How to become an Airline Pilot

How to become an Airline Pilot

How to Become an Airline Pilot

(Without military flying experience.)

Becoming an Airline Pilot felt like an impossible dream. Even today after a few years of industry experience, I catch myself considering how incredibly grateful I am to be here. Life in the Airlines is not exactly what I thought it would be, but it is far greater than any other job I know of.

 “So, how does one make it to the airlines?”

The simple answer: Get your Certificates, fly a lot of hours, apply to the airlines, pass the interview as well as the training, then voilà, you made it.

But what Certificates? How many flight-hours? Do I need a college degree? Which airlines do I apply for?

Let us start with the Certificates. It is very important to consider your medical Certificate first. If you want to fly for the airlines, then you must ensure that you are eligible for a First-Class Medical Certificate.

 “What Pilot Certificates do I need?”

  • Private Pilot License (PPL)
  • Instrument Rating (IR)
  • Commercial Certificates (CPL)
    • Commercial multi-engine and
    • Commercial single-engine airplane
  • Certified Flight Instructor (Not required, but useful)
    • CFI
    • CFII
    • MEI
  • Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)

“How long does it take to earn these Certificates?”

This depends on you. Not including the CFI and ATP (more on those below), you will have flown 250+ hours, and these hours depend on you.

A full-time flight student averages 6-12 months to accomplish this. Other students, such as those earning their degree, working another job, and/or have family obligations, can expect to take 2-5 years.

 “What are some reasons why students don’t finish their training?”

  • Finances. This can be an expensive endeavor. Ensure you have a financial plan before you begin.
  • Too demanding. The amount of personal time required for studying and preparing for each flight is roughly 3-5-hours of study per/1-hour of flight time.
  • Not what they expected. The idea of flying a plane sounds cool and fun, but the high demand for study and preparation can take out some of the fun.
  • Some people just aren’t cut out for it. Some people don’t realize how scared of flying they are, or that they simply don’t like it, until after they have flown a few hours.

 “I have my Commercial Pilot Certificate, now what?”

Many take the route of becoming a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), others find jobs towing banners, dropping skydivers, or flying for a Part 91 or 135 operation, (don’t worry if you don’t know what that means).

“Low-time” pilot jobs can be numerous, though the pay is usually minimal. The real compensation however is in the flight time, because that is the real currency to get an airline interview.

 “What are the minimum flight-hour requirements for the airlines?”

Each airline has their own standards, but at least the minimums for an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (ATP) will be required. This certificate has some nuances, but typically this means:

  • 1,500 total flight-hours.
  • Be at least 23-years old.

(or) Restricted ATP

  • 4-year college degree from an approved institution.
  • 60-semeseter credit hours specific to aviation.
  • 1,000 total flight hours.
  • Be at least 21-years old.

 “Is a bachelor’s degree necessary?”

Not anymore, at least not for every airline. The standards have changed recently, and most airlines are interested in experience rather than a degree. That being said, a 4-year degree, especially one that is aviation specific, does put you ahead in the hiring game over “the other guy”.

 “What else will help me get ahead of the other guy?”

  • Volunteer experience
    • Even better if it’s aviation specific.
  • Internship with an airline
  • Military Experience
    • Demonstrates leadership and discipline.
  • Extracurricular activities
    • Were you a team Captain or Leader?
  • Awards / Medals
    • Eagle Scout, Scholarships, Deans list etc.
  • Anything else that demonstrates going above the norm.

 “What things will hurt your chances of getting hired?”

  • Multiple checkride failures
    • 2 or 3 failures will start to raise suspicion of your preparation habits.
  • Poor attitude
    • Humility, gratitude and honesty go a long way.
  • Certificate actions against you by the FAA
  • Criminal record
    • Even a speeding ticket can demonstrate your willfulness to disobey the law.
  • DWI (don’t count on ever getting a job)

 “What are the Airline Recruiters looking for?”

These Recruiters are Pilots in the airline itself, they are looking for individuals who they can see themselves flying a 4-day trip with. Essentially, “are you friendly?” “Are you trainable?” And “are you safe?”

 “Can I apply for any airline?”

The airlines are categorized in the U.S., broadly speaking, as regional airlines and major airlines. At this point you are still not eligible for any of the big guys such as Delta, United, or American, who are considered to be major airlines.

The Regionals are where you will get your experience in this Industry. These Carriers fly the regional routes for some of the major carriers, such as those listed above. From there, most Pilots work their way into the left seat in order to get the coveted “Turbine, Pilot in Command” (PIC) time. Most major airlines would like to see a minimum of 1,000-hours of this Captain time before accepting an application.

 So now you made it to the Airlines

You passed the interview and completed your training in your specific type of aircraft. It is now time for you to fly (what is very likely your first time) in an actual jet…with passengers. This is a memorable experience; one you will never forget. All of the dedicated work and energy spent in working towards the airlines was worth it, no doubt, and I would not hesitate to do it all over again.

If becoming an Airline Pilot is your goal, then start by receiving quality training through Royal Flight Academy.

About Tucker (Flyer Tuck)

Tucker is a US Marine Corps Veteran and Airline Pilot who has both volunteer and professional experience in teaching, mentoring and instructing.  He is an avid runner, dog lover and creator of the blog, Inner Discipline. You can find his blog at

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