Flying the friendly skies can be an exciting and lucrative career. Employment opportunities can begin within months of the initial flight training starting from zero hours to a certified flight instructor and beyond. Training to become a pilot can be costly, however, the rewards and benefits of flying with a major trunk and carrier provide a satisfying career with prestige and honor.
To earn a living flying a fixed wing or rotor craft, the pilot will need to obtain a commercial license. The first step is to complete the Private Pilot’s license with an written exam and accumulated flight time of approximately 40 hours as pilot in command. Upon completing the first licensing requirement, the pilot may work towards an instrument rating to learn to operate the aircraft relying solely on the instrument panel. Additional ratings include an upgrade to a heavier aircraft from a two seat trainer to a four place plane, or earning a rating for a multi-engine craft.
The Commercial Pilot license may be attained at approximately 250 hours of flight time and a passing score on the medical examination. From the commercial certificate, a new pilot may obtain his or her Certified Flight Instructor certificate, or CFI, and begin earning a living as a flight trainer. Pilots who wish to press forward to the jumbo jets for employment in corporate and commercial passenger carriers will sit for the Airline Transport Pilot, or ATP, exam and begin their training for a lifelong career with the airlines.
Training and Education
Pilot training may be achieved through the military, however, is more commonly gained through civilian channels. Private flight schools are plentiful to take the novice pilot from the Private Pilot license through the CFI for immediate aviation employment. However, the pilot in training that wishes to continue through to the jet instruction may save time and money by attending a flight school that can carry the student through to the upper levels of certificates and ratings. This type of commercial pilot package can be financed through independent lending institutions or those who contract with the flight academies. Pay for your flight training one package at a time, or save thousands of dollars by combining your training at one flight school for a commercial jet program.
Pilots are responsible for the safety of their crew and passengers and must adhere to strict rules and regulations from their employer. Drinking alcohol between flights is prohibited and the pilots must be given a minimum 8 hour rest period at the end of every completed route. The pilot in command will communicate with his or her passengers and keep in contact with the air traffic controller towers during take off and landings. Commercial airline pilots are expected to keep themselves in tip-top physical condition and will be subject to passing a yearly medical to test their heart, eye sight and other vital functions. Failure to pass the commercial medical exam will result in a grounded pilot. Retirement age will vary from one company to the next, however, the average exit age is about 60 years old.
Salary and Wages
The salary and wages for a commercial pilot will vary according to his or her experience and if that pilot is hired as a co-pilot or the pilot in command (PIC). Entry level wages occur at the flight instructor level and the paycheck is calculated by commission on how many students the CFI is training. Employment with an international carrier generally begins at $120,000 a year for the co-pilot, with potential to move up to the left seat as PIC for the industry’s top pay. Pilots who fly international routes make more than those who fly domestic ones, making the transatlantic positions highly competitive from within the airline companies. As a rule, the heavier the aircraft that the pilot is licensed to fly, the greater the increase in pay will be.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Pilot clubs and professional associations can serve as both a recreational outlet and union protection service for the commercial license holder. Associations such as the nationally recognized Civil Air Patrol or similar regional clubs offer qualified pilots the chance to provide valuable search and rescue assistance to local authorities and build their log time among like-minded flying professionals. The Airline Pilot’s Association, or ALPA, is the premium source for information on airline industry careers, recommending academic institutions to earn a degree in the aviation field, and holds a comprehensive list of valuable pilot career links to aid current and future pilots. Pilots who own and their own aircraft may wish to join the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association, or AOPA, for ongoing training, safety, and aircraft reviews and specifications. AOPA members enjoy instant access at the aviation help desk, a one year subscription to AOPA Flight Training magazine and may take advantage of free online seminars to keep their piloting skills sharp and current.