Airline Pilot Career Information

If you really enjoy flying and think it would be great to do it for a living, you might be interested in career information for an airline pilot. In this profession, a rookie will have to pay their dues, but eventually this career path can pay off with both big salaries and lucrative benefits.


To be hired as a pilot, you’ll have to log 250 flight hours with a certain amount of time dedicated to handling specific conditions and special maneuvers. You’ll also have to pass an exam given after you have completed commercial pilot ground school.

Also, you will have to pass a check-ride, the flying equivalent of the driving test required to get a driver’s license. During your check ride, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) examiner will have you plan a flight, quiz you about aviation requirements, and then accompany you on a flight where he will ask you to successfully execute specific maneuvers. If you pass, the examiner will then issue you a commercial pilot’s certificate.

Along with this certificate, a commercial pilot needs to have a current first or second class medical certificate, meeting both the health and fitness requirements to be a pilot. A pilot will also need an instrument rating, allowing him to fly in low visibility as well as a multi-engine rating that shows that the pilot is qualified to fly commercial planes that have more than one engine. Eventually you’ll want to get your airline transport pilot certificate, allowing you to be the captain of a large, commercial aircraft. To get this certificate, you must have a be a high school graduate with first-class medical certificate, pass a written test, and log 1,500 flight hours, including at least 250 as the pilot in command of the plane.

Getting Hired

Just because you have your pilot’s certificate doesn’t meal you’ll be immediately hired at a major airlines. In fact, it is rare for big companies to hire you without a great deal of experience. Most major airlines require thousands of hours of flight time. Many also require a college degree. Smaller, regional or commuters airlines, however, might be willing to hire you with less experience or education, so these might be good places to look for your first professional job. Market conditions are the most important factor in the airline industry because there is typically a limited amount of jobs in the industry. So finding a job as a pilot really depends on the fiscal health of the airlines.

Salary/Job Outlook

At the moment around 5,000 new pilots are hired every year in the United States, and the industry is project to grow by 13% from its current 107,000 jobs in the near future. Airline pilot salaries vary widely, with a first year pilot earning somewhere between $25,000 to $50,000/year, depending on the airline, and a pilot with ten years of experience making anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 a year. You will also have numerous benefits including free travel and excellent life insurance, health insurance and retirement plans.

Basic Tasks

Most pilots transport passengers and cargo, but about one in five is hired to test aircraft, dust crops, spread seeds for reforestation, direct firefighting efforts, monitor traffic, track criminals, rescue efforts, and do other specific tasks. Pilots have numerous duties, including checking their aircraft, making a flight plan, communicating with dispatchers and air traffic controllers, handling takeoffs and landings as well as any challenges during the flight.

Hours/work schedule

Pilots work a wide variety of hours and days, and many international pilots experience jet lag. In an effort to prevent pilot fatigue, the FAA requires that pilots get at least 8 hours of rest within the 24 hours when they are on duty. You will also not be able to work more than 100 hours a month or 1,000 hours a year. In general, airline pilots average 65 to 75 flight hours a month and another 65 to 75 hours of non-flying duties. It is common for pilots to work several days on and then several days off. Usually pilots bid on their flight schedule with those with the greatest seniority having first choice.