Understanding Commercial Pilot Requirements Can Lead to an Amazing Career

commercial pilot requirements

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If aviation has always been a passion of yours, you may have begun wondering how you can make money flying. To earn money as a pilot, you must meet commercial pilot requirements. The commercial pilot industry is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Commercial pilots are classified differently than private pilots.

There is a host of benefits that come with being a commercial pilot. Obtaining a commercial pilot license is a great opportunity for any aviation enthusiast.  

What is a Commercial Pilot?

Many people assume that a commercial pilot is an airline pilot. In some regards, they’re right. An airline pilot is one type of commercial pilot. But commercial pilots are considered anyone who is a professional pilot. They are classified as pilots that charge money for their services. Examples of commercial pilots include

  • Cargo Pilots
  • Backcountry Pilots
  • Tour Pilots
  • Flight instructors
  • Glider Tow Pilots
  • Ferry Pilots

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay of a commercial pilot in 2016 was $105,720. That year, there were nearly 125,000 commercial piloting jobs, with a turnover of approximately 5,000 positions. The industry predicts 4% job growth over the next decade.  

Commercial Pilots are Different Than Private Pilots

While pilots certified with a private license can only fly for non-commercial purposes, pilots with a commercial license can fly for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.

Private pilots typically fly as a hobby, or as a mode of personal transportation. Private pilots fly to show their friends and families the sky and may own their own personal aircraft. Commercial pilots, however, are paid to fly. It’s reasonable to say that if private pilots fly as a hobby, commercial pilots fly to make a living.

Of course, that’s not to say commercial pilots love flying any less than private pilots do. While some new to aviation jump right in and work to obtain their commercial license, most pilots start by first obtaining their private license and then graduate to a commercial license after years of experience flying.

Commercial Pilot Requirements

The pilot requirements differ when between commercial pilot licenses and private pilot licenses, as described by 43 Air School.

Those looking to obtain a private pilot license have to be at least 17 years of age, while those looking to obtain a commercial license must be at least 18. Candidates must also be able to read, write, and speak English. Potential commercial pilots must be able to pass the International Civil Aviation Organization’s English Language Proficiency Level 4 Examination.  

Private pilot licenses require a total of 45 hours of fly time. At least a third of those hours must be from a solo flight, and at least a third of the solo hours must be conducted on a cross-country flight. Cross-country flights are considered those that are flown from one airport to another.

Additionally, candidates must receive at least 25 hours of dual flight instruction with an instructor. The flight instructor must also provide five hours of instrument flight instruction. Upon completing all flight instruction, candidates must pass the Private Pilot Written Exam and the Private Pilot Oral and Practical Exam. The latter includes a General Flight Test, and tests on radio operation and safe navigation.

The process of becoming a commercial pilot is much more rigorous. Before beginning training, candidates must first possess a class 1 medical certificate. This certificate is a primary requirement for commercial pilot certification and is required to be renewed annually by all pilots under 40. Pilots over 40 must renew every six months. The FAA provides information about medical certificates here.

Candidates for a commercial pilot license must log over 200 hours of flight time, with half of those coming while acting as pilot in command. While pilot in command, pilots must log at least 20 hours of cross-country flights.

After completing the lengthy flight requirements, candidates must pass the SA-CAA Commercial Pilot License written examination, and the Commercial Pilot Oral and Practical Examination. The practical exam is administered by a Grade 1-Designated Flight Examiner and contains a CPL General Flight Test.

Flying for a Major Airline

Have you always wondered how to become an airline pilot? There are approximately 100,000 pilots flying the skies in the United States. The process still begins with completing commercial pilot requirements.

Pilots for major airlines all have their commercial pilot license, but many choose to obtain their license by attending a commercial pilot training course or school. Sokanu offers a detailed guide looking into the careers of commercial pilots.

Examples of pilot airline programs include the Professional Pilot Pathway at the Epic Flight Academy, which allows pilots to become Multi-Engine Commercial Pilots in as little as six months, and ATP’s Airline Career Pilot Program.

Some major airlines, such as JetBlue, offer Gateway Programs for students looking to become commercial pilots. While these programs are a great way to secure employment with a major airline, their standards are often higher than the standard commercial pilot license test.

For instance, JetBlue requires candidates for their Gateway Programs have at least 1500 hours total time in airplanes. Hours spent as a flight engineer or in a flight simulator do not count toward the total. Some of the hours must also come from time spent in a turbine helicopter. Additionally, at least 500 hours must come from time spent flying fixed-wing airplanes.

Candidate must also possess a valid passport, and provide three recommendations from fellow pilots who can attest to their capabilities as a pilot.

Cost of Obtaining Commercial Pilot License

A commercial pilot license cost is greater than a private pilot license cost. The cost of obtaining a commercial pilot license will fluctuate based on every individual’s situation. For example, if a pilot has already been flying as a private pilot, it’ll be cheaper for them to obtain a commercial license than someone who has never flown before.

Prices can also vary by instructors and schools. Candidates for commercial pilot licenses that choose to attend programs with a curriculum tailored to employment with a major airline will likely end up paying more than someone obtaining a commercial license for personal use.

A private pilot license can cost approximately $8,000. A commercial pilot license, on average, can cost three to four times as much.

It’s also been mentioned that flight instructors must possess a commercial pilot license since they are typically charging for the use of a plane.

Flight instructors are also required to own a number of certificates in addition to their commercial pilot license, including a ground instructor certificate, flight instructor certificate, and flight instructor instrument certificate. These certificates typically cost at least $1,000.

Because you’re being paid to fly, meeting the commercial pilot license requirements is an investment that quickly pays for itself. As you make money flying, you may be able to invest in a new plane or other worthwhile endeavors that will improve your piloting brand.

You should know your purpose in obtaining a commercial pilot license before diving in. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck spending thousands of dollars with no plan to make money once your training is complete.  

Become a Commercial Pilot

CTI Professional Flight Training offers a few reasons why you should become a pilot.

  • Each Day is Different – Every day on the job will present a new experience. You’ll take new routes and meet new people each trip.
  • Travel the World – Flying as a commercial pilot can take you to places you’ve only dreamed of seeing while being paid to do so!
  • Travel with Family – The travel perks are often expanded to the families of commercial pilots, who travel at discounted rates. Taking a family vacation is a breeze.
  • Challenge Yourself – As a pilot, your career won’t plateau. There are different levels of commercial aviation, which can keep you challenged throughout your entire career.
  • Job Security – It’s expected that there will need to be 600,000 new commercial pilots by 2036. What other job offers this type of job security?
  • Benefits – Commercial pilots typically only work half the month. Most commercial pilots receive 1-2 weeks off each month.  

There’s a popular saying that says, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That lesson could not be truer when it comes to commercial piloting. If you love to fly, why not get paid to do so? Meeting the commercial pilot requirements and obtaining your license is a great way to develop aviation experience and enhance your career.

Even if you don’t think you’d be able to work a full-time job commercial piloting, your commercial piloting license could allow for part-time or weekend work. What better way to make extra money than giving tours on the weekend, or teaching others how to fly? There are certainly worse ways to make some side-income.

Commercial piloting is also a great option for retirees who are not interested in working full-time.

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