How to Be a Commercial Pilot
By Eric Hammer
The first time anyone goes up in an aircraft (unless they
are too young to remember), most people have one of two reactions.
Either they absolutely hate it, or they start asking how to be
a commercial pilot. The idea of human powered flight, only about
100 years old has become so much a part of every day life that
most people don't think twice about it. But what does it take
to land a job flying an aircraft for American Airlines or TWA?
The answer, lots of flight time.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which sets the rules
for anyone wishing to fly an aircraft of any kind, commercial
or otherwise has very specific guidelines on how to be a commercial
pilot. Everyone starts the same and everyone goes through the
same amount of training. There are no real shortcuts, though
a few exceptions may be available.
For example, a certain amount of flight time that you are
required to take in order to become a commercial pilot may be
done using a professional flight simulator (using Microsoft's
flight simulator game on your PC doesn't count). Occasionally,
exceptions are granted to allow for a little less flight time.
Also, depending on the type of aircraft you want to learn to
fly, there are different requirements.
How Much Can You Make?
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary
for a commercial pilot is $119,750 per year. However, that number,
while impressive can be deceiving. First, pilots who earn good
salaries have worked their way up after a great many years of
training. Second, as airlines try to squeeze more profits out
of flights, they are also trying to get new hires at ever lower
Also, according to Payscale.com, the average pilot's salary
ranges from $39,127-$82,789. Expect to earn on the lower end
of that spectrum for at least the first few years of work.
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
Remember that pilots don't necessarily have to work only on
big, commercial airliners. You can also land work (no pun intended)
flying jets for places like UPS, DHL, Fedex and even the Post
Office since they all fly cargo jets all over the country and
the world. Plus, you won't have to worry about dealing with irate
Another suggestion many people who ask how to be a commercial
pilot tend to overlook is flying tourist aircraft and helicopters.
Tourist aircraft typically have a single engine and fly much
lower than commercial airliners. Helicopters also have lower
requirements in order to get a license to fly them.
Finally, there are other options for flying, including crop
dusters, fire fighting aircraft and piloting private aircraft
for companies and wealthy individuals, all of which increase
your options for flying jobs.
Qualifications / Requirements
As previously noted, the FAA has very specific rules regarding
getting a pilot's license. Everyone starts the same way - as
a student pilot (you are granted the right to be a "student
pilot" automatically the moment you take control of the
aircraft you are in - your instructor will be sitting beside
you and let you steer the plane. However, to get a student license,
there are other requirements - and you need a student license
to fly solo for the first time). You must then progress through
several levels before you get a commercial license.
Specifically and in short, you need 250 hours of flight time.
You also must pass a test, both written and practical. You must
already posses a private pilot's license and you must be over
18 years of age.
Note that if you want to begin learning to fly, the only requirement
is that you can physically reach the controls of the aircraft.
However, if you want to progress beyond flying with an instructor
(i.e. fly solo), then you have to be at least 16 years old and
pass a certain number of exams.
Start by finding a flight school. These are typically located
at small, regional airports in your area rather than at the big
commercial airport where you go to fly to some other destination.
Tell them you are interested in learning to fly. Most fight schools
will give you a first lesson either for free or for a minimal
cost. During that first lesson, you'll be shown the basics of
a pre-flight check (you always check the fuel to make sure it's
clear, you always check your instruments, you always buckle in,
etc.) and the pilot will take off with you in the copilot's seat.
When you are in the air, the pilot will allow you to take the
controls and steer the aircraft for a while before you return
to the ground.
After that initial flight, you'll sign up for lessons and
earn your private pilot's license. This allows you to take others
up in a single engine aircraft, but not to charge a fee. Once
you have that license, you can then begin learning toward your
commercial pilot's license.
Check out these helpful resources to find out more about how
to be a commercial pilot:
Aviation Administration: Become a Pilot - While it's a little
confusing to follow and we wish the site was laid out better,
the FAA's own web site does have a wealth of information on how
to be a commercial pilot.
Pilot: Commercial Pilot - This information, from a flight
school summarizes the details of what you'll need in order to
become a commercial pilot.