Working As a Commercial Airline Pilot

The commercial airline industry is often viewed as the ultimate goal for virtually every aspiring pilot, but it’s an industry that requires quite a bit of work on behalf of aspiring commercial airline pilots and captains. For those considering a career in this line of work, it’s worth considering what all of the requirements and recommendations are for those who hope to be met with success during their eventual search for jobs. Furthermore, those who are considering life as a commercial airline pilot will probably want to understand a bit more about what the typical day looks like for someone who has already landed this exciting and potentially lucrative position. Before choosing commercial aviation as a career, consider the industry’s current structure, requirements, and areas of opportunity.The Requirements: Education and Experience Are the Indicators of SuccessCommercial aviation is highly regulated by virtually all developed nations where major commercial airline companies shuttle passengers to local and international destinations. The reason for this is clear: At any given time, a commercial airline pilot has the responsibility of safely transporting potentially hundreds of passengers without incident. Airline companies, and the governments that regulate them, both have an interest in training pilots and ensuring passengers will have the safest and easiest trip possible.The process of developing the proper educational and experiential credentials all begins with acceptance to an approved, accredited flight school. In the United States, the best flight schools are those that bear approval and accreditation by the Federal Aviation Administration. In other countries around the world, similar accreditation is offered by local regulatory bodies and industry trade groups. As part of the flight school process, pilots will be educated in the theory of aviation and airline operation. They’ll also accrue at least 250 hours of flight experience. At the conclusion of the program, pilots will typically be awarded their commercial pilot license as long as they have met FAA guidelines for that certification.Beyond the Certification: Additional Requirements for the Successful PilotWhile some commercial pilots have experienced success simply by going to an approved flight school and working through the required number of aviation hours before receiving their license, many others have opted for additional education. In fact, many pilots enrolled in flight school already have a bachelor’s degree in a science, engineering, or aviation-related field. This degree is evidence that pilots have gone to extra lengths to ensure their knowledge of the physics and mechanics of flight.After receiving their degree and attending an approved flight school, most pilots on track to work in commercial aviation will next pursue their medical certificate. This document is critical to ensuring they’re in good health and able to fly a commercial jet without incident. Most pilots will also pursue an instrument rating and a multi-engine rating, which serve as proof of their proficiency in operating complex, commercial airliners. Most airlines will further require an airline pilot transport certificate either prior to hire or within a few months of a pilot having joined the company.Most Pilots Work Their Way Up to Tier-1 Commercial FlightThough commercial aviation is a big draw for aspiring pilots and those with a new license, it should be viewed as the ultimate promotion and the final destination for a successful career in the skies. Most pilots do not start their careers at major commercial operators with only their certificate and 25 hours of flight. Instead, most of today’s pilots worked their way up through private aviation experience, local and regional airline companies, and entry-level co-pilot positions at commercial operators in the United States or abroad.As with all positions, pilots who want to maximize their chance at long-term success in commercial aviation will need to build an impressive resume. That resume should include not only the classroom theory needed to understand flight, but also the real-world experience needed to demonstrate the pilot’s capacity for safe flights of any duration.A Day in the Life: What Commercial Pilots Can Expect on the JobCommercial airline pilots can expect to arrive at the airport about two or three hours prior to their scheduled flight’s departure. Like their passengers, commercial pilots have plenty of things to get done at the airport before they can even make their way to the aircraft. Upon their arrival, pilots will immediately check in and then meet with representatives who will discuss weather conditions, potential hazards, and any relevant delays that might impact the pilot’s flight.After this initial briefing, pilots will next meet with the flight’s co-pilot or captain. They’ll also meet with the flight crew and discuss the flight’s expected departure, duration, and arrival. With this meeting completed, the pilots and cabin crew will next proceed to the aircraft itself. There, they’ll check the plane’s instruments and ensure that the aircraft is ready to take off without any problems.If the flight is a short-haul route, typically to a domestic destination just a few hours away, pilots will typically conduct their round trip all in the same day. If the route is longer, or is an international flight, pilots can typically expect to stay at least one night in the destination city before they return to their home airport with another group of passengers. In most cases, airlines fully or partially compensate pilots for overnight arrangements. Most airlines offer their own pilot “communities,” which typically consist of a small apartment, a community center or gym, and other basic amenities.Though many pilots are assigned “regular” routes, some pilots work in shifts or fly alternating routes throughout a given week or month. The decision of whether or not to assign regular or rotating routes typically lies solely with the commercial operator. Pilots may want to assess which style of assignment is used prior to interviewing for a position or accepting a job with a given commercial airline.Follow the Jobs: New Commercial Pilots May Want to Work OverseasThe commercial aviation industry in the United States has been in a period of either stagnation or contraction for the past several decades. Wide-ranging consolidation of regional and national commercial carriers has left aspiring pilots with fewer job opportunities and a far greater level of uncertainty about their future in aviation itself. Most airlines in the United States receive thousands of applications for just 20 or 50 positions each year, making it a long process for the typical pilot, but that doesn’t have to be the case.In countries throughout Asia and the Middle East, commercial aviation has never been stronger. In fact, many airlines throughout this part of the world have more positions available than they have qualified commercial pilots to fill them. For American pilots, that means a real chance at success in the industry. Thanks to the shortage of qualified commercial pilots in Asia and the Middle East, as well as the superior aviation training available in the United States, most international air carriers are willing to pay a premium salary to applicants with U.S. flight experience. When combined with the more generous pension, health benefit, and vacation time options available upon hire, these jobs represent a real opportunity for experience, growth, and advancement for determined commercial pilots.A Great Career with International OpportunitiesWith an exciting daily routine, fascinating domestic and international destinations, and airline job opportunities that span the globe, those interested in commercial aviation are in store for an exciting professional life. Though it might require applying outside of U.S. boundaries, those determined to succeed in this industry will find all of the job openings and long-term advancement possibilities they need to enjoy a long, rewarding career in the world’s skies.

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