A commercial pilot rating allows you to be paid as a professional pilot. An individual with a private pilot's license cannot be paid for flying a plane to carry passengers or cargo. The pilot must have at least a commercial rating. The starting point to acquiring a commercial pilot license is a private pilot license.
Commercial License Hours
To obtain a commercial pilot license, you must pass the knowledge and practical examinations plus obtain a second class medical certificate. The license requires at least 250 flight hours as pilot. If you obtained your private license flying single engine aircraft and want a multi-engine commercial, you will need to get at least 10 hours of multi-engine, pilot-in-command time with an instructor. The commercial license requirements also include minimum numbers of hours of night flying, instrument flying and cross-country flight in the 250-hour total.
Commercial vs. ATP Rating
A commercial pilot's license allows you to fly as a paid pilot. However, the commercial rating is not enough to fly as a commercial airline pilot. Airline pilots are required to have an airline transport pilot -- ATP -- rating. The starting point for an ATP rating is to already have a commercial pilot license plus an instrument rating. ATP rated pilots must have a first-class medical certificate to fly as an airline pilot.
ATP Required Hours
Obtaining an ATP license requires you to have a minimum of 1,500 hours. Included in these hours are a minimum of 500 hours of cross-country flight, 100 hours of night flying and 75 hours of instrument flight. An airline will want a significant portion of these hours to be as pilot in command of multi-engine aircraft. For example, Mesa Airlines will accept applications from ATP-rated pilots with the 1,500 minimum hours but requires at least 200 hours of multi-engine time.
Work as a Commercial Pilot
Once you have the 250 hours and commercial rating, landing a quality pilot job requires building hours towards the ATP requirements. Beginning pilots often start by making contacts at local airports, looking for short-term or one-flight opportunities to work as a commercial pilot. A company may hire a short-hours, commercial-rated pilot at a low wage to supplement the corporate pilot staff.