How to Become a Commercial Pilot (Airline) | 7 Steps & Guide

Know how to become a commercial pilot. Get all the steps and requirements, training details, and set up a career as an air pilot.

Many of us have dreamt of becoming a pilot in our childhood days. However, with the growing age.

All these dreams fade away because of the limited knowledge of the majority population about this profession.

This article focuses on providing a detailed guideline about how to become a commercial pilot. There are different types of pilots.

A commercial pilot is one who is hired by the major airlines and is given the duty to transport passengers and cargo as well as assigned for aerial photography, rescue missions, firefighting, etc. 

To become a pilot, you have to undergo a training program in one of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – certified training centers.

You will require a bachelor’s degree and your course must include the following subjects – Maths, Physics, English, and Aeronautical Engineering.

To become an Airline Pilot, you will need a transport pilot certificate, for which you have to be 23 years old and a flight time of 1,500 hours.

A pilot requires several skills such as communication skills, teamwork, interpersonal skills, adaptability, etc. The average airline pilot salary is $140,340. 

How to Become a Pilot?

The following steps will guide you through how to become an FAA-certified professional pilot:

Step 1: Finding Out a Good Pilot School 

This step is the first and foremost step in the journey of how to become an airline pilot. Find a good pilot training school. Try to compare various pilot training schools and choose the best that suits you. Some of the best pilot training schools in the USA are as follows:

Step 2: Go For an Introductory Pilot Training Program 

Before you enroll in your pilot training school, go for an introductory flying lesson. This lesson will help you to understand what it will be like when you go for a training program, what are the things that you are going to learn in the process of how to become an airline pilot. 

Step 3: Get Your FAA Medical Certificate 

If you want to become a pilot then you will need to meet the basic medical requirements. Aspirants have to pass the FAA third-class medical exam.

Also, if someone wants to fly professionally then they have to obtain a first-class medical certificate through an Aeromedical Examiner (AME), which recreational pilots might not need. 

Step 4: Apply for FAA Student Pilot Certificate 

The previous step of becoming a professional pilot is to get your student pilot certificate.

You will have to apply for this certificate through the official website of FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA). This certificate will matter while you are training to fly solo. 

Step 5: Start Your Flying Lessons 

This is where you will get to obtain all the Aeronautical knowledge and the training experiences that one needs to become a certified pilot.

So, start taking your flying lessons very seriously if you want to fly a plane professionally. 

Step 6: Take the Written Exam

Before becoming a certified pilot, one must pass the FAA private pilot knowledge test. This exam can be taken during the middle of the pilot training program. The exam will test your knowledge in the fields of aerodynamics, weather, weather instruments, and lots more. 

Step 7: Take the Practical Exam

This is the last and final step of becoming a pilot. This test takes place both in the form of an oral examination and a test ride.

This ride check will be performed under the supervision of a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE). This exam will test your flying skills. Once you pass this test, you will become an FAA certified pilot. 

How Long Does It Take To Become A Pilot? 

If we speak in general terms then the tag ‘Pilot’ involves all kinds of aviators. It depends on which type of pilot you want to become.

It ranges between a few weeks, months, and years. Now let us see the type of pilot category and the time it takes to become one:

  • Private Pilot: A pilot training school often regulates under Part 61 or Part 141. Part 61 requires at least 40 flight hours to obtain a PPL. Moreover, Part 141 requires 35 flight hours to obtain a PPL. Overall, a pilot requires a minimum of 60-70 flying hours to get the license 
  • Commercial Pilot: It will take a minimum of 12 weeks to become a certified CPL holder.
  • Recreational Pilot: To obtain the license it will take around 30 flight hours.
  • Student Pilot: Within 3 weeks, one can get a student’s pilot certificate 
  • Sports Pilot: 20 flight hours is the minimum duration for becoming a sports pilot. 

Type of Pilots:

We have assembled here a list of career options you can choose from if you have a pilot certification. 

  • Regional Airlines: You can opt for this career option, which requires you to become a domestic pilot under a regional airline. Several pilots prefer this to major airlines because of its fewer overnight trips and the privilege to stay closer to their homes. 
  • Major Airlines: This is the best career option for pilots. It requires you to become a commercial transport pilot under an international airline and you will get to travel all over the world. You can choose the best for yourself from over 5000 airlines. 
  • Cargo Pilot: This category requires you to deliver packages and parcels for the cargo company you are working under.
  • Corporate and Business Aviation: You will be required to fly small, high-end corporate jets for corporations, organizations, businesses, and even for rich individuals. 
  • Flight Instructor: It is also known as CFI that stands for the certified flight instructor. In this job category, you will be required to teach and mentor young aspiring pilots. You can teach from a flight school, an aviation college or you can also operate as a private instructor. 
  • Air Ambulance Pilot:  It is also known as EMR. This requires you to fly for various emergencies such as severe medical situation, organ transport, life flight, etc.
  • Government service pilot: This requires you to fly planes and helicopters for many different government federal agencies such as DEA, FBI, FAA, etc.
  • Fire Fighting Pilot: This is the most difficult pilot job and requires you to have extreme knowledge and skills to handle a situation as safely as possible. You will be paid to put out forest fires, building fires, etc. 
  • Military Pilot: Though the greater part of this job requires you to engage in combats, there are other elements to it as well. You will get to fly the latest aircraft and will be paid to train while on active duty. 
  • Media Pilot: If you are going for this type, then you will be required to report on traffics, police pursuits, aerial surveillance, and general media news. 
  • Airshow stunt pilot: This falls under the riskier pilot careers. Generally, an airshow stunt pilot performs aerial acrobatics in festivals and events for a large crowd of an audience, but sometimes they also compete in aerial races. 

How to become a commercial pilot?

There are five steps to becoming a commercial pilot:

I) Eligibility Criteria:

In the path of becoming a commercial pilot, primarily comes eligibility requirements and criteria.

You must be at least 18 years old and be able to write, read, and understand English. Firstly, you will be required to earn a private pilot license that will allow you to fly single-engine aircraft under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). 

This is the first step to becoming a commercial pilot. The most gruesome hurdle one faces while pursuing their commercial pilot training is the lack of experience.

An aspirant will need at least 250 hours of flying experience to achieve a commercial pilot license.

II)  2nd class medical certificate:

Since you will be required to earn a private pilot license to begin your training, the chances are high that you might already possess an aviation medical certificate.

If it is a third-class medical certificate, it is recommended to upgrade to a second-class certificate since a second-class certificate is a minimum required certification to get all the benefits of a commercial pilot.

III) The FAA Exam:

To proceed further in this path you will be needed to take the FAA written exam. You must prioritize this exam and get this done within the early stages of your commercial pilot training.

So that you can acquire extra knowledge before your actual training. Once you are done with this step, you can now give your undivided attention to flying. 

IV) Start Flying:

To acquire a commercial license under CFR part 61, you will be required to have at least 250 hours of flight time including  100 hours as Pilot-In-Command (PIC) and 50 hours cross-country flying.

On top of these, you must also take the instrument training where you will be trained to navigate in difficult conditions by using various technologies present in the flight. The certification takes approximately 2 months to get. 

V) Take the Checkride:

Once you have done with all the above steps and have learned everything about the privileges and limitations of a commercial license, your instructor will enroll you for the Checkride.

You have to pass a verbal round as well as a practice round, in which you will be asked by your instructor to fly an aircraft.

Remember to act professionally at all times since the examiner will judge you on that basis as well. 

How to get a pilot license?

The first step to make a career in the Airline is to obtain a private pilot license. A private pilot license is more intense and difficult to get than a recreational pilot license or sports pilot certification, but not as extensive as a commercial pilot license.

1) The foremost step is to meet the eligibility requirement guidelines. You must be at least 17 years old and should be fluent in English. Other than these, you must also complete certain flight training requirements and the knowledge exam.

2) You will begin the real deal by obtaining a student pilot certificate. There are three ways to obtain your student pilot certificate:

•    If you go to the aviation medical examiner’s office at your appointed schedule, you can get both the student pilot certificate and the aviation medical exam certificate in one at the same time. This is the most commonly opted option for young aspiring pilots.  

•    The second option is to go to the FAA flight standard district office and apply for a student pilot license. Remember this does not come with a medical certificate. 

•    The last option is to apply for the student pilot certificate to an FAA examiner. 

3) If you do not have a medical license already it is best to get yourself one before you get to solo the airplane. A third-class medical certificate is essential to fully utilize the privileges of a private pilot license. 

4) Find yourself an appropriate flight instructor.  If you do not have one in mind, it is suggested to check your local airport. It is a small community and you will surely find instructors that are eager to teach. 

5) You must take the FAA private pilot written exam to proceed further in your curriculum.

It is recommended to take this exam at an early stage since background knowledge will make your flying easier.

This exam is an unescapable step before your final private check ride leading to your license. 

6) Finally start your flying training. This is the phase where you will gain knowledge about all the moves, take-offs, turns, landings, descents, etc.

The primary focus will be to learn how to safely land and take off but you will also be required to gain insight into emergency procedures, instrumental training, and radio communication.

You will get the opportunity to fly 10 hours solo during this phase, which is a mandatory requirement for taking the FAA practical exam.

7) The last step is to take the FAA check ride (PDF). For this, you need to have a certain mandated experience.

Which includes 40 hours of flight time of which 20 hours should be with an instructor and 10 hours should be solo flight time. 

On top of these, you will also be required to have 3 hours of cross country flying with your instructor, 3 hours of night flying, 10 take-offs and landings, 1 cross-country flight of over 100 nautical miles, and 3 hours of instrumental training.

The exam is divided into two parts the first part includes a verbal exam that can last up to 30 minutes to a couple of hours.  Once you have completed the first part, you will then take the flight portion of the exam, which usually lasts 1-2 hours.

8) Upon completion of all the above steps, your FAA examiner will help you fill-up the online paper works and you will be required to pay them (rates vary so check beforehand).

You will be given a temporary private pilot license for the timing until the official FAA license arrives in your mail.

Commercial Pilot License Requirements:

Getting a Commercial Pilot License is the last stage of becoming a commercial pilot. Getting this license will allow you to get the post of a pilot or a co-pilot (first officer) in any commercial airline transportation.

Now, to get this license, you will have to appear for several tests and to appear for the tests, there are certain basic requirements:

  • Your age must not be less than 18 years.
  • You must possess a Class 2 Medical Certificate that is you have to be physically and mentally fit to become a commercial pilot.
  • To get a Commercial Pilot License, you must be eligible and should have a Private Pilot License.
  • Your skills in the English language must be excellent.

Now, to get a Commercial Pilot License, you have to undergo various training programs as well as several tests. They are divided into the following categories.

Ground training:

This is the first stage of your training program. Ground training is based more on theoretical training rather than practical training.

This training program will take place in the classrooms. You have to complete at least 35 hours of ground training according to the Instrument Rating under Part 41. The ground training comprises of three stages, each stage comprising of one exam.

In simple words, you will have to clear three exams to pass this stage.

Flight tests:

After your theoretical training is complete, next comes the flight training that is your practical test.

To pass this training program, the minimum criteria is 55 hours of dual flight according to Part 141 and at least 20 hours dual flight as per Part 61.

The flight training also consists of three stages and each stage comprises one flight test. You will be getting a single-engine aircraft and a single-engine complex aircraft for this test.

Practical exam:

Once your ground and flight training is complete, you have to appear for a practical exam, which is divided into oral and practical rounds.

Theoretical exam:

In the end, you have to give a theoretical exam and the passing percentage in this exam is 70%. After you pass all the mentioned stages, you will get your Commercial Pilot License.

Now, there are certain requirements according to Part 141 and Part 61 that you have to achieve to get your Commercial Pilot License.

Part 141:

  • You have to complete a total flight time of 190 hours, out of which the dual time will cover 120 hours.
  • The students have to undergo a 55 hours flight time with his or her instructor.
  • The students have to undergo a solo flight time of 10 hours.

Part 61:

  • The students must complete a total flight time of 250 hours.
  • The students must undergo 20 hours of flight time with the instructor.
  • He or she must undergo a solo flight time of 10 hours.

The course fee for becoming a commercial pilot starts at $ 5030. The time is taken to get your Commercial Pilot License entirely depends upon your availability.

However, the minimum time is two months. One has to pass all the above-mentioned tests to become a commercial pilot.

Private Vs. Commercial Pilots:

There are many differences between a private and a commercial pilot, starting from their salary to training, duties, etc.

However, to become a commercial pilot, you have to become a private pilot at first. A private pilot is one who flies a private aircraft with individual passengers or a small group of passengers.

They are mainly assigned to transport a small group of business executives, or any famous personalities, or a sports team to their respected destinations.

They get a Private Pilot License. On the other hand, a commercial pilot is eligible to navigate a flight as well as a helicopter.

They are hired by various airliners and they are assigned to transport a large group of passengers or cargo from one place to another.   

A private pilot earns an average salary of $80,280 per year. For a private pilot, there is no such specific schedule so his or her salary cannot be specifically estimated.

On the other hand, a commercial pilot salary ranges between $140,000 and $240,000 per year on average.

Commercial pilots have a fixed schedule and they are paid by the airliners so it is easier to estimate their salary specifically. 

Apart from the job duties and salary, there are certain differences between a private pilot and a commercial pilot based on licensing, other career options, working hours, training, travel opportunities, etc.

Firstly, a private pilot requires a Private Pilot License that allows him to fly a private aircraft for private purposes while a commercial pilot requires a Commercial Pilot License to fly passenger and cargo planes.

However, both types of pilots require an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate to fly planes of important airlines. 

Since private pilots are experienced in tracking and directing air traffic, they can choose the job of an air traffic controller as an alternative career role.

On the other hand, commercial pilots can become accident investigators, flight dispatchers, airport managers, aviation safety inspectors, etc.  

Generally, a private pilot does not have any specific schedule and their flight time ranges between 75 to 150 hours per month.

Moreover, there may be some additional duties also. A commercial pilot is governed by a fixed schedule that includes a maximum of 60 hours of flight time a week.

The training for becoming a private pilot is much easier as compared to training to become a commercial pilot. Moreover, one needs to have a Private Pilot License to get a Commercial Pilot License.

End Talk:

Becoming a pilot is a dream job for many. It is a prestigious job, with many adventures and many opportunities to travel to new places.

However, the path to becoming a pilot is hard. Therefore, the first thing is you should ask yourself why you want to become a pilot. Then, do some research on the prospects and key elements of becoming a pilot.

To become a pilot, you have to undergo a mandatory training program, which is very expensive so you have to keep your funds ready. Finally, if you are passionate about becoming a pilot then you have to work hard and should remain focused on your aim. 


1. How much does it cost to become a pilot? 

If you want to pursue an integrated commercial pilot, training program it will cost you around £85,000 to £110,000. 

2. How much are commercial pilots paid?

It has been seen that being a pilot is one of the highest-paid professions that one can opt for. Commercial pilot’s salary ranges on an average of $126,000 a year. 

3. What are the basic soft skill requirements a pilot needs? 

Well, if you want to become a successful pilot then you do need some of the skills, which are as follows:

●    Communication skills

●    Good leadership skills

●    Ability to work in a team 

●    Strong hand-eye coordination

●    Ability to concentrate under pressure

●    Being able to calm yourself down under most dangerous situations 

4. How many flight time hours does it take to obtain a license?

It takes 40-50 hours of flight time to obtain a private pilot license. Whereas, it will take 150-200 hours of flight time to obtain a commercial pilot license. It depends on how frequently you fly

5. What are the eligibility criteria for becoming a private pilot? 

The eligibility criteria for becoming a private pilot are as follows:

●    Minimum of 17 years old

●    Should be able to read, write, speak and understand English 

●    Should pass the FAA Medical exam (Class III)

●    Must pass the FAA private pilot knowledge test.

●    Finally, one has to ace the flying test.

How to Become a Commercial Pilot Step by Step Guide Video:

YouTube Channel: Ben Lovegrove

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