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Become a Pilot: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a pilot. Learn about licensure, salary, job outlook and degree requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Pilot?

The term 'pilots' can include airline and commercial pilots, flight engineers and co-pilots. Their duties include but are not limited to preparing the aircraft for flight, communicating with air traffic control, and navigating through various conditions using the instruments in the cockpit. Many aircraft have two pilots, so communication and attention to detail are important skills for them to possess. The table below explains what kind of education and training it takes to become one. You can also get insight into the job market for this career and what kind of salary you could earn.

Degree Required Aviation science pilot training program along with high school diploma or equivalent (for commercial pilots) and bachelor's degree (for airline pilots)
Education Field of Study Aviation, but any major is accepted
Key Skills Observation, good judgment, communication, problem-solving
Licensure/Technical Certificate Commercial pilot's license from the FAA is required, along with Airline Transport Pilot certificate
Job Growth (2018-2028) 6% (for all commercial and airline pilots)*
Median Salary (2018) $140,340 (for all airline pilots, flight engineers and co-pilots)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Pilot Do?

While many pilots fly commercial aircraft, others fly freight aircraft, moving goods, mail and countless other items around the nation and world. The military employs professional pilots for a variety of vehicles, from fighter jets to surveillance planes. Depending on the type of license you earn, you could end up operating news helicopters, airships or even hot air balloons.

What Education Do I Need?

If you're interested in becoming a pilot, enrolling in an associate's degree program in aviation science is an excellent way to start. In order to do so, you'll first need to possess a high school diploma or a GED. In a typical aviation science pilot training program, a few of the subjects you can expect to study include aircraft navigation systems, aerodynamics, navigation and cockpit management. Classroom study, in combination with hands-on training will usually lead to final written, oral and real world flight exams. Upon graduation, if you wish to continue your education you may choose to earn a bachelor's degree in aviation science or continue on to graduate school for a related discipline.

Another way to get the education you need is by gaining pilot training in the U.S. Air Force. Training as a bomber pilot, test pilot or helicopter pilot are just a few of the options available in the military. After completion of your service, you could possibly pursue a career as a U.S. Air Force pilot or in the commercial sector.

Becoming Certified

Before you can become a professional pilot, you must first earn your license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). If you are at least 18 years old and can speak and write English fluently, you may then select the type of licensure you are interested in. For example, you might choose to pursue the license you need in order to operate a commercial aircraft. You'll then need to prove that you meet the FAA's minimum education and training standards for that particular license and pass a written and flight exam. Becoming certified requires many hours of supervised and solo flight time.

What Is the Job Market Like?

According to projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of commercial and airline pilots was expected to increase by 6% between 2018 and 2028. During the same time, a 8% rise was projected for commercial pilots only. As of May 2018, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for flight engineers, airline pilots and copilots was $140,340 (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other similar roles in the aviation industry may require different training. Air traffic controllers must have associate degrees, while aviation equipment mechanics and technicians need specialized training to repair and perform maintenance on aircraft. Required to have a high diploma or the equivalent, flight attendants provide services to passengers in addition to ensuring their comfort and safety. If an individual prefers the driving and navigation element of the job, he or she could be a heavy truck or tractor-trailer driver. These workers need a high school diploma and must complete a professional truck driving program along with earning a CDL license.