How To Become A Pilot In USA

Last Updated on August 30, 2023

The journey to becoming a pilot is not a short one and takes many hours of studying, learning and training. The articles found here will help you with all the important details if you are interested in How To Become A Pilot In USA.

There are several factors that you need to put in mind if you want to become a pilot. Some of them include your flying experience, the level of education especially your age and good health. If you get an additional training for some time you may be able to acquire an airline pilot job which will give you a salary that is above average. There are also some airlines like AMR and Delta Airlines, who demand additional qualifications that must be higher than the minimum requirements that they demand such as a college degree plus being former military pilots or even having military combat experience as a fighter pilot.

pilot school cost

It costs $87,995 to become a pilot when starting with no previous experience or $68,995 when starting with a private pilot certificate. Both prices include the flight training and certification necessary to become a commercial pilot with flight instructor certificates. 

Aviation Tuition to Become a Commercial Pilot
Flight Training Cost$68,995$87,995
Additional Expenses (Not Included in Program)
FAA Examiners’ Fees & Knowledge Test Fees
(Paid Directly to Examiner & Third-Party Provider)
Third Party Apps$200 (varies)$200 (varies)
iPad, Headset, Flight Bag & Other Pilot Gear$1,600 (varies)$1,600 (varies)

how to become a commercial pilot

Almost anyone can learn to fly a plane and operate aircraft with the proper training. However, becoming a commercial pilot involves going through some specific steps. Here are six steps you should follow to become a commercial pilot:

  1. Get a private pilot certificate.
  2. Acquire an instrument rating.
  3. Obtain a commercial pilot license.
  4. Secure a flight instructor certificate.
  5. Get experience.
  6. Work as a commercial pilot.

1. Get a private pilot certificate

The first step to becoming a commercial pilot is getting a private pilot certificate. Training and preparation for pilot certification involves learning aviation basics and establishing a solid foundation for more advanced aircraft operation. Most pilots start learning on single-engine planes, later progressing to larger and more complex aircraft.

It usually takes 40 hours of training to become certified as a private pilot. Training typically consists of 20 hours of instruction with a flight instructor and 20 hours of solo flight. According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the average cost of getting a private license is $9,900.

2. Acquire an instrument rating

The next step toward becoming a commercial pilot is acquiring an instrument rating. An instrument rating is a set of qualifications that a pilot should possess before being allowed to navigate aircraft under Instrument Flight Rules. Acquiring an instrument rating will also qualify pilots to operate aircraft in any weather. Earning an instrument rating requires training and instruction in meteorology and instrument flying.

3. Obtain a commercial pilot license

The next step is to obtain a commercial pilot license. Applicants are required to meet all the requirements for commercial airline pilots and fly a high-standard aircraft for 10 hours or more to obtain a license. They will also have to complete 250 or more flight hours, 100 hours as the pilot-in-command, and 50 hours in cross-country flight. The cost of obtaining a commercial pilot license is about $20,000. After obtaining a license, pilots can legally be paid for their services.

4. Secure a flight instructor certificate

In some cases, commercial pilots will have to obtain a flight instructor certificate. This qualifies pilots for certain positions and provides additional employment opportunities.

5. Get experience

Actual flying experience is a requirement for many commercial pilot jobs. For example, one of the requirements for getting an Airline Transport Pilot license, which all commercial pilots must have, includes having a minimum of 1,500 hours of flying time.

6. Work as a commercial pilot

Once you have obtained your licenses and meet the minimum flight hour requirements, you will then be eligible to fly for an airline as a commercial pilot. Working professionally for an airline can also qualify you for most regional and international commercial pilot positions.

Pilot Earning Potential and Job Prospects

The median annual salary among U.S. airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers was $147,220 in May 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, it’s important to note that not every professional pilot works for an airline, and salaries for commercial pilots – whom the BLS defines as pilots who are “involved in unscheduled flight activities, such as aerial application, charter flights, and aerial tours” – are considerably lower than for airline pilots. The median yearly pay among commercial pilots, as of May 2019, was $86,080, according to BLS figures.

Regional airlines typically pay significantly less than major airlines such as Delta Airlines Inc., American Airlines and United Airlines, according to aviation industry experts, who note that it isn’t always feasible to switch from a regional airline to a major one. Moreover, an airline pilot’s salary is highly dependent on his or her level of seniority within a particular airline. That seniority status doesn’t transfer over from one airline to another, which discourages pilots from switching between major airlines, according to experts.

Flight Experience

After you are certified, you will need more experience and flight hours before an airline will hire you. Your level of experience is based on the number and complexity of the aircraft you’ve flown, the quantity and complexity of the flying you did (jet or propeller, day or night, local or cross-country, flying with or without visibility, etc.), and which crew positions you’ve had. If you chose the military path, you will likely have quite a lot of flight experience before leaving the military. A civilian pilot might work as a flight instructor, then move on to a charter company in order to gain the experience he or she needs in order to become a commercial airline pilot.

how many years to become a pilot?

The length of an aspiring pilot’s education depends on whether or not he or she pursues a bachelor’s degree, since it is possible to work as either a commercial pilot or a regional airline pilot without a four-year undergrad degree, aviation experts say. However, a four-year college degree is mandatory for aspiring major airline pilots, according to experts.

Northrup notes that flight school applicants are not expected to have any type of flight experience in order to gain admission. He notes that he had no flight experience and had never even been on a plane prior to his admission into the U.S. Air Force Academy. The first time Northrup boarded a plane, he says, is when he headed to college.

The true test for whether someone would make a good pilot arrives when he or she takes a test flight, Northrup says, noting that this sort of immersive learning experience usually happens early in an aviation undergraduate’s college journey, so students can gauge whether they’d like to fly planes or do something else related to planes.

Career Requirements

Degree LevelNone; some commercial airlines require a bachelor’s or 2 years of college
ExperienceCommercial pilots must be 23 years old and have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours logged
Licensure and CertificationMust log 250 hours of flying time and pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) practical test for licensing; Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification required to work for commercial airlines
Key SkillsCommunication skills; excellent vision and physical health; aeronautical knowledge
Median Annual Salary (May 2018)*$140,340 (for all Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Commercial pilots must first train as private pilots, which allows them to learn the basics of flying before progressing into more complicated planes and situations. Private pilot training may include instruction from a certified professional and solo flight practice. Prospective commercial pilots must log at least 250 hours of flying time to become licensed. Within those hours, prospective pilots must complete required tasks and fly in a variety of settings. Pilots are tested on mental and physical strengths and abilities. Certification is required to work for commercial airlines. Key skills include communication, excellent vision, physical health, and aeronautical knowledge. In 2018, airline and commercial pilots earned a median annual salary of $140,340 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How To Become A Pilot In USA

Here are the steps you take to become a pilot:

Step 11. Research Pilot Schools

The first step to become a private or commercial pilot is to research your flight training options. Learn and compare available programs offered by flight schools, and pick the best match for your aviation goals.

Step 22. Take an Introductory Training Flight

Successfully completing an Introductory Training Flight is required before enrolling in a pilot training program. This flight lesson will help you see first-hand the training, aircraft, and quality of instruction a flight school will offer you. It is also a great way to get a better sense of what it’s like to fly from behind the controls.

Step 33. Apply for FAA Medical Certificate

Pilots must meet basic medical requirements to fly. If you want to fly professionally, you must meet higher medical standards than recreational pilots and should apply for a first class medical certificate through an Aeromedical Examiner (AME).

Step 44. Apply for FAA Student Pilot Certificate

Apply for a student pilot certificate through the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website (your flight instructor can help with this). While you don’t need a student pilot certificate to start flying lessons, you will need it to fly solo during your training.

Step 55. Start Flight Training Lessons

Start taking flight training lessons and begin working towards obtaining the aeronautical knowledge and pilot training experience requirements needed to become a private pilot.

Step 66. Pass Private Pilot Knowledge Test

During your private pilot flight training, you will need to take and pass the computer-based FAA private pilot knowledge test. To be eligible for the test, you must receive an endorsement from your flight instructor.

Step 77. Pass Private Pilot Practical ExamThe final step in earning your FAA private pilot certificate is to take a practical exam with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE). This exam consists of both an oral and a flight portion, and once completed you will be a private pilot.

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