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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.
Tim Plaehn has been writing financial, investment and trading articles and blogs since 2007. His work has appeared online at Seeking Alpha, Marketwatch.com and various other websites. Plaehn has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the U.S. Air Force Academy.