The military and civilian routes to becoming a commercial airline pilot are both available. When considering a career in commercial aviation, each has distinct advantages and disadvantages that should be considered. Would-be pilots should also be aware that commercial airline pilots require extensive training, which often requires a significant financial investment, and that employment opportunities in commercial aviation are diverse. Some pilots earn top pay flying for major airlines on international routes, while others struggle to make ends meet on local commuter routes.
Joining the Air Force, qualifying as a pilot there, and committing to a set number of years of service as a pilot is the military route to becoming a commercial airline pilot. Military pilots are called upon to perform military duties in addition to their civilian duties, and military experience should not be viewed as merely a stepping stone on the path to becoming a commercial airline pilot. After serving in the military, a pilot can apply for jobs with commercial airlines, relying on flight experience and earned certifications to get a foot in the door.
People who want to become a commercial airline pilot in the civilian sector should consider going to college to get a degree, which does not have to be related to aviation. While pursuing a bachelor’s degree, the aspiring pilot can enroll in flight school or a vocational school that trains pilots. The ultimate goal is to obtain a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time and ground school. Pilots can take a check-ride, which is similar to a driving test for the skies, at the end of their training to become certified.
A commercial airline pilot must have a medical certificate, an instrument rating, and a multi-engine rating in addition to a commercial pilot certificate. Even if you have these credentials, most airlines will not be lining up to hire you. Before a commercial airline will consider you, you’ll need a lot of flight hours, ideally thousands, which means you’ll have to work for regional and commuter airlines to get enough experience. You can earn your airline transport pilot certificate accumulating 1,500 flight hours, including 250 in command, along the way. This certificate allows you to pilot a commercial airliner, sit in the coveted captain’s seat, and make announcements beginning with “ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking…”
Additional training is required after someone is hired an airline, whether they choose the civilian or military route. Airlines provide pilots with training in their procedures, as well as training that is sometimes required government aviation agencies. Pilots who want to fly internationally may need to obtain additional certifications, and commercial airline pilots are required to undergo regular physicals and drug tests to ensure that they are fit for duty.