Job Training for Pilots and Flight Attendants

There are many paths to becoming a pilot, including flight schools, aviation colleges, and military flight training.

FAA requirements are the same for any pilot, but the path you choose will have a large impact on the rest of your aviation career.

Mark Rambis, who has worked for Boeing and Delta airlines after retiring from the Air Force, stressed the importance of getting the right education early on. If you even have the slightest inkling you may want to be a pilot one day, give serious thought to what kind of career you would want: commercial, military aviation, or airline pilot, and check out the respective training programs.

Asked what single thing he would have done differently, Rambis said he wished he had finished his bachelor’s degree before joining the Air Force so he could have obtained an officer’s commission and pilot wings. “I know everything that a pilot does in an aircraft,” Rambis said, “But never held the certificate to operate the aircraft.”

No matter where you go, the FAA’s requirements are the same. The administration’s Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) define the training requirements depending on what kind of flying the person will be doing: student pilot, private pilot, commercial pilot, instrument rating, flight instructor, airline pilot or helicopter pilot. Students can meet the instructional requirements either at a flight school or an aviation college.

Student Pilot Licenses

For a student pilot license, the first step on the aviation ladder, you must be at least 16 years old, able to read, write and speak English, and be able to pass a physical exam to get at least a third-class medical certificate. A good training program will be able to help you find the right forms for this license, and show you how to submit them to the FAA. Once you have a student pilot license, you can start working toward all the FAA’s requirements for receipt of a private pilot’s license.

Private Pilot Licenses

With a private pilot’s license, you can fly yourself and a couple of friends, but you can’t carry any paying passengers. In order to get a private pilot’s license, you must log at least 40 hours of flight time including 20 hours of flight training from a certified instructor and 10 hours of solo training. Within that time, you must also complete at least 3 hours of cross-country training and solo flight, 3 hours of night flight training and solo flight, and 3 hours of instrument flight training. The FAA also requires a written and a practical test and a certain amount of ground-school training.

During the flight training experience, the instructor will walk you through every step involved in flight, until it becomes second nature. They show you how to inspect the aircraft before takeoff, how to go through the preflight checklist, how to communicate appropriately with the tower, and how to fly and land the plane. And yes, on your first day out, they will have you flying the aircraft (but probably not taking off and landing). Once you have met the FAA requirements for hours, and your instructor feels you are ready, you and the instructor will plan a trip that meets the FAA cross-country and night flight requirements, like a flight from Virginia to South Carolina. The instructor will go with you the first time, and you will go solo the second time.

Commercial Pilot Licenses

So, you have completed your private pilot’s license, and have taken a few weekend golf trips to Florida, and now you are ready to pursue commercial pilot jobs – for money. There are slightly more-stringent medical requirements for a commercial pilot, so you may have to return to the doctor for another exam. There are more rigorous demands for this kind of license, including a higher number of hours in flight, requirements for the number of hours as pilot in charge of the aircraft, requirements for numbers and kinds of takeoffs and landings – at airports with operational control towers.

There are commercial pilot licenses for single engine, multi-engine, and helicopter.

The requirements become more stringent as you move up the pilot ladder, and the investment in lessons and plane rental time also increases. The good part is, you can pace lessons as you can afford them (although students usually make faster progress when they fly more frequently, because they have less time to forget skills between lessons).

Flight Schools

There are several thousand flight schools in the United States. The FAA has strict requirements about what a flight school and its instructors must teach, so the curriculum will be about the same anywhere. The first focus of any flight instruction is safety. Before you even get off the ground, flight instructors will show you how to monitor weather and inspect the plane. Pilot training includes both flight school and ground school to make up a solid theory and practice education in the basics of flight rules and regulations, flight planning, navigation, radio procedures, and weather.

Tuition varies depending on what kind of license you want (private pilot or commercial), where the school is located, and how many hours it takes for you to become proficient. As a ballpark figure with huge regional variations, it can cost anywhere from $4,000-6,000 for a private pilot’s license, and the further you go, the more expensive it becomes. Check with a local school for specific hourly rates, and ask whether the one you are considering offers an introductory lesson at a special rate.

Aviation Colleges

Several colleges and universities offer accredited four-year aviation degrees. The most famous of these is Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). Unlike other universities that may have an aviation or aeronautical engineering program, ERAU’s mission is aviation education. The school offers undergraduate majors in aeronautical science (professional pilot), aeronautical systems maintenance, aeronautics, aerospace electronics, aerospace engineering, air traffic management, and a host of other flight-related studies. The benefit of a school like ERAU is that whether you are interested in being a pilot, an aircraft mechanic or designer, or an air traffic controller, you can work toward the appropriate FAA requirements while earning your bachelor’s degree and building networking relationships that will continue to provide benefits long after the diploma has been framed, hung, and coated with a respectable layer of dust.

Flight Attendant Training

The career of flight attendant is a fairly young one, not even 80 years old yet. Boeing hired the world’s first stewardesses – eight nurses – back in 1930.

The field has grown and changed tremendously in the intervening years.

Flight attendants have gone through some rough times in only eight decades. As the public face of the airline, flight attendants have to maintain an ever-pleasant demeanor while enforcing safety regulations. In the early years of the profession, flight attendants faced strict age, weight, and appearance regulations. They were required to remain single and meet strict height, weight, and appearance requirements. They had to agree to remain single or quit if they chose to marry. In the early 1960s, the average career for a flight attendant lasted only 18 months. Passengers often treated them like waitresses or servants instead of safety professionals, and the airlines capitalized on stewardesses’ attractiveness to fill seats – which did nothing to improve the manner in which they were treated.

The rise of aviation labor unions (the Association of Flight Attendants is the largest such union in the U.S.) helped change the rules so that flight attendants could keep working after they married, relaxed the rules about age, and normalized height-weight restrictions. Also, the tragic events of 9/11 threw into sharp relief the fact that the flight attendant’s primary job is safety, not serving drinks. Although 9/11 improved the public’s understanding of the professionalism of the flight attendant career, the industry as a whole suffered severe cutbacks as the demand for travel decreased. Many flight attendants, like every other aviation-related occupation, suffered furloughs.

After several years of slump and rebuilding, airlines are on the upswing again. The BLS predicts an eight percent growth rate per year for flight attendant jobs through the year 2018. The largest growth will be in regional and discount airlines. However, one interesting side-effect to the increasingly professional role of the flight attendant is that people in this job now view it as a long-term career. Experienced flight attendants are staying in the profession longer and fewer are moving into other career fields. The result? Since this is a union job, advancement is based on seniority. That will make it difficult for newcomers to earn promotions and to get the assignments of their choice.

Flight Attendant Job Description: Flight attendants are responsible for ensuring passenger safety on flights. They must be certain that weight is distributed evenly throughout the cabin, that all items are properly stowed, and that all passengers are aware of emergency procedures. In addition, they also see to the comfort of passengers, providing beverages, meals, blankets, and other assistance as necessary. They must be able to remain calm both in the face of uncooperative or angry passengers, and in the case of a real emergency.

Requirements: Must be certified by the FAA. Customer service experience is highly desirable, as is fluency in multiple languages
Education: More airlines are looking for flight attendants with college degrees. Once hired, most airlines provide extensive training, usually at their corporate headquarters. Training emphasizes safety and customer service.
Flight Attendant Pay: Pay depends on seniority; the top 10 percent of flight attendants earn more than $63,000 per year.

Sign up for our newsletter!