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How to Become a Commercial Pilot: Step-by-Step Guide

Get to know the step-by-step process you'll need to undergo in order to become a commercial pilot. Learn all about the basics of licensing, training, and additional certifications.

Career Information at a Glance

Commercial pilots refer to a large group of pilots who fly a variety of different types of aircraft for purposes including aerial tours, cargo transportation, and terrain surveillance. Obtaining a commercial pilot license allows a pilot to be FAA-approved and to charge compensation for their flight services. Below you'll find the certification requirements, salary, and projected job growth, as well as the process for becoming a commercial pilot.

Education Required High school diploma
Training Required 250 hours of flight training
Certification Commercial pilot license
Projected Job Growth (2020-2030) 11%*
2020 Median Income $93,300*

Source: *US Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are The Basic Requirements?

In order to become a certified commercial pilot, you must first meet basic criteria, including being 18 years of age and obtaining a high school diploma. You must be able to communicate effectively through written and verbal English. Individuals looking to obtain a commercial pilot license must also meet the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second-class medical certification. The physical exam proves that an individual does not have any handicaps that may affect their ability to fly and has vision that is 20/20 or that is correctable to 20/20.

How Do I Earn a Private Pilot License?

Earning a private pilot license is the basic certification needed in order to work towards obtaining a commercial pilot license. The private pilot license requires flight schooling which teaches prospective pilots the basics of flight as well as the basic regulations for administering an aircraft. In order to obtain this initial certificate, an individual must pass the written, oral, and practical exam which includes information regarding safety procedures, navigation, radio operation, and general flight knowledge. An authorized flight instructor must endorse your pilot training and flight hours in order to earn this license. The private pilot license allows a pilot to fly in controlled airports and at night. It is the first certification that one must obtain in order to work towards the additional certifications needed to become a commercial pilot.

How Many Flight Hours Are Required?

After obtaining the initial private pilot license, a pilot must log at least 250 hours of recorded flight time. Of these hours, 100 must be in a powered aircraft and another 100 hours must be completed as part of pilot-in-command (PIC) training. During these hours, a pilot must encounter a variety of situations in order for their learning to be considered complete. These situations include completing 50 hours of cross-country flights, a set number of takeoffs and landings, and instrument training. Instrument training must be completed in order to prove that pilots are capable of properly flying an aircraft with low levels of visibility. All flight hours must be supervised and logged by an authorized flight instructor.

What Exams Do I Need To Pass?

Prospective pilots must complete two FAA-regulated exams: one written and one practical exam in order to obtain their commercial pilot license. The written exam tests an individual's ability to communicate their knowledge of navigation, safety, and flight regulations. The practical exam, also known as a check-ride, is similar to that of a driving test and is carried out under the supervision of an FAA-regulated examiner. A candidate must complete several tasks to portray their understanding of flight operations during this test. Passing scores on both the written and practical exams allow an individual to obtain their commercial pilot license.

What Are The Options For Additional Certification?

After having obtained the commercial pilot license, the next step in a career in aviation is to continue flying in order to build your resume. Often times, commercial pilots will continue on to become a certified flight instructor. This helps a pilot continue to develop their knowledge in the aviation field and also allows them to continue acquiring in-house flight hours. After completing 1,500 hours of flying time with their commercial license, a pilot is then able to continue earning their certifications in order to become an airline transport pilot. Becoming an airline transport pilot requires additional schooling and the completion of an FAA-issued airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate.