What Does It Take To Become a Licensed Commercial Airline Pilot


In order to be employed as a commercial pilot, one must be 18 years old; and one must be 23 years of age to hold an ATP, or Airline-Transport-Pilot license.  Being a commercial airline pilot is not for the faint-of-heart since it demands a high degree of dedication, maturity, quick thinking, flexibility, smarts, self-control, leadership, exceptional stress-management and polished communication skills.


Let’s delve a bit more deeply into what it takes to achieve the status of commercial airline pilot.  Do you think you have what it takes?


Personal Attributes of Commercial Airline Pilots


Being physically fit is a must in order to pass the mandated physical; and eyesight must be good enough to pass a stringent vision test.


Being physically and mentally healthy as well as being of high intellect is crucial.  A prospect for a Commercial Pilot License will need to hold a first or second-class medical certificate from the FAA.  Part of that certification means one’s vision must be 20/20 or corrected to 20/20; and color-blindness could be considered an obstacle.


Major companies search for certain personality types that would be a tailor-fit with being a commercial pilot; and personality assessments are part of that search.  Drug tests and credit checks must meet high standards; but if you have any DUIs or misdemeanors in your history, there is still hope assuming enough time exists between those circumstances and hiring time.  In other words, keep yourself clean since a huge component of becoming a Commercial Airline Pilot is polished character, integrity, and the ability to make sound choices.


Education Needed for Commercial Airline Pilots


If being a commercial pilot is your passion, you will be expected to have a Bachelor’s degree or 2 years  of college experience.  With that being said, however, some employers will consider a candidate with just a high-school diploma if that prospect exhibits exceptional talent or insight within the arena of flight; but that is rare.  In fact, major airline companies, more and more, require a 4-year degree.


As with any formal education, one must consider the cost.  Training to become a commercial pilot will involve multiple thousands of dollars in the long run; but there is a way to circumvent that financial barrier:  join the military.  Major airlines covet military pilots; but being a military pilot isn’t easy and is reserved for the best of the best.


If you are soon graduating from high-school, perhaps a more realistic approach would be pursuing  schools of higher-learning that offer aviation degrees and flight training!  Once you graduate from a four-year college, you will have earned not only a degree but a commercial pilot license, at the same time!


Specific Training Required for Commercial Airline Pilots


Fight-experience is the heartbeat of all the highly-specialized training.  One has the option to receive private flight lessons where you will pay for every hour you are in the air.  Then, there are flight schools that must be approved by the FAA.  Currently, there are about 600 FAA-recognized flight schools in the United States.  At flight school, you would need to earn 190 hours of logged time to receive your CPL; and while there, you will receive assistance with getting your Instrument Rating.  Compare this with a personal instructor who is approved by the FAA where 250 hours of logged time is the norm.


Multiple scenarios will be introduced during training:  flying solo, flying as the pilot-in-command, operating a plane in daytime and nighttime conditions, and satisfactorily meeting a given number of takeoffs and landings.  Heavily-embedded in the training will be a myriad of aspects involving the fundamentals of flight, as well as fully understanding the technology and mechanics of planes, the intricacies of weather and geography, and the multi-tasking of details with air-traffic control.


One more thing to consider is one’s ATP License.  ATP stands for Airlines Transport Pilot License which is above and beyond one’s CPL.  Though not mandatory, an ATP License would expand your horizons, so to speak, by allowing you to pilot any plane and get paid, royally. Your extra pay would be commensurate with the 1,500 flight hours that would be required!  Here, you would need an IR, be 23 years of age and, of course, pass all exams.


Mandatory Tests for Commercial Airline Pilots


When the time comes to wrap up all the strenuous training, passing required tests provided by the Federal Aviation Administration becomes the cherry on top of the cake.  Here, pilots-to-be know that passing the FAA test requirements is what will separate the men from the boys.  Successfully demonstrating operational skills, satisfying industry standards, demonstrating proficiency in flying, and proving one’s understanding of navigation, safety and regulations, via a written exam, will all be covered.   A 70% minimum score on written tests is a must to get a commercial license.


Assuming all written exams and flight exams are passed, one moves from applicant to licensed commercial airline pilot!  Keep in mind, however, that without being Instrument-Rating certified, you will not be permitted to fly in poor weather, even if you possess your CPL.


Being a commercial pilot is not for everyone; but if you have what it takes and love aviation, it could be one of the best moves you will ever make!