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Published On: Wed, Nov 12th, 2014

Paths To Becoming An Airline Pilot

If you dream of becoming an airline pilot, you’ll need to know about common paths that people use to enter the profession. Since you have several options, it makes sense to review them to help you decide which one matches your interests best.

The Military Path to Becoming an Airline Pilot
Several branches of the U.S. military offer flight training that could help you become an airline pilot. The Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard require flight school applicants to at least hold undergraduate degrees. The Army prefers candidates with college degrees but will consider high school graduates for warrant officer positions.

It’s best to study subjects related to piloting aircraft. Important subjects include physics, engineering, and aeronautics. Candidates who already have experience in these areas are more likely to succeed once they enter flight school.

Successful candidates must also:

  • Pass flying physical exams that show they are healthy enough to pilot a variety of aircraft
  • Complete officer training school
  • For the Army, complete basic combat training and orientation in addition to officer training school
2010 photo/Lasse Fuss

2010 photo/Lasse Fuss

Many people decide to follow this career path because they get paid for their training. Instead of spending a lot of money on private instruction, military pilots earn salaries that start at around $37,000 and increase to about $68,000 after six years of service. This provides exceptional training without going into debt.

Since military training will teach you how to operate a wide range of aircraft, you can use this experience to earn a higher pilot’s salary when you start working for a major airline. Most airlines pay different salaries according to the types of craft their pilots operate.

The Corporate Path to Becoming an Airline Pilot
Those who don’t want to enter the military can get experience moving up the ranks as a corporate pilot. Before getting a job, though, pilots will want to gain considerable experience with a flight instructor or in a flight instruction program. Those without several hundred hours of flight experience rarely get corporate jobs that pay well.

You can start your training as early as 16 years old. That’s the minimum age to get a student pilot certificate from the FAA. After obtaining a Student Pilot Certificate, students can start accumulating hours of flight time. At first, students will train with an experienced pilot. After they have mastered essential skills, they may pilot small planes on their own.

After accumulating about 1,000 hours of experience, pilots may want to look for jobs with regional airlines. Regional airlines usually have fewer requirements than national and international airlines. In fact, pilots may need as much as 3,000 hours before they can secure rewarding jobs from national airlines.

Most airlines only hire pilots who have college degrees. Focus on the same subjects that you would take before entering the military.
This career path usually takes longer and costs more money than the military option, but it also offers more flexibility.

Progressing as an Airline Pilot

Getting your first job as an airline pilot is just the beginning. Most pilots start as First Officers, which is the industry name for a co-pilot. It can take between five and 15 years to become a Captain. Most airlines require Captains to have at least 2,000 hours of flight experience.

Once you become a Captain, you can start applying for jobs flying larger aircraft. Airlines often pay their pilots according to how much experience they have and what type of aircraft they fly. Captains who pilot small planes typically do not earn as much as those who pilot larger aircraft that can hold several hundred people.

Currently, the largest airplane used by commercial airlines is the Airbus A380. It has a double-deck with enough seats for 853 passengers. With the safety of so many people in the pilot’s hands, it’s understandable that they can get paid significantly more than pilots who fly small planes that can barely accommodate a few dozen passengers.

Now that you know more about common paths to becoming an airline pilot, which option will you choose?

Guest Author: Lolita Di

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