Airline Pilot Training
The route to an airline pilot position can be long and difficult, requiring countless hours of flying time, training, and testing. Training for pilots generally takes two distinct paths. The first is the civilian route, starting with flight instruction at FAA-certified flight schools, then progressing through a series of certifications to finally achieve the Air Transport Pilot (ATP) rating, usually required of airline pilots. This is a process that can take years, and the initial stages can be quite expensive, since a pilot can’t begin working for hire and thus earning money as a pilot until he completes several levels of certification and achieves his Commercial Pilot rating.
A pilot who started his training while in college explains how one gets started as a pilot:
You just love to fly so you have to do it. There are some jobs that just get in your blood and you have to do them. You really get out what you put in. There’s also the autonomy of being a pilot. You’re kind of your own boss. There are a million and one rules you have to follow, but once you do that you’re on your own, doing your thing.
Even after achieving a commercial rating a pilot usually must engage in other work while accumulating flying time. Captains and first officers go through extensive retraining at least once a year to hone all the skills required to fly. They also have a check ride every year. If you don’t do well, there’s more training before you can fly again.
As a longtime pilot says:
In a way, you feel at risk of losing your FAA certification every year. There’s always some anxiety. Because pilots take this all very seriously and work to maintain their skills, it’s not a problem. But you always think about it.
And that’s not all. Every six months, a captain must take a physical. The health standards are high. So if your health or proficiency deteriorate, you’re no longer a pilot.
Popular work that accumulates flying time good for the ATP includes flight instruction, air charter and air taxi piloting, crop dusting, banner towing, and flying sightseeing trips. In addition, most major airlines now require a college degree, so many civilian pilots now attend colleges that offer flight training along with a degree program.
The second route to certification is through military service, where more than half of all new airline pilots receive their wings. This training is free, but it entails at least a five-year military obligation.
Because there are no unskilled, untrained pilot positions available, we’ve limited the amount of detailed information related to work as a pilot. Flying is a wonderful, rewarding profession, and anyone interested in enrolling in a civilian training program or school should see our list of aviation schools.