Airline and Commercial Pilots: Salary, career path, job outlook, education and more

Education Required
Airline pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree in any subject, along with a commercial pilot’s license and an ATP certificate from the FAA. Airline pilots typically start their careers flying as commercial pilots. Commercial pilots usually accrue thousands of hours of flight experience in order to get a job with regional or major airlines.
Training Required
Airline and commercial pilots who are newly hired by airlines or on-demand air services companies undergo on-the-job training in accordance with Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). This training usually includes 6–8 weeks of ground school. Various types of ratings for specific aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 or Cessna Citation, typically are acquired through employer-based training and generally are earned by pilots who have at least a commercial license.
Job Outlook
The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026: 4% (Slower than average)
(The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.)
Commercial pilots may advance to airline pilots after completing a degree, accruing required flight time, and obtaining an ATP license.
Those who are seeking a career as a professional pilot typically get their licenses and ratings in the following order:
Median pay: How much do Airline and Commercial Pilots make?
$105,720 Annual Salary

Airline and commercial pilots fly and navigate airplanes, helicopters, and other aircraft.

What do Airline and Commercial Pilots do?

Pilots typically do the following:

  • Check the overall condition of the aircraft before and after every flight
  • Ensure that the aircraft is balanced and below its weight limit
  • Verify that the fuel supply is adequate and that weather conditions are acceptable
  • Prepare and submit flight plans to air traffic control
  • Communicate with air traffic control over the aircraft’s radio system
  • Operate and control aircraft along planned routes and during takeoffs and landings
  • Monitor engines, fuel consumption, and other aircraft systems during flight
  • Respond to changing conditions, such as weather events and emergencies (for example, a mechanical malfunction)
  • Navigate the aircraft by using cockpit instruments and visual references

Pilots plan their flights by checking that the aircraft is operable and safe, that the cargo has been loaded correctly, and that weather conditions are acceptable. They file flight plans with air traffic control and may modify the plans in flight because of changing weather conditions or other factors.

Takeoff and landing can be the most demanding parts of a flight. They require close coordination among the pilot; copilot; flight engineer, if present; air traffic controllers; and ground personnel. Once in the air, the captain may have the first officer, if present, fly the aircraft, but the captain remains responsible for the aircraft. After landing, pilots fill out records that document their flight and the status of the aircraft.

Some pilots are also instructors using simulators and dual-controlled aircraft to teach students how to fly.

The following are examples of types of pilots:

Careers for Airline and Commercial Pilots

  • Aerial crop dusters
  • Aerial hurricane hunters
  • Aerial photography pilots
  • Aerial sprayers
  • Agricultural pilots
  • Air ambulance captains
  • Air tour pilots
  • Aircraft pilots
  • Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
  • Airline captains
  • Airline pilot flight instructors
  • Airline pilot in command
  • Airline pilot second in command
  • Airline pilots
  • Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers
  • Airline transport pilots
  • Balloon pilots
  • Captains
  • Charter pilots (air transport pilot certificate required)
  • Charter pilots (airline)
  • Charter pilots (commercial pilot certificate required)
  • Charter pilots (commercial)
  • Commercial helicopter pilots
  • Commercial pilots
  • Corporate pilots
  • EMS helicopter pilots
  • Emergency medical service helicopter pilots
  • Emergency medical service rotary wing pilots
  • Executive pilots
  • Flight instructors
  • Flight instructors (commercial pilots)
  • Helicopter pilots
  • Pilots
  • Regional airline pilots

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