What Are the Education Requirements to Become an Airline Pilot?

Research what it takes to become an airline pilot. Learn about education and licensure requirements, certification and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Airline Pilot?

An airline pilot is a professional pilot who operates aircraft for an airline company. They are responsible for performing maintenance checks on their craft prior to takeoff, and may also be responsible for filing flight plans. They make sure the engine and all systems are working properly and that the plane has sufficient fuel. They communicate with air traffic controllers during take off, during the flight and when landing. They use the navigation equipment during the flight to operate the aircraft, and continue monitoring the engine and the plane's systems to ensure that everything continues to work properly. While in flight they follow the flight plan unless they need to make adjustments due to weather systems or other issues that may require an alteration in cruising altitude or exact flight path.

Degree Required Bachelor's degrees are commonly required
Training Required Significant flight experience
Key Skills Problem-solving and observational skills, good judgment
Licensure/Certification Federal licensure and certification are required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 1% (for all airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers)*
Average Salary (2015) $136,400 (for all airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need for a Career as an Airline Pilot?

Although not every employer requires a college degree, most airlines are looking to hire pilots who hold bachelor's degrees. Completion of a bachelor's degree program in aeronautical science at a university with a Federal Aviation Administration-certified flight school could prepare you for a piloting career.

As an aeronautical science major, you could expect to complete courses that cover topics such as flight safety, aircraft engine mechanics, aviation law, management of crew members and in-flight resources, instrument training and meteorology. In addition to coursework, you'll also complete flight training on simulators and planes.

Most aeronautical science programs will prepare you to obtain a commercial pilot license with an instrument rating issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and many programs also provide you with the option of preparing for the FAA's Airline Transport Pilot Certificate.

Do I Need to Get Certified?

In order to be an airline pilot, you must hold an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA. To be eligible for certification, you must be at least 23 years old, hold a Commercial Pilot Certificate with an instrument rating, meet certain military experience requirements or hold a foreign airline transport or commercial pilot license, pass an FAA-administered written knowledge test and pass a practical test.

The written test covers subjects such as FAA regulations, meteorology, aerodynamics, air traffic control procedures and crew resource management. The practical test covers procedures such as takeoff, in-flight maneuvers, operation of instruments, emergency procedures and landing. It is usually taken in the presence of an FAA aviation safety inspector.

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers earned an average salary of $136,400 in May of 2015 (www.bls.gov). During this year, Texas was the top paying state, with an average annual wage of $189,860. Pilots, copilots and flight engineers working in Colorado and Florida also did well, earning an average of $180,890 and $154,040 per year, respectively.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Airline pilots, helicopter pilots and flight engineers perform many of the same tasks. They are all involved in filing flight plans and performing maintenance checks before their flight. They also need to ensure that they have enough fuel on board for the planned flight. The exact routes and purposes of the flight may be different for airline pilots and helicopter pilots, but the same training is required. Helicopter pilots and flight engineers need to be qualified pilots who have fulfilled all FAA required training, including flight school, and logged the appropriate number of flying hours to receive their pilot's license. They may also need to have an associate's or bachelor's degree. Flight engineers typically need a bachelor's degree and they must also be qualified pilots. Their focus is on checking all systems prior to flight and then monitoring those systems during the flight. They need the same training as an airline pilot, and they also perform the same types of maintenance checks prior to the flight, but in flight an airline pilot focuses on navigation, while a flight engineer focuses on monitoring the engine and all of the plane's systems and fuel level.

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