Demand remains steady for commercial and airline pilots, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The mean salary for a commercial pilot is around $75,000, with the mean for airline pilots 25-30% higher. Jobs for commercial pilots come from a wide variety of sectors, including the parcel and freight delivery services, corporate aircraft, tour flights, and of course, the aircraft charter business (like this business for example) and the private jet charter segment, a rapidly growing part of the business.
How does one go about becoming a commercial pilot? Let’s run through the basic steps:
1) Understand the requirements. You must be 18, hold a private pilot’s license, being able to speak, understand and read English, and have at least 250 hours of flight time experience.
2) Health. If you have an aviation medical certificate, you’ll need to upgrade to a 2nd class medical certificate to qualify for commercial pilot status.
3) Testing. Study for, and sit for, the FAA exam. Taking the Federal Aviation Administration’s written exam for commercial pilots early in your training will be helpful as you start the practical part of the education.
4) Fly. You’ll not only need 250 hours of experience, you’ll have to demonstrate proficiency in certain types of flying, including cross-country flights, in-command time, instrument status, and complex aircraft experience.
5) The checkride. You’ve done it before, get ready for it again. A commercial instructor will have to sign off on your knowledge and ability as a commercial pilot, and that will require your passing a couple hour oral exam on the ground and a short flight.
Alternate path and additional requirements:
One can gain the experience and hours necessary by joining an aviation program in one of the military services. Should you qualify for military flight training, you’ll not only get the experience, but you’ll save a bundle of money on the training. Companies that hire commercial or airline pilots usually have high regard for military trained pilots. You’ll have to be prepared to make a multi-year time commitment, as that will be the ‘price’ the military requires in return for your training.
Consider a complete college education. While there is no requirement to have a college degree to become a commercial pilot, many employers will look at a degree as a positive when they are evaluating candidates to hire.
With your training behind you, it’s time to start looking for a job, and you’ll be surprised at how many opportunities there are for commercial pilots. Whether its being a flight instructor, private jet charter, crop duster, tour operator, ferry pilot, or corporate pilot, the jobs are out there. Be prepared to ‘start small’ to gain additional experience and rack up hours in the air.
Maintain a professional appearance and lifestyle. There are few job interviews more serious than for pilot positions, and especially with aircraft charter companies. Look professional. Don’t be surprised if employers require background and criminal checks, physicals and regular drug testing. Live clean. If you do have a “blemish” in your past, it may be OK with your prospective employer, depending on how much time has passed.
With the education, training, and experience behind you, the sky is the limit, literally, for your new career.