What Is the Job Outlook for Commercial Pilots?

Research what it takes to become a commercial pilot. Learn about the job outlook, salary range, education and licensure requirements and job duties 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 a Commercial Pilot?

Commercial pilots are pilots who operate planes used for charter purposes, aerial photography or aerial tours. They do not fly regularly scheduled passenger flights. Commercial pilots navigate the plane during the flight and ensure that all systems are operating properly. They communicate any concerns with air traffic control, and they follow the flight plan unless they need to adjust course or altitude due to weather or other issues. They must approve those changes with air traffic control before making them. Prior to the flight they perform maintenance checks to ensure that the engine and all systems are working properly and that the plane has sufficient fuel.

Training Required Flight training
Key Responsibilities Pre-flight checks on the aircraft, fuel, weather and more, navigating and flying, in-flight monitoring, communicating with air traffic control, post-flight checks
Licensure Required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (faster than average)*
Median Salary (May 2015) $76,150*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Are the Job and Salary Prospects for Commercial Pilots?

According to projections made by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of commercial pilots was due to grow 10% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS further stated that the greatest demand would be due to older pilots retiring. Experienced pilots are expected to have the best prospects, along with those with military experience. The middle half of commercial pilots earned between $53,330 and $105,810 in 2015, according to the BLS.

For airline pilots, the BLS projected the most opportunities with regional and budget airlines, as the major carriers are likely to have many pilots competing for openings.

What Kind of Flying Would I Do?

Commercial pilots fly cargo and passenger aircraft for airlines, private companies and organizations. You might fly small transport jets, helicopters, airliners or freight planes. In addition to flying, you also might be responsible for systems checks, navigation, aircraft mechanics, flight plans and cockpit safety.

You'll be required to know and adhere to all flight and ground regulations, in addition to familiarizing yourself with the duties of all members of a flight crew. You'll also need to understand and adhere to protocol for attending to special needs passengers and potentially hazardous cargo. You also should know how to map weather conditions throughout the entire course of your flight before takeoff.

What Education Do I Need?

A good way to get the training you need to become a licensed commercial pilot is in a degree or flight training program through a community college or school of aviation. You'll learn fundamentals of aerodynamics, navigation methods, cockpit management and emergency flight procedures. These programs can provide you with significant flight practice to qualify you for licensure through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after graduation. To complete a program, you'll usually have to pass written and oral examinations and demonstrate your ground and flight skills.

Get Licensed

In order to become a commercial pilot, you must first gain your commercial pilot license through the FAA. Earning a commercial pilot license means you've met the requirements dictated by the International Civil Aviation Organization. As a licensed pilot, you'll be authorized to fly small aircraft or co-pilot a plane that requires more than one operator. You can obtain a commercial license to operate airplanes, helicopters, balloons or airships.

In order to get your license, you must be at least 18 years old and fluent in spoken and written English. Each type of license has its own education and training standards, as well as a specified number of flight hours you'll need to complete. You'll need to pass written and flight tests to receive a commercial pilot license.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Helicopter pilots and flight engineers are aviation professionals that perform some of the same tasks as commercial pilots. Helicopter pilots need an associate's degree and the required number of flight hours for their license. They must complete flight school. They operate helicopters, and like commercial pilots they must perform maintenance checks prior to takeoff and they navigate the craft during the flight. They may also take passengers on aerial tours or perform chartered flights. Flight engineers perform the same maintenance checks prior to takeoff that commercial pilots perform. They ensure that the engine and all systems are working properly and that the plane has sufficient fuel. The key difference is that during the flight, flight engineers focus on monitoring the engine, the plane's systems and fuel levels while a pilot's primary task is navigation.

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