Becoming a pilot for a major airline, such as United and Northwest, takes years of hard work, dedication and perseverance. Many aspiring pilots are under the impression, that upon completion of the Commercial license, they will be qualified to work for an airline immediately. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The good news is there are many different options and routes pilots may take in order to achieve their final goal.
First, you will need to choose a flight school. Whether you choose a flight school that is affiliated with a university bachelor program, or not, will depend on your specific career goals. What type of airline career, how much you are willing to pay, your timeline, etc. all play a factor when deciding on a flight school.
The next step is to get your FAA Medical. Since your ultimate goal is to become a professional pilot, it is recommended that you apply for a First-Class Medical before you start flight training, only to ensure that you meet the medical standards set forth by the airlines. The First Class Medical usually costs around $100.
After you have passed the FAA medical exam, you are ready to begin flight training. There are 7 main licenses/ratings you can earn during your flight training. These include: Private (PPL), Instrument (IR), Commercial (CPL), Multi-Engine (ME), Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI).
The Private Pilot course is the first course you will enroll in (where you will earn your Private Pilot License-PPL). The FAA national average for completing the Private Pilot course is 70 hours. This number will vary from student to student as everyone has different learning abilities and aptitudes.
Every course ends with a FAA Written Exam (except for Multi-Engine) and a Checkride from an FAA examiner. The FAA Written Exam is composed of multiple-choice questions, of which a 70% or better is required for passing. The Checkride consists of 2 parts: an oral test section and a flying section. Once you have successfully completed both the written test and the Checkride, you will then be granted the license/rating.
Following the PPL, students pursuing a career in the airlines must hold an Instrument Rating and Commercial/Multi-Engine rating. The hour requirements for these courses vary, however, you can expect to graduate from a Commercial/Multi-Engine course with approximately 200 flight hours.
The majority of pilots who have graduated from a Commercial Pilot Program will have to build a considerable amount of flight time in order to meet the airline’s hiring minimums, or flight time requirements. The minimums required will vary greatly from airline to airline, however, one can expect to not get hired with less than 1,000 Total Time and 50 Multi-Engine.
Flight instructing is one way pilots can build flight time. A flight instructor must possess at least a CFI rating (CFII for students in an Instrument and MEI for Multi-Engine students). There are no flight time requirements in order to graduate from a CFI, CFII or MEI course, however, students should note these courses are very time consuming and demanding. Flight instructors typically instruct for 1-2 years, or until they have logged enough flight time to meet the airline minimums.
Most pilots, even with 1,000 flight hours, will not immediately start working with a major airline. Typically, a pilot’s first few jobs are with a regional airline such as Horizon and Mesaba, or with a smaller cargo company like Ameriflight. Pilots can expect to make the leap to the majors in about 5-10 years.
The path to becoming a commercial airline pilot can be challenging and demanding adventure; however it is one of life’s most thrilling and rewarding careers. Even though working for a major airline might be 5-10 years out, one still has a number of exciting career options to pass the time.