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How to Be a Commercial Pilot: A Simple Guide for Aspiring Pilots

Becoming a commercial pilot can be an exciting and rewarding career path for those who have a strong passion for aviation. The journey involves several stages of training and certification, but with dedication and perseverance, one can make dreams of soaring through the skies a reality.

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The process of becoming a commercial pilot starts with acquiring a private pilot certificate. This certificate lays the foundation for advanced aircraft operation by teaching aviation basics and providing hands-on flying experience. Along the way, aspiring pilots will also need to earn an instrument rating, which enables them to navigate challenging weather conditions and fly using instruments alone. Commercial pilots are required to have excellent English language skills and hold the proper medical certification to ensure safe operation of aircraft.

In addition to acquiring necessary certifications, commercial pilots must also develop numerous skills and qualities for successful careers. These include exceptional communication, decision-making, and problem-solving abilities, as well as a thorough understanding of aviation laws and regulations. With the right combination of training and personal development, aspiring pilots will be well on their way to fulfilling roles in the exciting world of aviation.

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Requirements and Eligibility

Becoming a commercial pilot requires meeting certain eligibility criteria and obtaining necessary certifications. In this section, we will discuss the FAA Certification and Medical Certification requirements.

FAA Certification

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets the minimum requirements for becoming a commercial pilot. To obtain a commercial pilot certificate, a pilot must have:

  • At least 250 hours of flight time, where 100 hours are in powered aircraft, and 50 hours are in airplanes.
  • A minimum of 100 hours of pilot-in-command time, with 50 hours spent in airplanes.
  • At least 50 hours of cross-country time, with 10 hours being in an airplane.

It is important to note that while the FAA sets these minimum requirements, airlines may have their own standards, often involving higher flight time or experience levels for pilots.

Medical Certification

Before pursuing a career as a commercial pilot, aspiring pilots must also secure appropriate medical certification. This ensures they are physically fit and capable of safely operating aircraft in various conditions.

Commercial pilots need to hold a valid, current FAA Second-Class Medical Certificate. Although you only need a Third-Class Medical Certificate while still a student pilot, the higher class is necessary for commercial operations. Obtaining a Second-Class Medical Certificate requires passing a medical examination conducted by an FAA-designated Aviation Medical Examiner.

In conclusion, becoming a commercial pilot involves fulfilling specific requirements regarding FAA certification and medical certification. By meeting these eligibility criteria, future pilots can pave their way toward a successful career in aviation.

Training Path

Flight Schools

Flight schools offer the necessary training for aspiring commercial pilots. Candidates usually start by acquiring their private pilot certificate, learning aviation basics and essential aircraft operation skills1. After obtaining the private pilot certificate, the next step is to add an instrument rating, which enables a pilot to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and in various weather conditions2.

Subsequently, trainees work towards obtaining their commercial pilot certificate, which allows them to operate commercial aircraft. It is crucial to choose a reputable flight school and a certified flight instructor for a smooth and efficient training process3.

College Degrees

Although a college degree is not mandatory to become a commercial pilot, some airlines prefer candidates with an aviation-related undergraduate education4. Colleges and universities typically offer aviation-related degrees, such as aeronautical science, aviation administration, and aerospace engineering. Studying in such programs often grants access to valuable resources, like flight simulators and networking opportunities with airlines and aviation companies.

Military Training

An alternative route towards becoming a commercial pilot is through military training. This method entails joining an air force branch, undergoing rigorous training, and gaining flight experience as a military pilot5. Military pilots benefit from highly advanced and specialized training that can easily transition into a civilian commercial pilot career. Furthermore, the experience and skills gained in the military are often well-regarded by airlines and other aviation employers.

Keep in mind that a military career has its own set of requirements, commitments, and challenges, but it can present a rewarding and fulfilling path to a commercial pilot career.

Pilot Certifications

Becoming a commercial pilot involves obtaining several pilot certificates and ratings. In this section, we will go over the main certifications and ratings you will need to pursue a career in commercial aviation.

Private Pilot License (PPL)

The first step in becoming a commercial pilot is obtaining a Private Pilot License. This certificate allows you to fly an aircraft for leisure or personal use. To obtain a PPL, you must:

  • Be at least 17 years old
  • Hold a valid FAA Third-Class Medical Certificate
  • Complete at least 40 hours of flight time, including 20 hours with an instructor and 10 hours solo


Commercial Pilot License (CPL)

Next, you’ll need to obtain a Commercial Pilot License (CPL). This allows you to fly for compensation or hire. Requirements for a CPL include:

  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Holding a valid FAA Second-Class Medical Certificate
  • Accumulating at least 250 hours of total flight time


Instrument Rating

An Instrument Rating is essential for commercial pilots, as it allows you to fly in various weather conditions and navigate using instruments alone. To achieve this rating, you must:

  • Hold a Private Pilot License
  • Complete a minimum of 40 hours of instrument flight time
  • Pass a written exam and a checkride with an FAA examiner


Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)

The highest level of pilot certification is the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. This credential is required for pilots to act as the pilot in command of scheduled airline operations. To obtain an ATP certificate, you must:

  • Be at least 23 years old
  • Have a Commercial Pilot License with an Instrument Rating
  • Complete a minimum of 1,500 hours of total flight time


By obtaining these pilot certifications and ratings, you’ll be well on your way toward becoming a successful commercial pilot.

Acquiring Experience

Flight Hours

To become a commercial pilot, accumulating sufficient flight hours is essential, as it demonstrates your experience and expertise in flying. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires a minimum of 250 hours of flight time, including specific categories like cross-country flights, night flights, and instrument flight time source. The more flight hours you have, the better your chances of securing a job as a commercial pilot.

Certified Flight Instructor

Becoming a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) is a popular choice for pilots trying to build their flight time and gain valuable experience without spending too much on their own flight lessons. As a CFI, you’ll teach student pilots how to fly, while simultaneously increasing your flight hours and knowledge. This experience is invaluable in advancing your career as a pilot, as it provides you with a deep understanding of aviation and helps to sharpen your own skills source.

Job Opportunities

Various job opportunities are available to pilots looking to further their experience and move towards a commercial pilot career. Some options include working as a:

  • Flight instructor
  • Corporate or charter pilot
  • Cargo pilot
  • Regional airline pilot

These positions can offer a stepping stone to more prestigious jobs with larger airline companies or private clients. Just be prepared: advancing in your pilot career might require additional education or special certifications, with an estimated 2 years of experience at each level source. However, the time and effort you invest in these roles can ultimately lead to a fulfilling and successful career as a commercial pilot.

Types of Commercial Pilots

There are various types of commercial pilots, each with different roles and responsibilities. This section will cover the following subcategories: Airline Pilots, Cargo Pilots, Corporate Pilots, Helicopter Pilots, and Specialized Areas.

Airline Pilots

Airline pilots are responsible for safely transporting passengers and cargo on both domestic and international flights. They work for major airlines, regional carriers, and charter companies and are typically responsible for operating large passenger airplanes. A career as an airline pilot requires extensive training, experience, and the ability to handle long hours in the cockpit. Many airline pilots have a military background, making it a good transition for veterans into civilian life.

Cargo Pilots

Cargo pilots specialize in transporting goods and materials for various industries. They may work for major cargo airlines, such as FedEx or UPS, or smaller cargo operators that offer specialized services. Cargo pilots typically fly larger airplanes, and their career path often requires unique training and experience compared to that of airline pilots.

Corporate Pilots

Corporate pilots fly for private companies, usually on small to mid-sized business jets. These pilots are responsible for safely transporting executives, clients, or employees from one destination to another. Corporate pilots often enjoy a more flexible schedule compared to airline pilots, but they may be required to fly on short notice for business purposes. The training requirements for a corporate pilot may vary depending on the company and type of aircraft they operate.

Helicopter Pilots

Helicopter pilots operate rotary-wing aircraft for various sectors and serve different purposes like passenger transport, sightseeing, or news coverage. Some helicopter pilots work in specialized areas such as firefighting, medical evacuations, and search-and-rescue operations, which require additional training and certifications.

Specialized Areas

There are several specialized areas within the field of commercial aviation, each with its own unique set of challenges and requirements. Some examples include:

  • Firefighting pilots: These pilots fly specially equipped airplanes and helicopters to combat wildfires and support firefighting efforts.
  • Aerial survey and photography pilots: They operate small aircraft to capture high-resolution imagery or gather data for various industries, such as agriculture, construction, or government.
  • Flight instructors: These pilots teach aspiring pilots how to fly and prepare them for certification exams.

In conclusion, the world of commercial aviation offers various career opportunities for pilots with diverse skills and interests. Whether you’re interested in transporting passengers, flying high-tech helicopters, or supporting crucial rescue operations, there’s likely a type of commercial pilot career that suits your ambitions.

Job Roles and Responsibilities


The Captain is the highest-ranking member of an aircraft’s flight crew and is responsible for the aircraft’s safe operation. They have the overall responsibility to ensure the safety of passengers, crew, and cargo. The Captain conducts pre-flight checks, reviews the maintenance log book, and makes decisions regarding the flight route, altitude, and weather conditions1. As the leader of the flight crew, the Captain coordinates with the First Officer and, if necessary, the Flight Engineer, to ensure all procedures are followed and tasks are completed.

First Officer

The First Officer, also known as the co-pilot, assists the Captain in flying the aircraft, performing tasks such as pre-flight preparations, monitoring instruments, and communicating with air traffic control2. The First Officer shares some responsibilities with the Captain, like monitoring weather patterns and ensuring the safety of the passengers and crew on board. In certain situations, the First Officer may take control of the aircraft under the supervision of the Captain, especially during critical phases like takeoff and landing.

Flight Engineer

A Flight Engineer is an aircraft crew member who is responsible for monitoring and maintaining a plane’s complex systems, such as engines, hydraulics, and electrical systems3. While not present on all commercial flights, Flight Engineers are often needed for larger aircraft or those with more complex systems. Their duties include:

  • Conducting pre-flight inspections of the aircraft’s systems
  • Monitoring fuel consumption and engine performance during the flight
  • Troubleshooting any problems or malfunctions that may arise
  • Coordinating with the Captain and First Officer to ensure overall aircraft safety

In summary, the flight crew of a commercial aircraft consists of a Captain, First Officer, and sometimes a Flight Engineer, each fulfilling specific roles and responsibilities to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the aircraft.

Working Environment

As a commercial pilot, you’ll encounter various aspects in your daily work life. In this section, we’ll discuss a few aspects of the working environment that are essential for pilots to manage effectively.

Air Traffic Control

Air traffic control plays a vital role in the safe operation of any flight. Controllers are responsible for guiding the plane during takeoffs and landings and ensuring that all air traffic is handled efficiently to avoid collisions in the air and on the ground. A commercial pilot must build a strong working relationship with air traffic controllers and follow their instructions diligently.


Effective communication is a crucial aspect of a pilot’s work environment. Pilots must be able to convey information accurately and concisely to their crew members and air traffic controllers, both in the air and on the ground. Good communication skills are essential for maintaining a safe and efficient flight experience. This includes:

  • Verbal communication: Clear and concise speech is critical when communicating with the flight crew and ground personnel.
  • Written communication: Accurate and organized documentation, such as flight logs, is essential for record-keeping and regulatory purposes.
  • Non-verbal communication: Active listening, maintaining eye contact, and using appropriate body language can contribute to effective communication during preflight briefings and debriefings.

Weather Challenges

Weather is a significant factor that influences a commercial pilot’s daily work environment. Pilots need to be prepared to face all kinds of weather challenges. This includes monitoring weather conditions before takeoff and adjusting flight plans accordingly. Some common weather-related challenges pilots may face include:

  • Turbulence: Pilots must be able to handle sudden changes in air pressure that cause turbulence to ensure passenger safety and comfort.
  • Rain and snow: These can affect visibility and make takeoffs and landings more challenging, requiring extra caution and skill from the pilot.
  • Wind: Strong crosswinds during takeoffs and landings may demand deft maneuvering to maintain a safe, controlled flight.
  • Thunderstorms: Pilots should avoid flying through thunderstorms, as they pose a risk to the aircraft and its passengers.

Career Outlook

Salary and Job Growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for commercial pilots was $99,640 in May 2021. This figure may vary based on factors such as the pilot’s experience, the airline they work for, and the type of aircraft they operate. For airline and commercial pilots, employment is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031 – a rate considered about average for all occupations.

Airline Hiring Requirements

Becoming a commercial pilot involves a series of steps, the first of which is acquiring a private pilot certificate. This initial stage includes learning aviation basics and establishing a solid foundation for more advanced aircraft operations. You can find more information on this process in this step-by-step career guide.

To be hired by an airline, pilots must fulfill specific requirements, such as:

  • Holding specific flight hours
  • Possessing a valid pilot’s license
  • Passing a series of physical and mental exams
  • Completing additional training programs mandated by the airline

Pilot Shortage

There is an ongoing global pilot shortage, which can be attributed to factors such as the increasing demand for air travel and a gap between the number of airline pilot retirements and new pilots joining the workforce. Boeing’s Pilot & Technician Outlook estimates that 128,000 pilots are needed in North America over the next few years to address this issue. Consequently, airlines are offering competitive pay and incentives to attract new talent to the profession.

Additional Information

Endorsements and Ratings

As part of your commercial pilot training, obtaining different endorsements and ratings will open up more opportunities for your career. A multi-engine rating is valuable as it allows you to operate aircraft with multiple engines, which are commonly used by major airlines and charter flights. This rating requires additional flight time and successful completion of both written and practical tests.

Another crucial aspect of your journey is getting your logbook endorsement. Throughout your training, you’ll use a logbook to keep detailed records of your flight time, which must be endorsed by a flight instructor. This documentation is essential for demonstrating your experience and skills when applying for jobs and progressing in your career.

International Opportunities

Becoming a commercial pilot is not limited to just the United States. There are significant opportunities to explore in other countries, like India, where the aviation industry is expanding rapidly. Additionally, if you’re interested in a military career, the U.S. Air Force offers extensive pilot training and the chance to fly advanced aircraft.

Future of Aviation Technology

The aviation industry is continually evolving, with a focus on enhancing technology and systems that impact various aspects of flying an aircraft. For instance, flight simulators have become more sophisticated, enabling trainee pilots to gain experience in a controlled and safe environment.

The development of more fuel-efficient aircraft models like the Airbus A320 has driven the demand for pilots with knowledge of these modern systems. Furthermore, the integration of technology and air carriers will continue to transform the sector, offering exciting prospects for those pursuing a career as a commercial pilot.

Remember, beginning your journey as a commercial pilot requires a commitment to learning and staying updated with industry advancements. By obtaining the necessary endorsements, ratings, and exploring international opportunities, you’ll be well-prepared for a successful career in this exciting field.


  1. “How to Become a Commercial Pilot: Step-by-Step Career Guide” 2

  2. “How to Become an Airline Pilot – ATP Flight School” 2

  3. “Become a Pilot | Federal Aviation Administration” 2

  4. “How to Become a Pilot – and How That’s Changing”

  5. “7 Steps to Become a Pilot | From Zero Training to Captain”