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How do you become a commercial airline pilot?

Learn about the training, certifications, and costs associated with becoming a commercial airline pilot. 
Flying an aircraft at 30,000 feet comes with major responsibility; you’re entrusted with the lives of the crew and in some cases of hundreds of passengers. No two flights are the same, as you maneuver different models of aircraft through varying weather conditions. Preparing for this career requires thousands of hours of practice, as well as a significant investment of money if paying for flight school.
There are two key paths to gain the training and licenses necessary to become a commercial airline pilot: civilian flight school or the military. For either path, you will typically need to earn a bachelor’s degree first, though the degree can be in any field. Studying subjects such as math, science, and communication can help you build skills that are important in this career.
Becoming a commercial airline pilot as a civilian will take at least two years of training as you pursue several different milestones. First, you will need to earn a private pilot certificate, which requires passing a medical exam, written exam and a minimum of 40 hours of flight time. During this phase, you will learn the basics of flying a single-engine plane.
Next you’ll need to earn an instrument rating (this enables you to fly in low-visibility conditions using instrument flight rules), as well as a multi-engine rating in order to fly larger planes. After completing at least 250 hours of flight time, you’ll be eligible to earn a commercial pilot license. From that point, you can pursue your multi-engine, single-engine and instrument flight instructor certificates.
Becoming a flight instructor will enable you to earn money, while also building experience as a pilot. You need a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight experience to earn an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, which is required to work as a commercial airline pilot. The total cost for all of this training can range from $60,000-$100,000.
Due to the high cost of flight school, many turn to the military to earn their pilot’s license. If going the military route, you will need a strong college gpa (minimum B average) and strong performance on aptitude tests to be selected for aviation training. You will also need to go through officer training (lasting 9-17 weeks) before your flight training.
One of the key benefits of becoming a pilot through the military is that your training will be paid for. In return for this investment, you then owe ten years of military service. After this time, you will be eligible to seek employment with a passenger airline.
When applying for positions as a commercial airline pilot, you will likely undergo computer testing to assess your personality, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities. If you pass this phase, the interviews will include situation-based questions to assess your judgment in unique situations. Once hired for this role, you will go through training and skills-checks throughout your career. Pilots under the age of 40 must also undergo a yearly physical examination to make sure they are fit for the role; pilots over the age of 40 require a physical every six months.


Airline pilot eligibility.” ATP Flight School. Accessed March 29, 2017.
How do pilots train?” The Pilot’s Blog. Accessed March 30, 2017.
How to become an airline or commercial pilot.” US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed March 30, 2017.
The best way to become a pilot in the military.” Tony Guerra, Houston Chronicle. Accessed March 30, 2017.

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