What Is a Job Description of a Pilot?

Learn about typical job duties for pilots. Find out about average salaries for pilots in different industries and get details on training and education requirements. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Pilot?

A pilot is trained to operate aircraft. As part of their duties, they file flight plans, perform maintenance checks and ensure the craft is ready for departure. This includes checking the engine, the navigation equipment and the aircraft's systems to ensure everything is running properly. They report any mechanical concerns and may schedule aircraft for repairs in the event that they do discover a problem. They also make sure the plane has enough fuel for its scheduled flight. Once the plane is boarded or loaded they communicate with air traffic control to receive permission to take off and use the runway as directed. In flight they use the navigation equipment to maintain course and altitude and continue monitoring the plane's systems and fuel level. They may also communicate with passengers about any changes in schedule. Their focus is the safe and efficient completion of their flight.

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

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Job Duties Does a Pilot Have?

People commonly perceive that the job of a pilot focuses on maneuvering aircraft along designated routes with the help of co-pilots, flight computers and instrumentation. If you're interested in becoming a pilot, flight operation will make up part of your job; however, your duties start long before take-off and finish quite a while after you land. On the ground, you'll need to know how to test and check instrumentation, prepare and submit flight plans and accurately gauge weather conditions along your entire route. All aspects of your job are regulated, and you must be familiar with all federal, state and local statutes and ordinances. Additionally, you'll need to acquaint your self with passenger rosters and know the duties of all ground and flight crew.

Once your plane is in flight, you'll need to know how to read instrument panels to ensure that warning gauges, hydraulic and pressurization systems are functioning correctly and monitor fuel consumption. You must be capable of flying your aircraft by instrumentation and navigational radios if low-visibility conditions exist. After landing, you'll need to provide documentation of flight details for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and your employer. If you pilot helicopters and fly at lower altitudes, you'll need to watch for such objects as power lines, trees, bridges, towers and birds.

What Are the Educational Requirements?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the previous standard of military flight training is being replaced by a preference for pilots with a college degree (www.bls.gov). For the best preparation, you'll want to ensure that your curriculum contains subjects in aeronautical engineering, mathematics and physics. In addition to education, you'll need a pilot's license that qualifies you for the type of aircraft you'll operate. FAA certification and licensure requires significant practice in actual flight maneuvers that you can obtain through an academic degree or training program.

Where Can I Get Trained?

You can enroll in a professional piloting associate's and bachelor's degree programs through many community colleges and universities. You'll learn ground controls, aviation safety, flight physiology, regional airline operations, radar operations, aerodynamics and aircraft systems. An associate's degree program in commercial aviation offers courses that prepare you to pilot commercial aircraft and might include FAA instrument rating. A flight technology program trains you in general aviation management, primary flight briefing and aircraft development.

You can also acquire your pilot education through federally approved flight schools or military service training. Other options include taking flight lessons from private instructors certified by the FAA or enrolling in FAA-approved, non-degree flight programs offered by some public and private schools and institutions. Regardless of the avenue you select, you'll learn aviation history, meteorology, instrumentation reading and all aspects of air transportation and aircraft systems.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The BLS stated that the median salary for commercial pilots was $76,150 in 2015. Pilots employed by parts manufacturers in the aerospace industry made an average of $119,870. The BLS also reported airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers earned annual median wages of $117,290 in 2015 (www.onetonline.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Flight instructors and air traffic controllers work in the same professional field as pilots. Flight instructors are trained pilots who are also qualified to instruct students so that they can become licensed pilots. They perform maintenance checks and operate navigational equipment during take off, flight and landing, and may also file flight plans, but they will perform these tasks to demonstrate skills to students. They also monitor students as they perform these tasks to ensure that students are performing them correctly. Flight instructors need to fulfill the degree and training requirements to be a pilot; this includes completing flight school and logging the appropriate number of flight hours for the type of craft they're licensed to fly.

Air traffic controllers need an associate's degree, and although the do not operate aircraft themselves, they communicate with pilots. They have the same objective of ensuring that all crafts complete their flight safely. This means that they monitor the altitude and location of all planes. They communicate with pilots regarding potential weather systems or other factors that may require them to change course, and the communication between air traffic controllers and pilots is essential to ensure that pilots do not collide with other aircraft or objects.

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