a certified professional and solo flight practice. Prospective commercial pilots must log at least 250 hours of flying time to become licensed. Within those hours, prospective pilots must complete required tasks and fly in a variety of settings. Pilots are tested on mental and physical strengths and abilities. Certification is required to work for commercial airlines. Key skills include communication, excellent vision, physical health, and aeronautical knowledge. In 2020, airline and commercial pilots earned a median annual salary of $160,970 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you're still wondering how to become a commercial pilot, check out the career steps for licensed commercial pilots.

Steps to Become a Commercial Pilot

Follow the steps below to learn what does it take to be a commercial pilot.

Step 1: Meet Basic Requirements

Now, you might be wondering how to accomplish the first step in how to become a pilot in the USA: How to get a pilot license? Commercial pilot license requirements are that applicants must be at least 18 years old and able to communicate effectively. They must pass a physical exam that involves a vision test, as well as have logbook endorsements from an authorized instructor from a commercial pilot school to verify their level of experience and be able to demonstrate aeronautical knowledge.

Step 2: Train as a Private Pilot

After getting their private pilot license, prospective pilots can initially train as private pilots to learn the basics of the process of flight as well as more about airplane operations and maintenance, airport communications, and maneuvering. Some flight schools offer recreational or private training courses as prerequisites for commercial pilot training. This enables students to progress through the required levels without attending multiple sessions.

Step 3: Log Flight Hours

The next step in how to become a commercial airline pilot is to practice flying. Candidates must spend 250 hours flying in various situations, including solo and as the pilot-in-command; complete instrument training; and pilot a plane with designated gear. Flying cross-country in both day and nighttime conditions, as well as completing a specified number of takeoffs and landings are also general requirements.

Step 4: Pass Required Tests

The last step in how to get commercial pilot license is to pass the required tests. Commercial pilots must pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) practical test, which is administered by a registered official. The test requires candidates to perform a variety of operational tasks, demonstrate their ability to meet industry standards, and exhibit proficiency in flying. They must also pass a written exam to demonstrate their knowledge of navigation, safety, and regulations.

Step 5: Pursue Additional Certification

Commercial airline pilot requirements include becoming licensed as an airline transport pilot in order to work for commercial airlines. You will need to be at least 23 years old, have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight experience, and pass FAA examinations. Individual airlines may require additional education and experience, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes can include a bachelor's degree or at least two years of college experience. The BLS' 2020-2030 employment outlook information showed that jobs for commercial pilots were expected to grow by 11%.

To recap, with private pilot training, flight hours, and ATP certification, a commercial pilot can earn about $160,970 a year to fly aircrafts for a variety of purposes.

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