How to Become a Commercial Airline Pilot

by Adanlawo Opeyemi
9 minutes read

There are many career options for international students who want to study aviation in America. One possible career path is that of a commercial airline pilot. A career as a commercial airline pilot can be a rewarding and fascinating one. Many people who study aviation want to become one. However, there are many steps you need to take before you can become a commercial airline pilot.

Ratings and Certificates

There are many certificates and ratings you will need to be a commercial airline pilot. First, you’ll need a private pilot license. This will permit you to fly alone, but not to be paid for your flight time.

Certificate of Commercial Pilot

The next step is to obtain a commercial pilot certificate. This allows you receive payment for your flights. This certificate is earned by passing the commercial pilot ground school exam and logging at most 250 hours of flight time. You are limited to specific conditions and maneuvers. After passing your written ground school exam and logging your hours, you must pass a check ride.

It is similar to the driving test that you must pass to obtain a driver’s licence. During the check-ride, an FAA examiner will ask for your plans and quiz you about aviation. Then, they will accompany you on a flight. You will need to perform certain maneuvers, and your examiner will guide you throughout the flight. If everything passes, you’ll be issued a commercial pilot’s certificate.

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Medical Certificate

You will also need a current first- or second class medical certificate to be able to fly commercially. An Aviation Medical Examiner will verify your fitness and health to become a pilot to obtain this certificate. These examinations will be required for commercial airline pilots. Captains must pass a physical every six months and commercial airline pilots have to pass an exam each year. You could lose your job if you are diagnosed with a medical condition.

Instrument Rating

To fly in low visibility (in bad weather or in clouds), you will need an instrument rating. This rating is obtained by passing instrument groundschool, flying a specific number of hours (flying with no visibility), and passing an inspection.

Multi-Engine Rating

Next, you’ll need a multi engine rating. This rating will enable you to fly multiple engines in planes, which is what you will most likely fly as a commercial airline pilot. You will need to learn lessons and perform a multi-engine check ride.

Certificate of Pilot in Airline Transport

Most commercial airline pilots will also receive an airline transport pilot certificate at some point. This certificate is the most prestigious and allows you to fly large commercial aircraft as a pilot in commend. You will need to pass a written exam, have a first class medical certificate, and have flown 1,500 hours, 250 of which as the pilot in charge.

Different Career Options

You have two options for becoming an airline pilot: military or civilian. Each career path has its advantages and disadvantages.

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There are two choices for civilian flight training: college or flight school. Although there is no requirement for a college degree to become a pilot, it shows that you can learn and are capable of completing challenging courses. These are essential traits for commercial airline pilots. A college might offer a 2- or 4-year degree, as well as flight training toward the different flight certificates that you will need. You will be able to graduate with the majority, if not all, of the ratings and certificates that you need.

The cost of civilian flight training can be very high. Basic lessons cost about $80 per hour and you’ll need to complete at least 250 hours of training before you can obtain your commercial rating. You will also need to rent an airplane for instruction.


You can also train through the military to become a commercial airline pilot. After completing your pilot training, you will have to commit to a certain number of years in military service (in the Air Force this is a ten year commitment). Other requirements include college coursework, good health and sufficient physical ability. It is not possible to guarantee that you will pass military flight training within the time constraints of the service, or that you can fly any particular aircraft. However, you will receive the best training possible in the equipment used by airline pilots.

It is important to be ready for military life. However, it is not something you can take lightly. You will have to obey orders, risk bodily injury, and use lethal weaponry. The military may not be the right choice for you if you aren’t ready for it.

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Fly Experience

After becoming certified, you will need to have more experience and flight hours in order to be hired by an airline. The number and complexity and amount of aircraft you have flown and the type of flying (jet or propellers, local or cross-country flying, flying with or without visibility, etc.) determine your level of experience. You’ve held various crew positions. You will probably have a lot of experience flying before you leave the military if you choose the military route. To gain the experience needed to be a commercial pilot, a civilian pilot could work as a flight instructor and then go on to charter companies.

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