A private pilot’s license is sufficient qualification for flying a small plane, but it won’t get you a job as a pilot. Before you can get work flying a plane or other aircraft, you have to complete the training to earn a commercial pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration. Some flying jobs require advanced licenses or special certifications as well.
Airlines are an important segment of the aviation industry and provide many pilot jobs. An airline is distinguished by flights carrying passengers or cargo on a fixed schedule. Larger aircraft carry a flight crew, typically with three pilots. The captain is usually the most experienced and is assisted by a co-pilot or first officer. The third pilot, called a flight engineer, monitors aircraft instruments. Commercial aviation other than airlines includes a wide variety of jobs. Commercial pilots dust crops with insecticides, perform aerial photography and fly charter flights when and where customers desire. Others help fight fires, monitor urban traffic and assist with search-and-rescue efforts.
The Pilot's Role
A pilot’s job starts with inspecting the aircraft and completing a preflight checklist. She checks the engines and control systems, makes sure the aircraft is fueled and not overloaded. As a pilot, you operate the aircraft during takeoff, the flight itself and landing. You must check and monitor the weather and instruments, communicate with air traffic control and navigate the aircraft. Airline pilots may also assist other flight crew members in addressing passenger’s needs.
To get a commercial pilot’s license, you must be at least 18 years old, accumulate 250 hours flight experience and earn an instrument flight rating. The IFR rating means you know how to fly an aircraft safely in poor weather and when visibility is limited. All pilots must pass a medical check, including an eye exam. Many pilots learn to fly in the military, but you can also train for a commercial license with an FAA-approved instructor or school. If you want a job flying for an airline, you need at least two years of college, but airlines prefer a bachelor’s degree and some require one. Airlines usually want you to have at least 750 hours flight time. To advance to captain or co-pilot, you have to earn an airline transport license. At a minimum, this requires 1,500 hours flying experience and you have to be 23 years of age or older.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 11 percent overall rise in jobs for pilots from 2010 to 2020. Growth in the airline sector is expected to be only about 6 percent, but positions for commercial pilots are likely to increase by 21 percent. As of 2012, the median salary for airline pilots was $114,200. The 25 percent paid the least made less than $87,240 and the 25 percent best-paid airline pilots earned more than $154,100. The median salary was $73,280 for commercial pilots. The top 25 percent made more than $96,810. The 25 percent lowest-paid commercial pilots had salaries of less than $53,050.