Commercial Airline Pilot: Employment Information and Requirements

Find out what training is needed to become a commercial airline pilot. Read about the number of flying hours that are required to pursue this career, which is extremely competitive. See career and salary figures, along with alternative career paths.

Career Definition

Commercial airline pilots operate planes owned by well-known aviation companies. Commercial airline pilots must plan flight routes, communicate with air traffic controllers and understand the technology needed to safely command aircraft. Commercial airline pilots must pass rigorous flight training exercises while also being in peak physical condition.

How to Become a Commercial Airline Pilot

Required Education

Most companies require commercial airline pilots to have a bachelor's degree in any subject; however, many prospective commercial airline pilots major in fields such as aviation and aerospace engineering. Commercial airline pilots must record thousands of 'flight hours' while training in flying various types of aircraft. Many commercial airline pilots have a military background, but private flight schools approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are also an option.

Skills Required

Commercial airline pilots must have expertise in flying aircraft, which includes understanding the technology and mechanics of planes. Commercial airline pilots must also be in top shape to pass the required physical. Commercial airline pilots must show strong leadership abilities, communicate well with others and have an ability to make quick decisions.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 34,990 individuals worked as commercial airline pilots in 2012, with job growth expected at 21% between 2010 and 2020. Most of the industry's growth was expected to come from regional and low-cost airlines. As of May 2012, the median salary for commercial airline pilots was $73,280.

Alternative Career Options

Flight Instructor

According to the BLS, the job outlook for flight instructors is grouped in the same projection as airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers, which is an estimated 6% for the 2010-2020 period. The same educational requirements apply to flight instructors as airline pilots. Instructors must also be FAA-certified. reported that the median salary for flight instructors was $55,573 as of January 2014.

Air Traffic Controller

These professionals direct air traffic so that airplanes are a safe distance from one another, as well as to ensure the safety of passengers while aboard. A 3% decline in jobs was estimated from 2010 to 2020, per the BLS. Air traffic controllers made a median annual income of $122,530 in 2012.

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