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Instrument Rating vs. Commercial Pilot: Which Should You Choose

For those who dream of getting paid to fly, you’ll need to take a step up beyond a basic private pilot license, moving to an instrument rating or a commercial pilot certification. In terms of hierarchy, most students move on to an instrument rating directly after obtaining their private certificate, although some decide to jump straight into a commercial training program. Sometimes, it’s difficult sorting through the hierarchy of all these licenses, ratings, and certificates.  So, let’s simplify things for you by taking a look at the differences between instrument training and commercial training. Hopefully, it will help you narrow down your path forward as you try to become a professional pilot – here’s a closer look at instrument rating vs. commercial pilot certification.

What Is A Pilot Instrument Rating 

After you complete your private pilot training and are officially licensed, you’ll move on to the next step, a pilot instrument rating (IR). This rating proves that you have the proper knowledge to operate a plane solely by instruments. That means through foggy nights, sudden summer storms, snowy white-outs, and other conditions where you can’t see. 


It’s one of the most challenging certifications to achieve since you’ll be moving on to a more technical form of flying, compared to a private pilot who can only fly under visual flight rules (VFR). There are many reasons to get an instrument rating – for example, after you pass your practical test, you can move up the hierarchy to commercial pilot training and work towards a career in aviation. 

Pilot Instrument Rating Requirements And Qualifications

In order to qualify for an instrument rating, you will first need to meet a series of requirements and qualifications, laid out in 14 CFR § 61.65:


  1. Hold a valid medical certificate.
  2. Be at least 17 years old.
  3. Hold a private pilot certificate or be concurrently applying for one.
  4. Fluency in English – reading, speaking, and writing.
  5. Receive and log ground training from a CFI or through an authorized home-study course.
  6. Receive endorsement from CFI in preparation for the FAA knowledge test.
  7. Pass the FAA Instrument Rating Airplane (IRA) Airman Test.
  8. Pass the required practical test (checkride).

Pilot Instrument Rating Training Process

The pilot instrument rating process is fairly rigid, requiring you to divvy up your required hours across a number of specific training tasks, like:


  • 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command (PIC).
  • 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time.
  • Successfully complete a cross-country flight under instrument flight rules (IFR), which includes:
    • A flight of 250 nautical miles along airways or by routing from an air traffic control facility.
    • An instrument approach at each airport.
    • Three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems.

How Long Does It Take To Obtain An Instrument Rating?

Depending on how far along you are in the training process and your commitment to flying, an instrument rating could require as little as 40 hours all the way up to 100 hours or more. Generally, you can expect to achieve your IR in two to four months. With an accelerated program that features a full-time training schedule, you can get it done in as little as a few weeks.

What Is A Commercial Pilot License?

Once you achieve a private pilot certificate and an instrument rating, you’re ready to move up into a commercial training program. This process takes you through a much more complex aviation curriculum and lengthier training timeline, as you’ll be learning to fly passengers through major airspace. After acquiring this certificate, you will officially be able to make money as a pilot, whether flying as an agricultural pilot, charter pilot, emergency-rescue pilot or in a number of other rewarding professional aviation careers.

Commercial Pilot License Requirements And Qualifications

To become a commercial pilot, you’ll need to meet some basic requirements and qualifications, outlined in § 61.129. While some training approaches may differ if you choose to pursue a single-engine commercial certificate vs. a multi-engine commercial certificate (such as the type of plane you’ll learn on), the basic requirements and hours are essentially the same.


  1. Be 18 years of age or older.
  2. Hold a valid second-class medical certificate.
  3. Hold a private pilot license. 
  4. Getting an IR beforehand is strongly recommended, but not required.
  5. Read, speak and write English.

Commercial Pilot License Training Process

The commercial pilot training process is more intense than the instrument rating process, as you’ll need to acquire at least 250 hours before being eligible for your checkride.


  1. Log at least 250 hours of flight time:
    1. 100 hours of flight in a powered aircraft.
    2. 100 hours of PIC time that includes 50 hours of cross-country flight.
    3. 20 hours of flight time in accordance with flight proficiency requirements.
    4. Logged 10 hours of solo flight time, including cross-country and nighttime VFR flying.

How Long Does It Take To Obtain A Commercial Pilot Certificate?

The FAA requires a minimum of 250 hours of flight time in order to be eligible for a commercial pilot certificate. Realistically, you can expect to go from zero experience to being a paid pilot in 18 to 24 months at a moderately quick training pace. It will depend on the rate at which you’re able to fly and your dedication to your program. Once you obtain this certificate, you can work your way to even more advanced ratings and certifications, including certified flight instructor (CFI) and airline transport pilot (ATP). 

Ready to start the pilot certification process? Get in touch with Inflight Pilot Training! 

Inflight is a leading pilot training company serving Minneapolis/St. Paul and the surrounding areas. With a reputable training program and deep roster of highly skilled, certified flight instructors, the organization’s goal is to help those who’ve dreamed of flying realize their potential of becoming a commercial pilot. We’ll give you the power to pursue a career that you love – get in touch with our team of flight instructors to find out more.


For additional information on Inflight training programs, contact us today or call (952) 698-3000.