How to Become a Commercial Pilot

How to Become a Commercial Pilot

Becoming a commercial pilot is a dream for many aviation enthusiasts. The world of commercial aviation offers an exciting and rewarding career, allowing you to soar through the air and explore new destinations. However, the path to becoming a commercial pilot is not an easy one. It requires dedication, hard work, and the right qualifications.

To become a commercial pilot, you must hold a commercial pilot certificate, which allows you to fly for compensation or hire. This certification is obtained after completing the necessary training and passing a series of examinations. It is important to understand that a commercial pilot certificate is not the same as a private pilot certificate or an instrument rating. While these certifications are prerequisites for becoming a commercial pilot, they are not sufficient on their own.

Once you have earned your commercial pilot certificate, you will need to prove your skills and knowledge through a series of checkrides. These checkrides are administered by certified flight instructors and test your ability to safely operate an aircraft in various situations. They assess your decision-making, problem-solving, and crew resource management skills. Passing these checkrides is essential to becoming a commercial pilot.

There are two main paths to becoming a commercial pilot: the traditional route and the accelerated route. The traditional route involves obtaining all the necessary certifications and ratings one at a time, gradually building flight experience and logging the required number of flight hours. This path can take several years, but it allows you to gain experience and knowledge gradually.

Acquire a Private Pilot License

In order to become a commercial pilot, one of the first steps is to acquire a Private Pilot License (PPL). This license is the entry-level certification that proves your knowledge and ability to fly an aircraft.

Obtaining a PPL involves meeting certain requirements and completing the necessary training and examinations. The requirements for a PPL can vary depending on the country or region where you are seeking the license. However, at a glance, the major requirements typically include:

Age:You must be at least 17 years old.
Education:No specific educational background is required, but a high school diploma or equivalent is usually necessary.
Medical Fitness:You need to pass a medical examination to ensure you are physically fit to fly.
Flight Training:You must complete a minimum number of flight hours, typically around 40 to 50 hours, with a certain number of hours dedicated to solo flying.
Knowledge Test:You will need to pass a written exam to demonstrate your understanding of aviation theory and regulations.
Practical Exam:You must pass a practical flight exam with a designated examiner.

Once you have obtained your PPL, you can then further your training and education to become a commercial pilot. Some pilots choose to attend flight schools or programs offered by airlines or other aviation organizations, while others may opt for a more civilian or self-funded path.

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There are various ways to advance your piloting career after acquiring a PPL. Some of the common paths include:

  • Instrument Rating: This allows you to fly in low visibility conditions using only the instruments in the aircraft.
  • Commercial Pilot License (CPL): This license enables you to fly for hire and receive compensation.
  • Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Rating: This certification allows you to teach others how to fly.
  • Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL): This is the highest level of pilot certification and is required for those who want to become airline pilots.

Depending on the career goals and aspirations, pilots may pursue one or more of these certifications or licenses to secure the necessary qualifications for their desired role. The requirements and available programs vary, so it’s important to do thorough research to know what is needed to achieve your desired level of piloting.

It’s also worth noting that some airlines offer accelerated programs or management tracks for pilots who have already acquired their PPL. These programs often have specific requirements and may require pilots to transfer their licenses or certificates to the airline’s preferred training provider such as L3Harris.

At the end of the day, becoming a commercial pilot takes time, dedication, and a passion for flying. It’s necessary to know everything from the fuel management to the crew coordination and pay attention to the small details of flight. While it may not be an easy journey, the rewards of a career in aviation can be fulfilling and provide opportunities to travel the world, work with advanced technology, and embark on exciting adventures.

Pursue an Instrument Rating

If you wish to become a commercial pilot, having an Instrument Rating (IR) is essential. An IR allows you to fly using instruments only, without relying on visual references. This rating enhances your piloting skills and opens up a wider range of flying opportunities.

An instrument rating is an additional certificate that you can pursue after obtaining your private pilot license (PPL). It requires a minimum of 50 hours of cross-country flight time as the pilot in command, including 40 hours of simulated instrument time, 15 hours of instrument flight training from a certified flight instructor, and passing a written and a practical examination.

There are several ways to achieve an Instrument Rating, depending on your preference and resources. You can choose an accelerated program, such as the L3Harris Airline Academy’s Accelerated Instrument Rating course, which takes around 21 days to complete. This program is available in the USA, specifically in Florida, and provides you with intensive training to succeed in passing the required knowledge and practical tests.

Know the Requirements

Before beginning your instrument rating training, it is important to be aware of the eligibility requirements. You must have a current and valid private pilot license, a minimum of 50 hours of cross-country flight time, 40 hours of simulated instrument time, and a minimum of 15 hours of instrument flight training from a certified flight instructor.

Understand the Role of Instruments

Instrument flying requires a high level of concentration, problem-solving skills, and situational awareness. Pilots trained in instrument flying rely heavily on cockpit instruments to navigate, control the aircraft, and monitor flight parameters.

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Having a solid understanding of instrument usage, navigation procedures, and the interpretation of instrument readings is crucial. You must also be proficient in using the radio for communication with air traffic control and other aircraft in your vicinity.

Types of Instrument Certifications

There are different types of instrument certifications that you can pursue, depending on the type of aircraft you wish to fly. The most common ones are the Single-Engine Instrument Rating (SEIR) and the Multi-Engine Instrument Rating (MEIR).

A Single-Engine Instrument Rating allows you to fly single-engine aircraft using only instruments. On the other hand, a Multi-Engine Instrument Rating enables you to fly multi-engine aircraft in instrument conditions. These certifications expand your piloting capabilities and increase your marketability as a professional pilot.

Remember that having an Instrument Rating is one step closer to becoming a commercial pilot. It opens up opportunities to fly in various weather conditions and expands your scope of aviation knowledge and skills.

If you’re determined to pursue a career in commercial piloting, secure your instrument rating and continue to build your flying experience and certifications. With hard work, dedication, and continuous learning, you will be on your way to success in the aviation industry!

For more information and answers to frequently asked questions about piloting careers, flight training paths, and everything you need to know to become a commercial pilot, check out websites such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the Aviation Maintenance Flying (AVMF).

Build Flight Time

Building flight time is an essential step in becoming a commercial pilot. Before you can become an airline captain, you need to gain significant experience and flight hours. Here are some key points to consider:

Training and Licenses

To become a commercial pilot, you must first earn your private pilot certificate and then obtain an instrument rating. These certifications allow you to fly an airplane and navigate solely by reference to instruments, respectively. Additional certifications like a multi-engine rating and a commercial pilot certificate are necessary for advanced flight training and commercial piloting.

Flight Schools and Flight Time

Flight schools offer different programs to help aspiring pilots gain the necessary flight time. You’ll find traditional flight schools, airline-orientated programs, and even accelerated training options. Depending on your goals and budget, you can choose the path that suits you best.

  • Traditional Flight Schools: These schools provide comprehensive training programs that cover all the necessary requirements to become a commercial pilot. They offer structured courses and flight time-building opportunities to follow a step-by-step plan.
  • Airline-Orientated Programs: Some flight schools offer programs specifically designed to prepare pilots for airline careers. These programs often have partnerships with airlines, which means that graduates have a better chance of getting hired.
  • Accelerated Training Options: As the name suggests, accelerated programs aim to fast-track your training. These programs usually have more intensive schedules and quicker completion times, allowing you to build flight time more rapidly.

Gaining Flight Experience

Once you’ve completed your training and earned the necessary licenses, it’s time to start gaining flight experience. While some pilots may find paid flying jobs right away, most start with less glamorous positions, such as flight instructing or charter flying. These types of jobs allow you to accumulate flight hours while refining your skills and building your resume.

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Many pilots also choose to become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII). Becoming a CFI allows you to train and teach others, which not only helps you gain more flight experience but also solidify your own knowledge and understanding of aviation.

Reaching Airline Requirements

Major airlines have specific requirements for pilots to be eligible for employment. While the exact requirements may vary, most airlines require a minimum number of flight hours (typically around 1,500) and an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. Building flight time and gaining experience is crucial to meeting these requirements.

The Path to Success

Building flight time takes time and dedication, but with a well-planned approach, you can reach your goal of becoming a commercial pilot. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  1. Research flight schools and programs to find the one that aligns with your goals and budget.
  2. Depending on your location, consider training in aviation-friendly states like Florida, where you can fly year-round.
  3. Know the requirements and licenses you’ll need to attain throughout your journey towards becoming a commercial pilot.
  4. Consider pursuing additional certifications, such as Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Certificated Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII), to enhance your skills and employability.
  5. Network with other pilots and aviation professionals to learn from their experiences and gain insights into the industry.
  6. Keep a regular flight log to track your flight hours and maintain accurate record-keeping.
  7. Consider joining organizations like the TSA to learn about annual certifications and any changes in security protocols.
  8. Be prepared to invest time and money into building flight time, as it is a necessary step in your career progression.

Remember that everyone’s journey to becoming a commercial pilot is unique, and the path may vary depending on individual circumstances. However, by following these guidelines and staying focused on your goals, you can increase your chances of succeeding in your aviation career.


What are the requirements to become a commercial pilot?

To become a commercial pilot, you need to meet several requirements. You must be at least 18 years old and hold a private pilot certificate. You also need to have a minimum of 250 hours of flight time, including 100 hours as pilot-in-command. Additionally, you must pass a written exam, a practical flight test, and a medical examination.

Is it necessary to have an instrument rating to become a commercial pilot?

Yes, it is necessary to have an instrument rating to become a commercial pilot. An instrument rating allows you to fly in weather conditions with low visibility, such as clouds or fog. It also enables you to navigate using the aircraft’s instruments alone, without relying on visual references. This rating is crucial for commercial pilots as it increases their versatility and job opportunities.

How can I get an instrument rating?

To get an instrument rating, you need to complete additional flight training and pass a written exam and a practical flight test. The flight training will cover topics such as instrument navigation, communication, and approaches. You will learn how to fly solely by reference to the aircraft’s instruments, including the attitude indicator, altimeter, and heading indicator. It is important to choose a flight school or instructor that is experienced in teaching instrument flying.

What is the cost of obtaining an instrument rating?

The cost of obtaining an instrument rating can vary depending on various factors, such as the flight school you choose and the number of flight hours required to meet the rating’s minimum requirements. On average, the cost can range from $5,000 to $10,000. This includes the cost of flight training, instructor fees, study materials, and the written exam fee. It is important to budget accordingly and research different flight schools to find the best option for your budget.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.