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Private airplane captains lead exciting lives, transporting passengers to major cities and exotic locales. Becoming a pilot requires education and training, which can take a few months or years. While many private airplane captains do not earn as much as a commercial airline pilot salary, they often have the opportunity to enjoy longer careers than those of commercial airline pilots.
Private Pilot Job Description
Airline pilots operate passenger aircraft for air carriers such as Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines. Pilots who operate private planes that transport small groups are commercial pilots, also called “private pilots." Private pilots may work on a contract basis, for a corporation or for a charter aircraft company. They transport business executives, entertainers, small groups and families.
The majority of a private airplane captain’s duties and responsibilities correspond with those of their airline pilot colleagues. Before taking flight, they must check the interior and exterior of the aircraft for damage. A pilot must check the fuel supply, submit a flight plan to the air traffic control center and check the weather forecast for inclement conditions.
Before takeoff, the pilot must inform the flight crew to brief passengers on safety procedures. En route, the pilot must monitor visible conditions and instruments for storms or mechanical malfunctions.
Private Pilot Education and Training
Most pilots have at least a bachelor’s degree, which many charter aircraft companies require. Some four-year and two-year colleges, universities and community colleges offer degree programs for pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) publishes a list of schools that it certifies to offer pilot programs.
Private flight schools also offer pilot training. Oftentimes, you can complete your training at a flight school in a few months.
Flight training is expensive. Two-year programs at community colleges can run $34,000 per year. ATP Jets, a private flight school based in Florida, offers an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate program, which costs nearly $5,000. ATP certification allows you to work as an airline pilot. However, before you can take the ATP course, you must already hold a private pilot’s certificate.
While two- and four-year degree programs require more time and money, holding a degree improves your chances of landing a job.
Private Pilot Licensing
In order to work as a private pilot, you must obtain a commercial pilot’s certificate, issued by the FAA.
You must be 18 years of age or older to qualify, and you must read and white and speak English fluently. You must also have the requisite number of flight hours and obtain a second-class medical certificate, which indicates that you are physically fit to fly an aircraft.
In order to obtain a commercial license that allows you to transport passengers, you must have an instrument rating. An instrument rating specifies that you have experience operating the type of plane you plan to fly.
You must pass an FAA knowledge test, with a score of 70 percent or higher, to earn certification.
Private Pilot Essential Qualities
Pilots must meet certain physical and personal qualifications that go beyond their education and training. They must work irregular hours and have a service-oriented attitude.
Pilots must have the physical strength to exert 50 pounds of force during emergencies and 10 to 30 pounds of force during normal aircraft navigation. During emergencies, pilots must remain calm, and react accurately and quickly.
Pilots must pass a Transportation Security Administration background check and be willing to take a drug test, if requested by an employer or the FAA.
Since private pilots often transport small groups, such as executives or families, they may be required to accommodate pets or passengers who smoke or vape. Private pilots must be willing to help passengers load and unload luggage and assist with ground transportation arrangements at their destination.
Private Pilot Salary
In 2017, commercial pilots earned a median income of around $79,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median salary represents the middle of the commercial pilot pay scale. Commercial pilots who work in the manufacturing sector earn the highest jet pilot salary, around $99,000 per year.
According to the jobs website Glassdoor, NetJets – a company that sells part ownership in private jets – pays its commercial pilots an average salary of more than $110,000.
Airline pilots earn a higher annual salary – around $137,000, according to BLS estimates.
Private Pilot Job Outlook
According to the BLS, job opportunities for pilots should increase by around 4 percent, from now until 2026.
However, BLS projections do not paint a complete picture, at least in the short term. Currently, the United States is undergoing a pilot shortage.
By law, airline pilots must retire when they turn 65 years old. However, the requirement does not apply to private airplane pilots. Nonetheless, many seasoned pilots are on track to age out in the coming years.
Also, FAA regulations enacted in 2009 limits the amount of time a commercial or an airline pilot can fly, which is 1,000 hours in a 365-day period. The limit has created a pilot shortage across the board.
- Glassdoor: Airline Pilot Salaries in United States
- NetJets: Jobs: Pilot #1929 (page 3)
- Phoenix East Aviation: What do Airline Pilots Earn?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Airline and Commercial Pilots
- PPGS101: FAA Requirements to Obtain a Commercial Pilot Certificate
- Airtug: What Can You Do With A Commercial Pilot’s License?
- Electronic Code of Federal Regulations: Title 14, Chapter 1, Subchapter G, Part 135, 135.243
- Federal Register: Part 121 Pilot Age Limit
- Federal Aviation Administration: Fact Sheet–Pilot Fatigue
- Federal Aviation Administration: Institutions Authorized to Certify its Graduates for an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate
- Big Bend Community College: Commercial Pilot Program
- ATP Jets: ATP Certificate
Michael Evans’ career path has taken many planned and unexpected twists and turns, from TV sports producer to internet project manager to cargo ship deckhand. He has worked in numerous industries, including higher education, government, transportation, finance, manufacturing, journalism and travel. Along the way, he has developed job descriptions, interviewed job applicants and gained insight into the types of education, work experience and personal characteristics employers seek in job candidates. Michael graduated from The University of Memphis, where he studied photography and film production. He began writing professionally while working for an online finance company in San Francisco, California. His writings have appeared in print and online publications, including Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool and Bankrate.