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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 for a Commercial Airline Pilot

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.

Education Bachelor's degree
Job Skills Communication, leadership, observational skills, physical ability
Median Salary (2015) $76,150 (all commercial pilots)
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (all commercial pilots)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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 43,500 individuals worked as commercial airline pilots in 2014, with job growth expected at 10% between 2014 and 2024. Most of the industry's growth was expected to come from regional and low-cost airlines. As of May 2015, the median salary for commercial airline pilots was $76,150 .

Alternative Career Options

Occupations similar to piloting for a commercial airline include air traffic control and flight instruction.

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 1% for the 2014-2024 period. The same educational requirements apply to flight instructors as airline pilots. Instructors must also be FAA-certified. PayScale.com reported that the median salary for flight instructors was $69,395 as of January 2016.

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 9% decline in jobs was estimated from 2014 to 2024, per the BLS. Air traffic controllers made a median annual income of $122,950 in 2015.

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