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What Education Do I Need to Be an Airline Pilot?

Airline pilots transport passengers for commercial airlines. Read on to learn about the education needed to be a pilot, including the flight training you can receive from universities, flight schools or the military.

How to Become a Pilot

As an airline pilot, your exact duties might vary depending on the organization or industry in which you'll work. However, you'll work almost exclusively with cargo and passenger transportation.

You need a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to fly. As a commercial airline pilot, you'll specifically need the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. To obtain licensure, you have to meet the strict regulations set forth by the FAA, including being at least 23 years old, having 1,500 logged flight hours or more, having night and instrument flying experience, passing the written examination and passing the flight examination.

Topics covered on the licensing exam include meteorology, crew communication, aerodynamics, air navigation principles, wind shear awareness and aircraft loading. On the flight test, you'll be tested on emergency procedures, instrument procedures, preflight preparation, in-flight maneuvers, departure, takeoff and post-flight procedures.

To learn the skills required to become a licensed pilot, you can pursue a degree or you might opt for field experience only.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median annual wage (May 2018) $140,340 (for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 4% growth (for airline and commercial pilots)*
Key Skills Communication, observation, problem-solving, attention to detail
Similar Occupations Air traffic controllers, flight attendants, flight instructors, copilots, aircraft mechanics and technicians

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pilot Education Requirements

In some cases, a high school diploma or a GED is all you'll need for employment at a small airline, but it's becoming increasingly common for airlines to require you to possess a bachelor's degree, reports the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). There are two- and four-year institutions that offer associate's or bachelor's degrees teaching skills for piloting. Such programs may touch on areas of physical and life sciences, speech communication, and more technical areas such as aviation instructional techniques, law, and aircraft systems. If you don't pursue a degree in a piloting program, some recommended areas of undergraduate study include aeronautical engineering, mathematics, physics and communications.

Field Experience

Because you have to log flight hours to be eligible for licensure, most of your education will be gained through hands-on experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the military can be a good place to gain skills that will transfer to a career as a commercial or airline pilot. Field experience can also be gained at small, independent flight schools or larger chains, like the Pan-Am International Flight Academy in Florida. Additionally, many airline pilots start out as commercial pilots and work their way up to airline pilots later in their career, once they have accumulated a few thousand hours of flight experience.

Acquiring Your License

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, aspiring pilots first acquire their student pilot certificate, followed by a private pilot license, instrument rating, commercial pilot license, multi engine rating, and finally, an airline transport pilot certificate.

Each level of licensure requires a written exam and a practical flying exam. After acquiring their commercial pilot license, many get a certified flight instructor (CFI) rating, helping them build flight time and experience at a faster rate. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines current licensing regulations.