8 Steps to an Airline Pilot Career Job

There are a few things that you should be familiar with, if you, or someone you know, has an interest in becoming an airline pilot. Most folks assume that one can simply apply for a pilot job at United or South West, and they will provide the training to become a pilot.  Well, this is as far as it can get from the truth and reality. Becoming a pilot for a major airline takes years of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, persistence and determination. And, no there is no other way really.

Of course you can join the military and pay your dues that way, but that still is all of the above, and takes a few years to get one into an airline cockpit.

Most people follow the civilian route, simply because they don’t feel like joining the military, and there is a lot more flexibility if you do it on your own. The following pilot certificates and ratings are needed for one to succeed in this pursuit:

1. Private Pilot Certificate

If you want to become an airline pilot, you have to get a pilot’s license.  (Read more about Pilot Certificate or Licenses) The first step is getting a private pilot license.  During this training you will get 40-80 hours of flight time, and learn basic stuff about airplanes like takeoffs and landings, navigation, maneuvers, weather and basic instrument skills.  In case you are wondering about your vision, airline pilots need to have vision of correctable to 20/20. There are about 250,000 private pilots in America.

2. Instrument Rating

An instrument rating is the next step after the private pilot certificate.  During your instrument rating or IR training you will add at least another 40-50 hours of flight time. You need to have IR or instrument rating because airlines always fly in all weather, so the pilot should be able to navigate without ever looking outside, and solely by reference to the cockpit instruments.

3. Commercial Pilot Certificate

After getting the instrument rating, you’d continue on to get your commercial pilot certificate; which requires 250 hours of total flight time, along with additional training which will make you a professional, safer, and experienced pilot.  The commercial pilot certificate allows one to work for a commercial operator (for instance an airline) and get paid. Many people get their multi-engine rating at this time as well.

4. Building Flight Experience

Now that you’ve got your commercial pilot certificate with instrument rating and multi-engine rating, it’s time for you to build some flight experience.  You should read my post 10 Ways to Build Flight Time for Airline Pilot Job here. Since you probably have only about 300 hours of total time, airlines won’t typically consider you.  Airline minimums are at least 1,500 hours, along with some other experience. Yes, there are always times when the demand is more than supply, and they end up hiring low time pilots as well, but it is rare, and very unpredictable. I will write more about it later in another post.

5. Instructor Certificate

So how do you get from 300 hours to the 1500+ that you need for the airlines? The most common way is flight instructing.  By becoming a flight instructor, you are able to build hours and get paid to teach others. A good place to go get your CFI Training done is CFI Academy. There are other options besides being a flight instructor, and you can read about those here at Top 20 Career Options as a Pilot.

6. ATP certificate

Major airlines usually do not  consider hiring a pilot unless he/she has an ATP certificate; ATP or an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate is a requirement for one to be a captain on an aircraft with an airline.  Regional airlines may hire you without one, which is a good way to build experience.

7. Get a 4 year College or University Degree

At least a four year college or university degree is preferred to land a job with a major airline.  The degree does not have to be in Aviation; you can major in just about any field you want. You can always apply for airline jobs without a 4 year degree, but you’ll be competing with others who already have one.  When it comes to investing the time and resources to interview, hire, and train applicants, employers always look at the best qualified applicants.

8. Start Applying

Once you’ve got the flight time, a college degree, and an ATP, and are ready to see if you’ve got what it takes, apply to every airline you can!  This way you can be picky when you get interviews.

9 thoughts on “8 Steps to an Airline Pilot Career Job”

  1. It really is that easy! But like anything, you have to plan it too. It doesn’t just happen. Along with everything else, think about the financial aspect of it, the time involved, and the sacrifice for you and your family. The rewards are great though and entirely achievable when you set your sites to it.

    Thanks for the great entry!


  2. Jeff, Thanks for the input, and you are correct about the hardships and difficulties, but with focus and determination, very achievable as well. I read your story on your blog as well, and it reflects the same thing we are talking about here.
    Geoff, You are right about getting all the help as well. We know, in this line of work, connections and relationships do go long ways.

  3. This is a wonderful write-up, I found your blog site browsing aol for a related subject and arrived to this. I couldnt discover to much alternative info on this blog, so it was awesome to discover this one. I definitely will end up being returning to check out some other posts that you have another time.

  4. Hi!
    Thanks for the info! This is the most concise and actionable information I’ve found so far.
    My husband is looking at a career in aviation, and I was hoping you might answer a couple of questions:
    1. Do these hours in your article still reflect the current requirements?
    2. Is age a factor in being marketable to regional airlines? (My husband is 45.)
    3. Does it make sense to go to school for an Aviation Associate’s, Minor or Major degree?

    Thanks in advance for any information you can give.

  5. Being a pilot is not as easy as it looks,it takes a lot 2 become a pilot like you must spend most of your time at work and make sure you not affraid of heights, most u must be prepared to spend some time away from home and love traveling.

  6. Hey there, I am looking forward to being an airline pilot as my career, I’m not really sure EVRYTHING I need to become one, all I know is that I need all my licenses and an ATP but collage is my question, I already took ground school and flown before, I just want to know what else there is and the requirments to be sucessful in this career.

  7. Feliciano, if you are in the US, in a nutshell, you will need a commercial pilot AMEL, some experience (typically 1000 hours plus), and a college degree always helps and is always recommended. If you are in Europe or somewhere else, requirements may vary. Keep reading blogs like this one, and keep asking questions. Number one ingredient is the WILL. If you have the desire and the will to be an airline pilot, you definitely will be one in the near future.