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How to Become an Airline Pilot – A Complete Guide

Do you want to learn what it takes to become a commercial pilot? If YES, here is a complete guide plus requirements needed to become an airline pilot.

Commercial and airline pilots fly and navigate planes, aircrafts, and helicopters. Pilots are paid to transport people and cargo, for airlines on a fixed schedule. Pilots who are commercial may also fly aircraft that are, charter flights, rescue operations, aerial photography, rescue operations, and other such special flights.

There are three types of commercial pilots and they are:

  • Commercial pilots-: who are involved in unscheduled flight activities, like charter flights, aerial tours, and aerial photography.
  • Airline Pilots on the other hand, are commercial pilots who transport passengers and cargo, for airlines on a fixed schedule.
  • Flight instructors are also commercial pilots that teach students how to fly, using stimulators and dual-controlled aircraft.

What is a Pilot?

A pilot can be defined as one who flies and navigates, the flight of fixed-wing, multi-engine aircraft, using scheduled routes, for the transport of passenger and cargo.

Duties of a Pilot and their Job Description

  • Conducting a check on the overall condition of the aircraft, before and after every flight.THS will reveal defects that will determine if the plane will fly or not Ensuring that the aircraft isn’t above its weight limit, in other words, the cargo in the aircraft must be correctly loaded, to give the aircraft a balanced weight before, and during takeoffs and landings.
  • Pilots must also ensure that the weather conditions are acceptable, before any flight can be undertaken. This is for the safety for the passengers, crew members including the pilot himself, and the cargo.
  • Pilots file flight plans with the air traffic control. These plans can be modified, depending on weather and other conditions.
  • They monitor the engines, fuel consumption, and other systems in the aircraft during the flight. This is so that they could respond to any changes that might occur, with the aircraft systems, and other events like weather changes.
  • Pilots must fill out paperwork; this means putting down information in log books, such as fuel consumption, time of flight, distance flown, and status of the aircraft.
  • Pilots also conferred with weather forecasters, and flight dispatchers so as to keep abreast of flight conditions.

Tools and Equipment of the Trade for a Pilot

  • Cockpit Display Panel: This is a display panel that provides pilots with a range of information, like the flight instruments that helps him control, and fly the aircraft.
  • Heads-Up Display (HUD): A HUD is a technology unit that does not allow the pilot shift his gaze from where he is naturally looking at, so as not to cause a distraction. The HUD assists in navigation, communication, and computation.
  • Aircraft Braking System: This is a system that is used by a pilot during take-off, that provides maximum braking in an event where there might be a rejected take-off, or during landing where the system will provide a scheduled deceleration.
  • Anti-skid Systems: This is a system that is designed to minimize the damage to the aircraft’s tire, especially when the wheel is locked, or rotating at a speed that doesn’t correspond with the speed of the aircraft.
  • Aircraft Communications System: This is a digital system, which is used to transmit short messages between the aircraft and the ground stations through a satellite or air band radio.
  • Aircraft cooling fans: This is used to cool the equipment, so as not to cause overheating and probable malfunction.
  • Aircraft Drag Chutes: This is a heavy duty parachute device, which is installed on certain aircrafts that can be deployed during a landing roll to help in decelerating the aircraft.
  • Aircraft environment controllers: This is a system that provides air supply, cabin pressurization, and thermal control, for the passengers and crew.
  • Aircraft ejection system: This is a system designed to rescue the pilot, crew, as well as passengers depending on the type of carrier; and is to be used only in dire emergencies. Although commercial flights do not own emergency seats as that is only reserved for private jets and military aircrafts but commercial airlines own the emergency exit in the case that the plane lands on say water. These include emergency exit windows and doors, window exit escape ropes, evacuation slides.
  • Extinguishing system: This is a system that is used to put off little fires that might happen on-board the aircraft
  • Fuel Management System: Fuel management system is used in an aircraft to maintain, control and monitor fuel usage.
  • Guidance systems: This system is a device or group of devices used to control the movement of an aircraft.
  • Aircraft Hydraulic system: Hydraulic systems are used to reduce the effort of the pilot at operating the flight controls.
  • Navigation beacons: This is a non-directional radio transmitter from a known location that can be used as an aid.
  • Aircraft Oxygen equipment: This is the equipment that is used only during emergencies. These kinds of equipment include protective breathing equipment, portable oxygen equipment, chemical oxygen generators and supplemental oxygen systems.
  • Warning systems: This is a system designed to alert the pilots of danger or of the proximity of the ground from the plane.
  • Flight Management Systems: This is an on-board multi-purpose system, which comprises the flight management computer, the automatic flight control, the navigation system, and the electronic flight instrument system.

How to Become an Airline Pilot – A Complete Guide

Facts, Figures and Labor Market Situation for Pilots

In the united states

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as at 2014, pilots earned an average annual salary of $118,140. As at 2012, 104,100 pilots were employed, with a projected job prospects decline of -800 for the period between 2012 and 2022. This is a -1% decline.
  • In 2012, about 4% of commercial pilots were self-employed.
  • The number of private pilots is on a steady decline.
  • People are now risk averse, and now more dependent.
  • The cost of becoming a pilot is too high,
  • There are fewer passengers especially around peak periods than there used to be.

In the united kingdom

  • According to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), there are about 9,846 pilots, with just 570 being females. Female pilots are at a under 6% of the male dominated industry.
  • A newly qualified officer for a small operation earns £21,000, while those in larger companies could earn between £22,000 and £24,000
  • Some companies run apprenticeship schemes for newly employed pilots. The salaries are lower, but the trainings are paid for by the company.
  • A pilot’s salary rises with each year of service with a company.
  • The range of a working day varies, and can range from 3 to 12 hours.
  • Pilots need to live near the airport where they are based, as they could often be on standby duty, and they sometimes might be required to get to work on a short notice.
  • Pilots are restricted to 900 flying hours per year.
  • Commercial airline pilots are mostly males.
  • Pilots are required to pass certain tests every 6 months, and a yearly medical test.

In Australia

  • As at 2012, 13,700 pilots were employed with a projected 13,000 to be employed by 2017. The average hours worked per week by a pilot according to Air Transport is 35.4.
  • Over the last 5 years, employment rate for pilots increased by 12.5%, but is expected to decline from 2017. Female pilots in Australia that worked full time are at a low 3.3%, as compared to their male counterparts who were at 82.9%.
  • Air Transport Pilots work varied schedules according to scheduled flights.
  • Total employment growth for full-time and part-time pilots over the last 5 years, have been 4,400.
  • This is a male dominated industry.
  • The top three regions that had the highest employment of pilots were Victoria at 25%, Queensland at 24.8% and New South Wales at 24.4%.
  • The starting salary per annum for pilots was $70,000, with the average at $96,000, and the most senior at $115,000


  • The employment average between 2010 and 2012 was 2,450, with a projected annual growth of 1.1% between 2013 and 2017. Employed female pilots were at a 5.5%. The age employment average ranged between 25 and 44 years. Those that worked full time were at 93.4%.
  • There are 3 types of Pilot’s licenses, and only 1 type of permit that a pilot can hold.
  • A recreational pilot permit is valid for only within Canada and is a pilot that wants to have fun with his family and friends, or transport them.
  • Private Pilot’s License for fun and transport, with family and friends. Valid all around the world.
  • Commercial Pilot’s License is to be used in flying for a living, and for fun with family and friends. It is valid all over the world, and can be used to fly big jets but not as a Captain.
  • Airline Transport Pilot’s License is to be used in flying for a living, as well as fly friends and family for fun, and transport. It is valid all over the world, and includes flying the big jets as a captain.
  • The first Pilot license is either a recreational pilot permit, or a private pilot’s license.
  • One can start training to be a pilot, without taking the medical exam at a certain stage. The medical exam is not a requirement to start, but must be taken before training is completed.

Is the Demand for Pilots on the Increase or Is It Declining?

The demand for pilots isn’t growing. The retirement age for an airline commercial pilot is 65 years, and more pilots aren’t there to fill up the spaces, with most choosing to become commercial pilots or flight instructors. The fall is also related to the mental stress and fatigue plus strained family relationships for the pilots. So, while it isn’t a dying profession, it is slowly declining.

Impact of Internet Technology on the Profession

The positives

  • The internet has aided in communication, as pilots now find it easier to communicate with their colleagues as well as relevant authorities.
  • Pilots have used the internet to check up on the location of places they would like to visit, while on a layover. This means that it helps them plan accordingly to ensure that it fits in with their schedule.
  • The internet has allowed pilots have information as regarding certain aviation matters on their fingertips.
  • The internet can be used by pilots to pass on tips to pass on information to enthusiastic intending pilots.

The Negatives

  • As with everything positive, there are also negatives as well. Wrong information can be gotten online, because as much as there are genuine websites, there are also fakes as well.
  • The internet has demystified flying, as such; pilots might no longer be regarded with awe.

Career Opportunities Available to Pilots

  1. Flight Instructor: A pilot can decide to become a teacher of flight and be called a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). He can teach the novice how to fly, and how to apply knowledge, skills, and judgment. The instructor can teach the student the traditional aviation academics, meteorology, navigation, demonstrate flight procedures and cultivate piloting skills.
  2. Banner towing: A banner pilot flies low and slowly especially in crowded, open places to help promote an advertiser’s message. This could be a daily or occasional operation.
  3. Flying Fire Fighting: This is especially for fires that cannot be reached by fire fighter from the ground. Air fire fighters help put out fires, by releasing a chemical fire retardant.
  4. Flying Law enforcement: They help transport prisoners from one jurisdiction to another, and can be used to chase bandits or track speeders.
  5. Medical Evacuation: This is sometimes referred to as an air ambulance. They either help convey sick patients to distant treatment clinics, or respond to an emergency life threatening situation.
  6. Broadcasting: They help give traffic reports, several times a day and also information as to what caused a pile up or bottle neck.
  7. Immigration and Customs Inspectors: They inspect and investigate people, goods, merchandise, and carriers arriving or departing a country, so as to detect those that violate immigration and customs laws and regulations.
  8. Commercial Pilots: Commercial pilots fly and navigate nonscheduled air carrier routes. This includes charter crafts, air ambulance, and air tour pilots and so on.
  9. Airfield Operations Specialists: Airfield operation specialists ensure that commercial and military aircrafts takeoff and land smoothly, by coordinating between air-traffic control and maintenance personnel.
  10. Ship and Boat Captains: They command and navigate ships, and vessels in coastal waters, bays, and lakes.
  11. Ship Pilots: Ship pilots steer and command ships, in and out of harbours.
  12. Freight and Cargo Inspectors: They inspect and handle storage and stowing of cargoes, and freights.
  13. Environmental Compliance Inspectors: They investigate and inspect sources of pollution, so as to protect the public and environment. They also ensure that there is conformance with regulations and ordinances, according to Federal, State, and Local regulations.
  14. Geodetic Surveyors: Geodetic Surveyors use satellite observations, global navigation, light detection and ranging, and other related sources to measure large areas of the Earth’s surface.
  15. Environmental Science and Protection Technicians, Including Health: They perform field and laboratory tests, which is used to monitor the environment. They also investigate the sources of pollution, especially those that affect health.
  16. Forensic Science Technicians: They identify, collect, classify, and analyze physical evidence that is related to criminal investigations.

Professional Bodies and Associations a Pilot Must Belong to

In the united states

  • The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA): CAPA aim is to address security, safety, legislative, and regulatory issues that affects its members on matters that would likely affect it.
  • Aircrafts Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA): AOPA advocates, educates, trains, and enlightens its members about aviation safety and regulations. It is the most influential association.

In the united kingdom

  • British Airline Pilots Associations (BALPA): BALPA is the association and trade union that is responsible for representing the interests of all UK pilots.
  • The Independent Pilots Association (IPA): IPA is a professional association that promotes the interest and welfare of its members.

In Australia

  • Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP): The AFAP is concerned with representing and promoting the interests of Australian professional flight crew, and to also champion highest standard for aviation safety.
  • The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA): This is a professional and federally registered association, which is concerned about and advocates for pilots employed by the Qantas group, in airline operations within Australia and around the world.

In Canada

  • The College of Professional Pilots Canada (CPPC): This is not a union but it aims at cultivating the professional excellence of pilots, to teach and maintain accepted safe practices for all kinds of pilots.

Benefits of Becoming a Pilot?

  • Travel Perks: Pilots going on personal air travel get huge discounts. These discounts are not limited to airfares alone; they can also be on car rentals and hotel accommodation. The perks which are usually for life are not limited to the pilots alone, but are extendable to his family members.
  • Flexible Schedule: Pilots enjoy a flexible schedule, especially as they are limited to 1,000 flying hours a year, or 225 hours per month. The hours per month are not mainly for flying, but can be used on non-flight duties such as scheduling flights, record keeping, and arrangement of aircraft maintenance.
  • Financial and Medical Benefits: Carriers ensure that their pilots are enrolled for free in a 401k savings plan, and some carriers also match the pilot’s contributions.
  • Pilots and their families also receive comprehensive medical coverage.
  • Work Clothes: Carriers provide pilots with work clothes, and so they do not have to worry about either buying, or what to wear to work.
  • Bidding for preferred routes: Pilots that love to experience the culture of others, can always bid for international routes, as this affords them the opportunity to, free of charge.
  • Salary: The salary a pilot receives is huge, compared to the fact that they do not have to work all the time and they are doing exactly what they love to.
  • Knowledgeable about other places: Due to the fact that a pilot travels to other places he originally wouldn’t have, he is more knowledgeable about the places he has seen and been to, and can act as a source of knowledge for those who want to know.

Factors Discouraging from Becoming a Pilot

  1. Strain on family time: A pilot works for an average of 12 to 15 days every month, but sometimes a pilot might have to commute especially if he works out of the state, and that takes more days out of his work days. If a pilot has two back to back assignments, he might be required to be gone for a longer period. This reduces the time he would spend with his family, and might cause a strain in some cases. This could be discouraging to those who want to become pilots.
  2. Short layovers: A pilot might travel to exotic places, but might not be opportune to see the place he has traveled to. This is due to that fact that layovers in some places are very short, only affording the pilot the time to have a short rest, without touring the place.
  3. Delays: Passengers aren’t the only ones who hate to be delayed; it is something that pilots don’t enjoy as well. Delays for pilots mean that they aren’t paid, since pilots are paid for actual flight hours; also it means that they get short layovers when they finally get to their destination. This could be discouraging to those that want to become pilots.
  4. Alcohol: There is a policy banning pilots from taking alcohol, between 8 to 12 hours before getting into the cockpit. This means that most pilots have to wait till they get home, and to be sure of their flight schedule before taking alcohol. This could discourage some people from becoming pilots, especially those who cannot do without taking alcohol.
  5. Free flying on off days: Even though pilots get to fly free on days off, most do not use it because after a while, flying wears away the excitement of being in an airplane. Also, even though you might get free seats, you are not considered as important as a paying customer, and during delays your vacation might be postponed till all paying customers have been attended to,
  6. No time for Family get-togethers especially during holidays: Christmas, Easter, New Year Eve’s celebrations amongst other holidays are the peak working period for a pilot. This means that family get-togethers and re-unions are missed. This could be discouraging for those that love to spend holiday time with their families.
  7. Stringent rules: The rules are that apart from pertinent manuals, no other reading manual can be in the cockpit. Pilots and their co-pilots have to constantly watch the needles and gauges; this could be quite boring for a long flight.

How Much Do Pilots Earn Monthly/Annually?

  • In the United States, According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as at 2014, pilots earned an average annual salary of $118,140
  • In the United Kingdom, the average salary per year depends on the carrier the pilot is working for. Average salaries for experienced pilots range between £36,000 and £48,000
  • In Australia, the average salary per annum is $96,000 for pilots.
  • In Canada, an airline pilot earns an average salary of C$68,500 per year.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pilot?

  • In the United States, You can become a pilot in nearly 6 months.
  • In the United Kingdom-: In acquiring an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL), one can take an integrated course that will last for 18 months, or the modular training which also lasts for 18 months with 150 hours of flying practice.
  • In Australia-: The least time one can become a pilot is in 10 months, from the TIF to the ATPL.
  • Canada-: The least time one can become a pilot is in 6 months.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Pilot

  • In the United States

The least educational requirement is a high school diploma, or its equivalent. Most commercial airline pilots have at least a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, but any serious pilot requires the following licenses before he can become a pilot.

  • Private Pilot License (PPL): An intending pilot needs a private pilot license first, which allows one to fly on his own but not to get paid for flying.
  • Commercial Pilot Certificate (CPC): A CPC is earned by logging in at least 250 flight hours and passing through a commercial pilot ground school that takes about 80 hours. The ground school allots time for certain maneuvers and conditions. The candidate must be at least 18 years old.

A check-ride will be done by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) examiner who will ask the pilot to plan a flight, answer several quizzes on aviation matters and accompany the pilot on a flight, where the pilot will be expected to perform certain maneuvers. A success at this stage guarantees a commercial pilot’s certificate.

  • Medical Certificate: An aviation medical examiner will verify that the pilot meets the health and fitness requirement. These medical exams are to be performed by the pilot every year, till the end of his career. If the pilot becomes a captain, the medical exams will be done in every 6 months.
  • Instrument Rating: Instrument rating is gotten at Instrument ground school, and it is gotten in order to fly with low visibility (clouds and adverse weather conditions). The pilot has to log a specified number of at least 40 hours of instrument flight hours, and also pass an instrument rating check-ride – which is flying without visibility. Instrument rating procedures is done in every 6 months.
  • Multi-Engine Rating: Flying a plane with multiple engines is a requirement for a commercial airline pilot.
  • Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (ATP): The highest certificate is that of the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, and allows the pilot to be a captain of a large commercial aircraft. This certificate requires the candidate to pass a written test, have a first class in his medical certificate, be a high school graduate and have 1,500 flight hours, 250 of which must have been as a captain. Candidates must be at least 23 years old.

In the United Kingdom

  • The least qualifications needed are a minimum of 5 GCSEs and 2 A-levels. A degree or postgraduate isn’t essential. Before becoming a commercial airline pilot, the candidate needs to hold an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) which would remain frozen till a certain number of hours have been achieved to unfreeze the license.
  • Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Class One Medical: This is a medical requirement that all airline pilots must pass before they can achieve the ATPL. All later medicals have to be passed every 6 months or 1 year.

A candidate must first hold the private pilot flying license, and after that, to get the ATPL can be achieved in two ways:

  • Integrated Course: This is a full time intensive course of 18 months. A flight training provider carries out a mixture of theory and practical classes. A student using this route might not have a previous experience of flying, and will have to fly up to the required hours of 1,500 hours by the ATPL, 500 hours of which must be in a plane with more than one crew before a license can be given.
  • Modular Training: This is same duration as the integrated course. The only difference being that this training can be carried out in chunks, as the students can take this training while working. The theoretical teachings can be learnt via on-line (long distance) or as a full-time course.

The student needs to be able to hold a private pilot license, and have completed 150 flying hours.

In Australia

  • Trial Instructional Flight (TIF): This is not a compulsory training but can be a building block for inexperienced pilots.
  • Private Pilot License (PPL): This might take 4 to 6 months to complete and involves theory and private practice.
  • Commercial Pilot License (CPL): This needs a flying experience period of 150 to 200 hours. The candidate must be 18 years.
  • Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL): The total flying hours needed by a candidate to gain an ATPL is 1,500 hours. The candidate must be at least 21 years. Candidates will need to command a multi-engine instrument rating to be eligible.                     

In Canada

  • Private Pilot License (PPL): This might take 2 to 3 months to complete and is considered the basic pilot license that everyone must get.
  • Commercial Pilot License (CPL): This allows one to work professional. The license requires 200 to 250 flying hours before the candidate can take the exam.
  • University Degree: This is optional but will give the candidate an edge over others.
  • Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL): The total flying hours needed by a candidate to gain an ATPL is a minimum of 1,500 hours. This is the highest level of licensing, and the candidate can work as a captain for major airlines.

Are There Certifications Needed by an Airline Pilot?

Yes, there are trainings that can be taken by intending pilots, and they are:

  • In United States, a candidate can take the Accelerated Professional Pilot Training.
  • In the United Kingdom, a candidate can take the Integrated Modular.
  • In Australia, a candidate can take the Multi-Engine Class Rating
  • In Canada, a candidate can take the Commercial Pilot License course

What is the Cost of Training to Become a Pilot?

  • In US, the professional pilot training program costs $37,620
  • In UK, a course like the integrated modular can cost from between £80,000 to £90,000.
  • In Australia, the Multi-Engine Class Rating $6,050
  • In Canada, the commercial pilot license costs C$17,160

Are Flight Trainings Available Online? Can You Become a Pilot Online?

No, intending pilots can take theoretical online courses to know about aircrafts, but becoming a pilot requires practical experience and flying time. So, while online course might give you an idea, and even show you videos on how to navigate and fly a plane, till you take the throttle, you cannot be considered a pilot.

Skills and Traits Needed by a Pilot to Be Successful

  1. System Analysis: This skill is needed in determining how a system should work, and how changes in operations, conditions, and the environment will likely affect the flight outcome.
  2. Communication skills: Pilots must be able to speak clearly when giving out instructions to crew members and passengers, and conveying information to traffic controllers. They must also listen carefully to instructions.
  3. Observational skills: Pilots have to regularly watch gauges, screens, and dials to ensure that they system are all in working order. They have to be on the look-out for other aircrafts, or obstacles that could be from the weather. They also must see clearly, possessing good vision, and be able to correctly judge the distance between objects.
  4. Problem-solving skill: Pilots must be able to quickly know and identify a problem, and gauge the complexity of the problem, before figuring out a solution to the problem.
  5. Quick reaction time: Due to the fact that danger can occur at any time, a pilot always has to be on the alert, so as to be able to respond quickly, using his good sense of judgment.
  6. Management skill: Pilots must be able to manage, direct, develop and motivate the people he works with, identifying their strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Troubleshooting: A pilot should know and identify the causes of an operating error, and seek for ways to solve it.

Tips and Advice to Help Advance your Career as a Pilot

  • Experience: In aviation, advancement can only be gotten if one has the necessary experience. Experience enables pilots quick at handling common and not so common problems that might likely occur on the job.
  • Keeping up to date with news: A pilot has to stay relevant and add to his personal experience, and learn about changes or trends in the aviation industry, by reading up on industry publications, blog and website news.
  • Communication skills: Pilots that are younger need to constantly communicate, with older pilots so as to understand their job responsibility, and how to go about it. They could also ask questions, and professional tips that might help them become better at work.
  • Professional Development Courses: Pilots have to continue to upgrade on their skills and abilities by attending as many professional courses as they can. These courses are usually by the airline, and can be on communication, office organization, goal setting, and other relevant skills. This is intended so that a pilot can constantly develop himself.
  • Challenging roles: Another way of advancing is to have challenging roles, like flying bigger aircrafts or wanting longer hauls. These challenging roles could add to the experience of the pilot, as he is likely to encounter more obstacles on longer hauls, than he would have on shorter hauls.

In conclusion, flying requires a high level of concentration, so as to be react to anything that might go wrong during take-offs and landing. There is also the mental stress of being responsible for crew members, and passengers. Furthermore, pilots mostly retire at 65 years.