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Ready to Takeoff in a New Career? Here’s How to Become an Airline Pilot

Do you want to achieve the prestigious career of commercial airline pilot? Many prospective pilots dream of flying beyond the initial private certifications to become a professional airline pilot.

There’s plenty of reasons why you’d want to work for a major US airline: money, prestige and doing what you love most – flying. If you’re ready to take off on a new career, you need to know about what’s required of you in order to reach your goal of how to become an airline pilot & commercial pilot. Here’s what you need to do to take off in a new career.

Where to Begin

Before signing a contract with one of the major commercial airlines like Delta or American Airlines, you need to first begin with the basics. There are several ways to qualify for a commercial pilot training program, and while none of them will be the same, the licence you need to end up with is either an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) or a Multi-crew Pilot Licence (MPL). To obtain one or both of these, you must first meet the initial requirements:

  1. Be 18 years of age or older for Commercial and 23 for ATP
    Only people that are legally considered adults are eligible for their commercial pilot’s license. Most ATP applicants must be 23 years of age, but certain pilots may be granted a restricted ATP certificate at age 21.
  2. Get a four year college degree
    While this isn’t required for all pilot positions, such as on regional airlines, but it is required to work for any major US airline. It helps to have an aviation-related degree, but it isn’t a requirement.
  3. Get a First Class medical certificate from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) medical examiner
    You will need a first class medical certificate, as is required for pilots who exercise airline transport pilot (ATP) privileges, meaning those flying scheduled airliners. You’ll need 20/20 corrected vision and no impairments that would interfere with your ability to fly a plane.
  4. Read, write, speak and understand English
    As per Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 61.83, this is a requirement for piloting in the US.
  5. Get your endorsement or certificate
    Obtain an endorsement or certificate from a certified flight instructor saying that you’ve completed ground training and that you’re adequately fit to pilot a plane.
  6. Rack up your hours
    250 hours of flight time in various conditions along with passing a series of tests are required to obtain your commercial pilot’s license.
  7. Excel in the exams
    You need to pass the flight exam given by your instructor and score at least 70 percent on written and multiple choice exams.

If you don’t meet all of these requirements, don’t worry, you can always start out in a training program and work your way up, up and away!

First Step, Earning Your Private Pilot License

The first step in become an airline pilot is to obtain your private pilot’s license. Private pilots are taught to navigate a smaller plane by themselves. While in training, a private pilot will learn the proper aircraft maneuvers, such as take-off and landing, navigation techniques, weather monitoring, emergency procedures, flight planning and more. Training for your private pilot’s license is more involved than a recreational or sport pilot certificate, but not as extensive as a commercial license.

To obtain an FAA private pilot’s license, here’s what you need to do:

Obtain a third-class medical certificate from an FAA medical examiner
You should be in sound physical health if you want to obtain your private pilot’s license. To set up your appointment, head to and browse their list of qualified doctors.

  1. Prepare yourself for the expense
    Private licenses can run anywhere from $7,000 to $9,000. There are financing options available to those who would like to learn to fly but don’t currently have the funds.
  2. Choose a flight school
    Research your local airports to see if they offer any private training.
  3. Choose a flight instructor
    There are many flight instructors that are eager to teach. Choosing the right one will be imperative to your success, as each individual learns differently.
  4. Enroll in ground-school training
    Learning to fly isn’t all about being in the sky. Classroom training is necessary to learn all the rules of being a responsible and adequate pilot.
  5. Take flight training
    You first learn the basics of handling an airplane prior to flying solo. You’ll be introduced to nighttime flying, instrument flying and more complex maneuvers. Once you’re ready you’ll be given the opportunity for your own solo flight.
  6. Take the written FAA test
    This test is required in most private pilot certification situations. It consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and needs to be passed in order to complete the training program.
  7. Take your checkride
    The final step is to take a checkride with your district’s designated examiner. Once you pass, he’ll issue a temporary license while until your permanent license arrives in the mail.

A private license is the most is the most popular among pilots. You can fly passengers, most aircraft, and operate charity flights, the only thing is you can’t receive any compensation. This requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time in a number of different of conditions.

Next, Get Your FAA Instrument Rating

After you’ve gotten your private license, you still aren’t qualified to take controls of a Boeing 747. Next, you need to get your instrument rating issued by the FAA. A person who applies for an instrument rating must have certain qualifiers before they can proceed with the training, specified in 14 CFR 61.65. These include:

  1. Hold at least a current private pilot certificate or be concurrently applying for a private pilot certificate with an airplane, helicopter, or powered-lift rating appropriate to the instrument rating sought.
  2. Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language.

Additionally, you must have:

  1. At least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command. A minimum of 10 of these hours must be in airplanes for an instrument-airplane rating.
  2. 40 total hours of actual or simulated instrument time on the areas of operation listed in 61.65(c).
  3. No fewer than 15 hours of instrument flight training from an authorized instructor in the aircraft category for the instrument rating sought.

For instrument-airplane rating, you must have at least one cross-country flight in an airplane that is performed under instrument flight rules. This flight must consist of:

  1. A distance of at least 250 nm along airways or ATC-directed routing.
  2. An instrument approach at each airport.
  3. Three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems (Example: ILS, VOR, GPS, etc).
  4. At least 3 hours of instrument training that is appropriate to the instrument rating sought from an authorized instructor in preparation for the checkride within two calendar months before the examination date.

If you’re you don’t have your instrument rating certification, you can’t fly in poor weather, regardless of if you have your commercial license. You don’t have to wait to have your commercial license to do this, but once you have it, you will need an instrument rating.

Starting Your New Career as a Pilot

Now, you’re probably itching to get in the cockpit and takeoff, but there’s still much more to do. If you’ve come this far, congratulations – you’re well on your way to become an airline pilot – but there are a few more certifications and ratings that you need to have before you can realize your dream. In addition to the private pilot’s license and instrument rating, you’ll need to obtain the following certificates and ratings.

Commercial Certificate

Your commercial certificate will show that you’re suited for higher levels of training geared toward passenger safety and comfort, and in high altitude operations. A commercial pilot certificate allows you to get paid to fly as a pilot, but to become an airline pilot you’ll still need to get an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate.

For the commercial certificate, you will need 250 hours total time, 100 hours as pilot-in-command, 50 hours cross country, and 10 hours of dual instruction in a complex aircraft.

Multi-Engine Rating

Multi-engine aircraft have very different handling and performance characteristics than single-engine aircraft do. Obtaining a multi-engine rating required for most commercial pilot job applicants.

For a private pilot to obtain a multi-engine add-on rating under CFR Part 61, you’ll need to be trained on the aircraft’s performance and limitations, aircraft systems, performance maneuvers, single-engine operations, spin awareness, emergency operations and instrument approaches (single engine) if applicable. There are no additional flying hour requirements on top of the private pilot or commercial pilot certificate, except you must have at least three hours in a multi-engine aircraft prior to taking the check ride.

Certified Flight Instructor (CFI)

A CFI isn’t usually a requirement for a professional pilot job, but those who have a CFI will be able to gain more flight hours by instructing.

First, you must have a commercial license and instrument rating that’s issued for the type of plane you’ll be teaching with. You will then need to gain a logbook endorsement from an authorized flight instructor that documents time spent learning the basics of flight instruction. After you take a few tests, and log a minimum of 15 hours of being in command of a pilot, you can achieve your CFI certificate.

Additionally, these two certifications can be a big help for you when striving to become an airline pilot:

Certified Flight Instructor- Instrument (CFII)

A CFII is also not usually a requirement to be hired at an airline, but commercial pilot jobs typically require a certain amount of instrument flight hours, and flight instructors who add the instrument rating to their CFI certificate are able to gain valuable instrument flight time. In addition, a CFII rating can mean higher pay for the instructor.

Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI)

As with the CFI and CFII, an MEI is not a requirement, but can help pilots gain hours and valuable multi-engine experience as an instructor.

Getting Your Airline Transport Pilot License (ATP)

This is one of the final steps in your journey to become an airline pilot – receiving your ATP. After you’ve completed all the requirements to get to this point, you need to obtain an ATP to fly for any airline in the US.

First, you must take the FAA ATP practical test, have 1500 hours of experience in aircraft, including 250 hours as a pilot in command and be at least 23 years old. There are restricted licenses (R-ATP) which the individual may be granted if they meet these requirements:

  • Military pilots who are 21 years or older with 750 hours total time.
  • Graduates with a four-year degree in aviation from approved Universities that have 1000 hours of total flight time and are 21 years or older.
  • Graduates with a two-year degree in aviation, who have 1250 hours and are 21 years or older.
  • Pilots with 1500 hours who are 21 years or older.

The pilot can remove the restriction once they have achieved the normal prerequisites. Normal ATP licenses can be achieved by passing one theoretical knowledge test, along meeting the above prerequisites. The FAA ATP flight test can be taken in a light piston aircraft with 1500 hours experience. It is therefore common for FAA pilots to earn their ATP without ever having flown that type of aircraft.


Once you’ve achieved your ATP, you’d think it’d be all over, right? Well, as a pilot it’s your duty to never stop educating yourself. As a pilot, you can better yourself in a number of different ways, from taking specialty flight courses like aerobatic training, or interpersonal skills to improve your communication with plane passengers. While these things aren’t required, they’re heavily encouraged to make yourself a more-rounded and more capable pilot.

If you’re ready to take to the skies, contact Inflight Pilot Training today and we’ll help you achieve your dream of become an airline pilot. Ready to get started? Click the button below to get in touch with one of our flight instructors.