The Ultimate Guide On How To Become An Airline Pilot

The Ultimate Guide On How To Become An Airline Pilot

Everything you need to know to achieve your dream of becoming a pilot 

Picture in the cockpit and the co-pilot is giving a thumbs up

Airline Pilots are an essential part of modern day society, and they are treated amazingly because of it. In fact, because of the skilled work they do and the lives they save, many people see Airline Pilots in the same light as emergency service workers. 

Most pilots, however, aren't in it for the glory. Yes, pilots have to be brave and level-headed, but great pilots are adventurous, smart, and love to challenge themselves. They get to travel the world, seeing new places and meeting new people - while they teach themselves new skills and make it possible for international business to take place, for people to go on holiday, and for people to travel home to their families on the 38.9 million yearly flights

If being a pilot is something you are interested in then you have come to the right place. Below you will find a 10 step guide to becoming an airline pilot. 

Why Become a Pilot

Picture of two pilots standing near an airplane

Most people are aware that becoming a pilot is a great job - movies and TV shows have been telling us this for years. Yes, it's hard work but the benefits and joy of the job make up for it. 

But what are the exact benefits of working as an airline pilot? 

13 Benefits of Being a Pilot: 

  1. The job is exciting 

Let's start with the obvious. Getting paid to fly is a pretty good deal. It certainly beats being stuck behind a desk all day. 

If flying is something that you love to do then you will never have a boring day as an airline pilot. If you do love flying then you are also going to find the years of training you have to put in to become a pilot enjoyable too. Most pilots do around 1500+ hours of flying before they get hired for their first job. 

  1. The salary is good 

Airline pilots are notorious for getting paid well. Most people think they deserve it too. They take the lives of hundreds of people in their hands every day. 

Let's take a look at the salaries of pilots. New pilots start at $50,000 a year, and the average American pilot gets paid $85,000. This is about the same as the average vet in the US.  

More experienced pilots working at bigger airlines can get paid over $200,000 a year. This is in line with the money earned by experienced doctors and dentists.  

  1. The job is rewarding 

People need to fly and you would make this possible as a pilot. 

Airline pilots help to keep people's international businesses afloat. They help people go on their much needed holidays, to travel to weddings or funerals, and to see their families during the holidays. 

Pilots make these journeys possible and keep us all safe while doing this. 

  1. The retirement plan is great 

Not only is the pay for airline pilots very good but they are also given great retirement plans. Most pilots don't want to think about the day that they retire, but the majority of them will be well looked after when they do. 

They are given a 401(k) where the company will match their pension contributions. (Yes, we're as jealous as you are). 

There are also a few other benefits that we will be mentioning in points 7 and 10. 

  1. You will see the world 

Everyone knows that pilots fly to lots of beautiful places, that's pretty obvious. But most people don't realize how much of the world the aviation industry covers. 

As an airline pilot, you will be traveling to many different places all over your own country and the world. As a private pilot, you may fly to fewer locations, depending on who you work for. 

  1. You will meet new people 

Not only do pilots get to travel the world, but they get to meet new people while doing so.  Most pilots have amazing bonds with their fellow flight crews and their co-pilots. 

Not only will you get to meet a host of amazing people at work, but playing the pilot card is a great way to make friends on land too. 

  1. Travel is free with your company 

Most airlines offer their pilots free travel whenever they aren't on duty. Yes, that's right, free flights when you're not working. 

Not only do pilots get the chance to travel around the world when they are working, but they also get to do it for free on their holidays (we'll get on to how many of those they're allowed later). Yes, they have to pay for the hotels and all the other elements of their holidays - but flights are always the most expensive part of booking a holiday. 

  1. You will get family travel passes from your company 

Not only do pilots get free flights for themselves, but they also get a 'free flights' allowance for their families. Not all airlines do this, some offer discounted flights for friends and family - which is still better than what the rest of us get!

What's better than free flights for you, free flights for your home family. 

  1. The vacation plan is generous 

Speaking of vacations, what is the paid vacation plan like for pilots? 

Well, pilots have an average of 9-15 days off a month, as well as an average of 3-6 weeks of paid vacation time every year. Most airlines also give up to 8 days in lieu if they have to work on bank holidays. 

That's plenty of time to enjoy those cheap vacations. 

  1. Retired pilots travel for free

Not only do you get to fly for free while you work for a company, but most airlines offer their retired pilots' free flights too. 

  1. The health plan is fantastic 

By this point in the list, you won't be surprised to hear that pilots get great health insurance too. 

They get health insurance that covers dental and vision. This insurance is also extended to their immediate family. 

  1. The schedule is flexible

Like most careers, the more time you spend as a pilot, the more control you have over when and where you work. 

For your first few years, you might have to pick up the shifts that no one else wants to work. But, eventually, you will get to the point where you are the one that gets to pick and choose where you fly to and when you work - as long as you are fulfilling your hours. 

  1. Pilots are in demand 

Finally, let's talk about how in demand pilots are. 

Yes, the training can be expensive and it takes a long time to qualify as a pilot. However, after you have gone through all that effort, there is a great chance that you will get a job at the end of it. 

There is a worldwide pilot shortage and most airlines are desperate for more pilots. 

This means more job security for pilots across the world and a good chance of their salary going up during their careers. 

With job prospects like that, who wouldn't want to be a pilot. 

Types of Pilot Licenses

Types of Pilot Licenses

There are many different types of pilots out there and just as many types of pilot licenses. You will need to decide what type of pilot you want to be before you start training. This will help you to establish what kind of license you need. 

Every type of aircraft is so different and each requires hours of training to master. For this reason, having one pilot's license doesn't entitle you to fly every type of aircraft. This is as much for your safety as your passengers. 

Here are the 5 most common types of pilot licenses: 

Private Pilot (PPL)

40 hours of training requires 

This is the most basic type of pilot license you can get. The PPL gives you a license to fly single engine planes for private use only. 

This is not designed for commercial use or for pilots to use to make money. 

To get this license you need to have put in at least 40 hours of flight practice. It is also a great option for anyone who wants to explore flying as a long-term career option. It won't be a waste of time as you can learn some great skills when acquiring this license. 

Instrument Rating (IR)

50 hours of cross-country flight time

With 10 hours focused  in an instrument rating plane 

This is an essential requirement for anyone who wants to fly anything bigger than a single engine plane in North America or Europe. To fly in these areas you need to earn the title of flying in IFR - part of achieving IRF is to get an instrument rating. 

This is a license that pilots may need to redo if there is a big change in how planes are operated. 

To get this license you need to have 50 hours of cross-country flying under your belt. 10 of those hours need to be done in an instrument rating plane. 

A commercial pilot (CPL)

250 hours of flight time 

At least 100 hours as pilot in chief 

If you want to earn money by flying a plane then you will need to get yourself a CPL (commercial pilot license). Getting the two previously mentioned licenses will get you a long way towards the flight time you need to clock up to get this license. 

This license is a basic requirement if you want to fly a commercial plane anywhere in the world. You will need 250 hours of flight time to get this license, at least 100 of those hours will have to be done as a pilot in chief. 

Airline transport pilot (ATP)

1500 hours flight time 

At least 23 years of age 

A CPL allows you to fly smaller, private planes, but if you want to be able to fly a plane for a commercial airline then you will need an ATP. 

This is the most advanced course outside of military flying courses. It is the minimum requirement for all commercial airlines. Each airline will have its own list of requirements for its pilots, but all of them will include an ATP. 

The most notable thing about the ATP is that it requires over 1500 hours of flight time to be clocked up. You must also be older than 23 to hold this license. 

Certified Flight Instructor (CFI)

250 hours flight time 

If you are interested in teaching others how to fly then you will need to get yourself a certified flight instructor license. 

The type of training you do will depend on what type of plane you want to teach in. Most courses require at least 250 hours of flight time, on top of the other aircraft-specific assessments.  

This license will qualify you to teach in most countries around the world. 

Steps to Becoming a Pilot

Steps to Becoming a Pilot

Now that you have a great understanding of the benefits of becoming a pilot and the types of license you will need to get before you come one - here is a step-by-step guide to becoming an airline pilot. 

#1 - Research Suitable Pilot Schools

When researching and choosing a pilot school, you will need to decide on the following three things - the type of course, course location, and course length. 

As we are talking about how to become an airline pilot then the first choice has already been made for you. You will want to be looking for a course that will give you an IR, CPL, and an ATP. 

Before taking a full piloting course, you may want to consider doing a PPL course. This will help to give you an idea of whether you like flying enough to make a career out of it. 

You will then need to decide where you want to study. Some pilot schools have better reputations than others, but they often cost more. If you are looking to apply for a more prestigious airline then studying at a better flying school will benefit you in the long run. 

Finally, you will want to think about what length of course you want to take. 

Some flying schools will offer shorter courses. You will be doing the same amount of work just in a shorter amount of time. The shorter courses are usually more expensive.  

#2- Flight School Requirements:

Once you have chosen the flight school that you want to attend you will need to make sure that you meet its requirements. 

Most flight schools will require you to be over 16 to take part in any of their lessons. However, to get your ATP you have to be over 23. Most people take around 2 years to qualify as an airline pilot so you don't want to start your course before the age of 21. 

You will also need to get an FAA Student Pilot Certificate - you can apply for one of these through the  FAA's Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website. You will need this to do the solo flying practice. 

You will also need to get a Medical Certificate - you should apply for a first class medical certificate through an Aeromedical Examiner (AME). They will check that you don't have any health issues that will affect your ability to become an airline pilot. 

It is worth noting that most major airlines want their pilots to have a college degree. It is not necessary to qualify as an airline pilot, but it is something that airlines require on top of an ATP. 

Most flight schools will require the following things from you: 

  • You must be 16 or over

  • Obtain an FAA Student Pilot Certificate

  • Get medical clearance

  • High school diploma 

#3 - An Introductory Training Flight 

Will Be Needed Before Enrolling Fully To The Training Program

The next step in this process is to take part in an introductory test flight. All flight schools will require this before you enroll in an airline pilot training program. You may have to do a test flight with each school that you apply for. 

This test flight will help your school to get a good idea of what your skill level is. If they do not feel that you have enough knowledge or training they may not allow you to enroll in their course. 

For this reason, we recommend that you do some training before applying for flight school. Getting a PPL is a good option. These courses will give you at least 40 hours of flight training time. They will also teach many of the fundamentals of flying planes. They are also relatively cheap to acquire. See section 5 for more details.  

We recommend that you do as much flying as you can before you enroll in flight school. You want to make sure that flying is something that you want to do in the long term. Training to be a pilot can be an expensive endeavor and will take at least 2 years to do. 

#4 - Start Your Training Program

Every training program looks a little different. This is something you will discover when doing your research into flight schools. 

Once you have your medical certificate and student license then you will be ready to start your training. 

While a lot of your training will take place in the cockpit, you will also have to attend a ground school. At ground school, you will study safety procedures and other types of flight theory. These lessons are essential and cannot be skipped, no matter where you train. Exceeding in ground school will make you look more appealing to potential employers. 

To get any of the licenses you need to become an airline pilot, you will be required to clock up a certain number of flying hours with an FAA approved instructor. 

These instructors will teach you everything you need to know for each license you are training for. They will also keep a logbook of how many hours you have spent flying, the maneuvers you have learned, and how you have scored in practical tests. 

The endorsement of your FAA approved instructor is a key part of being awarded any flying license - to achieve the ATP you will need 1500+ hours logged. 

#5 - Earn Private Pilot Certificate

We mentioned in section 3 that you might want to get your PPL (or PPC) before you apply for flight school. We recommend that you do this because it will give you a chance to get a feel for flying before you commit to a full course. 

If you choose to get your PPL as part of your airline pilot training, then it will be the first license you earn at flight school. 

To earn a PPL you will need to have spent 40 hours flying. 10 hours of this must be solo flying. You will need to pass a practical test. And you will need to have the endorsement of an approved trainer. You also will need to have a very good grasp of the English language. 

You will not be able to get a PPL if you do not have a student pilot license or a sports pilot license. 

To earn this license you will need to: 

  • Be over 17 

  • Fly the aircraft for 40 hours 

  • Pass a practical test for the aircraft 

  • Have your student pilot license 

  • Be able to read, write, understand, and speak English. 

  • Have logbook endorsement from an approved trainer 

#6 - After Obtaining a Private Pilot Certificate, The Next Step Is to Earn An Instrument Rating

Instrument Rating is a useful skill that when perfected could enable you to fly a plane without having to look out of the window to orient yourself. This skill is very useful if you encounter unexpectedly bad weather or heavy clouds. 

This training requires both a practical test and a knowledge test. IR training focuses on the equipment used in IR planes. You will also learn a lot about weather conditions and flying in emergency situations. 

To earn this license you will need to: 

  • Be over 17 

  • Fly the aircraft for 50 hours cross-country 

    • Have flown 250 miles of cross-country 

    • Have flown for 10 hours in an instrument plane   

  • Pass a practical test for the aircraft 

  • Have your student pilot license 

  • Have your PPL 

  • Be able to read, write, understand, and speak English. 

  • Have logbook endorsement from an approved trainer (at least 15 hours) 

  • Pass IR knowledge test 

#7 - Followed By Commercial Pilot Certificate

The next step to becoming an airline pilot is to get your Commercial Pilot License (CPL or CPC). You must be 18 to hold this license. 

This course is a lot more demanding than the previous courses. Not only will you have to clock up 250 flight hours, with 100 of those being the pilot in command. But you will also have to pass the Commercial Pilot practical and knowledge tests. As well as an aeronautical knowledge test. 

You will also need to log at least 10 hours in a Technically Advanced Airplane (TAA), 50 hours flying cross-country, and 10 hours in an IR plane (you will have already done this to get your IR certification). 

Both the CPL and the PPL must be attained before you can start your ATP training. 

  • Be over 18

  • Have your IR license  

  • 250 total flight hours 

    • 100 flight hours as Pilot-In-Command (PIC)

    • 10 flight hours in a Technically Advanced Airplane (TAA) 

  • Have your student pilot license 

  • Have your PPL 

  • Be able to read, write, understand, and speak English. 

  • Have logbook endorsement from an approved trainer 

  • Pass an aeronautical knowledge test

  • Pass the Commercial pilot knowledge test

  • Pass the Commercial pilot practical test

#8 - Flight Instructor Certificate

Getting an FIC is not required to become an airline pilot, however, it is one of the easiest ways to rack up the 1500+ flight hours needed to get an ATP. One of the benefits of teaching others to fly is that you can earn money while gaining these much needed hours in the air. 

You will need to get your CPL before you start training as a flight instructor. You will also need to have an FAA 3rd Class Medical Certificate. 

There are both written and practical tests for this course. You will need a logbook endorsement for both of these, and an endorsement to show that you have covered everything on the course. 

You will also need to clock up 250 hours of flying to get your FIC. You will have got these while training for your CPL, but you can never do too many training hours - especially if you want to become an airline pilot. 

  • Be over 18

  • Have an ATP or CPL 

  • Have your PPL 

  • Be able to read, write, understand, and speak English. 

  • Have logbook endorsement from an approved trainer 

  • Pass a knowledge test on the aeronautical knowledge

  • Hold a valid FAA 3rd Class Medical Certificate (or higher)

  • 250 flight hours 

#9 - Multi-Engine Rating

When you did your PPL, you were trained to fly single engine planes. If you want to become an airline pilot then you will need to earn a license for multi-engine aircraft. 

If you have all the other licenses on this list then you can do your multi-engine rating as an add-on course. This means that you do not have to do any knowledge tests. You will not have to do any extra instrument training. You will only be required to spend 15 hours flying a multi-engine plane. 

You will be required to take the commercial pilot practical test again, but this time acting as a pilot in command. 

You can do this training with any grade of medical certificate. Some pilots can get their Multi-Engine Rating in less than 2 months as they will have met most of the requirements when getting their CPL. 

Without this certificate, you will not be able to act as a pilot in command in any plane with more than one engine. 

To earn this license you must: 

  • 15 flight hours in a multi-engine plane 

  • Have logbook endorsement from an approved trainer 

  • Have your PPL 

  • Have your IR 

  • Be able to read, write, understand, and speak English

  • Pass the Commercial pilot practical test as Pilot in Command  

#10 - Get an ATP (airline transport pilot certificate

All airlines require their pilots to have acquired the ATP. This is the toughest flight certificate outside of military training. You must be 23 to acquire an ATP. Unless you are a military pilot, then you must be at least 20. 

Pilots are required to hold and include a minimum of 1,500 hours of total flight time before they are awarded an ATP. 100 of these hours must be night flights, 250 must be as pilot in command, 500 hours must be cross-country flights, 50 hours must be in a multi-engine craft, and 75 of the hours must be done as instrument training. Once these hours are completed then the pilot must take the ATP practical test. 

To get an ATP you must pass the ATP knowledge test, have a CPL, and an IR. 

To earn this license you must: 

  • Have 1500 flight hours 

    • 100 night flight hours 

    • 250 PIC hours 

    • 500 cross-country flight hours 

    • 75 hours of instrument training 

    • 50 hours of Multi-Engine flight time 

  • Be over 23 (or 20 if you are a military pilot) 

  • Have a CPL 

  • Have an IR 

  •  Hold a 1st class medical certificate (as PIC) 

  • Hold a 2nd class medical certificate (as SIC) 

  • Pass the ATP knowledge test 

  • Pass the ATP practical test


A pilot surrounded by flight attendants

If you are prepared to put the time, money, and effort in while training then you can look forward to an amazing career as a pilot. During which you will be offered free flights, great health insurance, and a chance to make memories with like-minded and hard working people. 

Most importantly, you will be able to spend your working life doing something you love - flying. And you will be keeping thousands of people safe while you do so.

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