If you've always dreamed of a career as an airline pilot, now is the time -- with more and more seasoned pilots reaching the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandatory retirement age, some industry professionals estimate that 20,000 or more jobs will open up in this field over the next seven years. In fact, many regions are already suffering from a shortage of trained pilots, and some airports are being forced to cancel flights or reduce the number of flights they offer. Read on to learn more about what you'll need to do to obtain your commercial pilot's license, as well as some of your most cost-effective training options.
What training will you need to obtain your commercial pilot's license?
To become a commercial pilot, you'll need to be 18 or older and must be able to effectively read, write, and speak English. After obtaining your private pilot's certificate, you'll need to obtain at least 250 hours of flight time (with 20 or more spent with an instructor), or 150 hours of piloting time with 55 hours of instruction. This training time must also include 10 hours of solo flying, including several solo takeoffs and landings.
Once you've fulfilled these flight hours requirements, you'll be able to sit for your 100-question pilot examination, as well as take an oral test and flight test administered by a certified instructor. Passing each of these examinations will allow you to obtain your commercial pilot's license and be hired by any number of airlines around the country.
You may also want to investigate specific certificates or ratings to increase your marketability as a commercial pilot (or to broaden the types of flight instruction you can perform), like a multi-engine instructor rating or ground instructor rating.
What options do you have to receive this training?
There are nearly as many paths to a commercial pilot's license as there are individuals who seek this license; however, some paths are more expensive than others. When choosing a specific type of training program at schools and aviation colleges, you'll want to evaluate both the cost and the length of the program. If you're expecting a high starting salary, it may be advantageous to enroll in a more immersion-based program that will let you begin working sooner; whereas if you're already well able to support yourself, you may be better off taking the slower route and cash-flowing your education by working part-time as a flight instructor.
- Airline flight school
If you're planning to work for a specific airline (for example, if you live in a hub city like Atlanta or Charlotte), you may want to see whether this airline offers its own flight school in your area. These schools generally offer expedited courses (for a higher price than most private schools) but will often guarantee you a job upon your graduation, helping eliminate the stress associated with job-hunting.
- Private flight school
There are also a number of private flight schools not affiliated with certain airlines. Whether you live near a small rural airport or a large regional one, it's likely that your airport offers some of the training courses you'll need. These programs may take longer than those offered by airline flight schools, but are generally less expensive and somewhat more flexible (allowing you to take extra courses if you're feeling motivated, or take a break if you're not).
- Flight instruction
If you've already obtained a flight instructor rating, you may be able to rack up most of your required flight hours by taking on a few students. Once you've gotten your 250 hours (or 150 hours if you have extra time with an instructor), you'll be able to study for and take the required written, oral, and flight tests on your own.
This is by far the most cost-effective option and can be especially useful for those who have already embarked on another career but are looking for a change of pace. By obtaining your license and certifications while primarily doing "hobby flights," you'll avoid burnout and learn how to interact with a variety of pilot personalities.