How Can I Train to Become a Jet Pilot?

Jet pilots are responsible for transporting cargo and passengers for airlines and may participate in aircraft testing, crop dusting and rescue operations. Learn about education and licensing requirements, job duties and salaries. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Jet Pilot?

A jet pilot is an aviation professional who has a license to operate a jet plane. They are responsible for performing pre-flight maintenance checks and ensuring that the engine, the plane's navigation equipment, and all systems are operating properly. They must also file a flight plan and ensure the plane has enough fuel to complete the flight. During take off and landing they communicate with air traffic controllers to ensure that they use the correct runway. While in flight they use the navigation equipment to fly the plane and continue to monitor the plane's systems and fuel level to confirm that it's operating properly. They communicate any concerns to air traffic control, and they may also communicate with passengers regarding any expected turbulence, change in arrival time, or reason for changing altitude. More detailed information about this career can be found in the table below.

Degree Required High school diploma (commercial pilots), bachelor's degree (airline pilots)
Training Required FAA-approved flight training school
Key Responsibilities Pre-flight checks on the aircraft, fuel, weather; navigating and flying; in-flight monitoring; communicating with air traffic control; post-flight checks
Licensure Commercial pilot's license required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5% (for all airline and commercial pilots)*
Median Salary (May 2015) $117,290 (for all airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Will I Need to Become a Jet Pilot?

Some jet pilots acquire their training by flying jet aircraft in the military, while others enroll in flight schools. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifies a number of flight schools, as well as some pilot training programs found in universities and colleges. FAA-certified associate's degree programs in colleges may consist of courses such as flight technology, aerodynamics, aircraft engines, applied physics, aircraft development, flight briefing, meteorology and aviation science.

Should you choose to enroll in an FAA-approved bachelor's degree program, you'll take classes covering technical communications, flight physiology, aviation law, commercial pilot ground, gas turbine engines and advanced avionics. Trained pilots who go to work for airlines must still undergo company training. You'll receive a week of company-sponsored teaching, followed by simulator and ground school training that lasts up to six weeks. You must complete 25 hours of flight operation experience and fly with an FAA flight safety inspector to demonstrate your skills and competency.

What Responsibilities Will I Have?

As a jet pilot, you may transport freight, mail or passengers on pre-planned routes. Before takeoff, you'll inspect aircraft instrumentation and engines to ascertain they are operating correctly and check with dispatchers on weather conditions. Other areas of responsibility will include monitoring computerized control panels and engine speeds, and communicating with control tower personnel regarding arrival directions and clearances for takeoff. When necessary, you'll report aircraft malfunctions or emergency situations, and safely steer flights in bad weather.

How Do I Become Licensed?

Pilots who transport cargo or passengers are required to obtain licenses. In order to qualify for FAA licensing, you must undergo medical examinations and be declared in good health. You must be at least 18 years of age with good vision and hearing, and have acquired a minimum of 250 hours of flight training experience. Tests will be given on FAA regulations and the ability to fly by instruments, which is required when flying in low-visibility conditions.

Additionally, if you'd like to fly for an airline, you must have acquired an air transportation pilot's license, and have accumulated at least 1,500 hours of flight experience. It will be necessary to meet an age requirement of at least 23 years old and successfully complete the FAA testing process. You must meet licensing requirements for commercial class rating and aircraft type. Tests will also be given for aptitude and psychological assessment. Pilots retain their licenses indefinitely if they pass occasional health examinations, which are required by the FAA.

What Salary Can I Expect to Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that airline pilots who worked in the scheduled air transportation industry earned mean annual salaries of $137,120 in 2015 (www.bls.gov). Those who were employed by the federal government made $98,710 yearly. As part of their jobs, they also received life and health insurance, and are granted free or discounted fares and retirement benefits.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Helicopter pilots and air traffic controllers work in the same professional field as jet pilots. Helicopter pilots need to complete the same type of flight training as jet pilots, and they perform some of the same tasks as jet pilots. They must be trained in safety procedures, the use of navigational equipment and FAA regulations. They also need to log the appropriate number of flying hours of their craft. They may file flight plans and are also responsible for performing maintenance checks on their aircraft before take off and ensuring they have sufficient fuel for the scheduled flight.

Air traffic controllers need an associate's degree, and while they do not operate aircraft themselves, they communicate closely with pilots to ensure that all flights depart and arrive safely. They monitor all aircraft and communicate with pilots about which runway to use to take off or land, and they advise them of weather systems or other factors that may require them to adjust altitude or course. Air traffic controllers share a pilot's goal of ensuring the safety of all on board the plane, and they share the task of communicating pertinent information to determine any steps that need to be taken to address concerns that may be affecting the plane and its passengers.

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