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What Does It Take To Become An Airline Pilot?

by John White |  | 2 comments

The path to becoming an airline pilot can be difficult, but for those who achieve the goal of becoming an airline pilot it is one well worth taking. Actually, there are many paths to becoming an airline pilot, and in this article I will explore a number of them with you. In the early days of aviation (in the 1930s) there were no licensing requirements or regulations, and pilots learned to fly by taking a few lessons from one another after purchasing a war surplus aircraft like the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”. The 1930s and early 1940s were the heyday of designing and building ever new and improved aircraft, and the government had taken over the licensing of pilots from the Aero Club of America in 1926. By then the U.S. government had begun enforcing air traffic rules, the certification of aircraft designs, building aids to navigation and the establishment of pilot certifications.

The First U.S. Airline

The first airline in the United States begin operations on January 1st 1914 operating an amphibious aircraft between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, soon to be followed in 1919 by Chalk International Airlines which operated between Fr. Lauderdale, Florida and the Bahamas. In 1925 the Ford Trimotor became the first viable commercial airline aircraft making commercial airline passenger carrying potentially able to generate a profit, along with carrying mail for the U.S. Postal Service. In 1934 the Douglas DC-2 entered service quickly followed by the venerable Douglas DC-3 in 1936. At the start of the Second World War the U.S. Government encouraged the training of pilots at local airports around the country with small fixed base operators (FBOs) who taught people to fly in aircraft like the Piper J-3 Cub. By the end of the war there was a surplus of pilots available, and U.S. airlines were beginning to grow as public acceptance and interest in air travel grew.

Early Pilot Training

At first there were few formal Part 141 pilot training schools in existence, so budding airline pilots would learn to fly at the local airport instead. Most of these airports had grass landing strips with a small fixed base operator who might have 2 or 3 training aircraft and perhaps a charter twin to boot. Some of the aircraft look a little beat up, but when you get into one and fly it you find it works just fine. Remember, it needs to be “mechanically perfect” not “picture perfect”. So don’t be swayed by the faded paint and sun cracked plexi-glass; rather, listen to the hum of the engine and feel the smoothness of the controls.

Many Paths To Becoming An Airline Pilot

The potential airline pilot might also join the military and learn how to fly through a military flight training program. In this situation you would have to go to a military academy, or join the military after completing college, become an officer and then attend an aviation training program. The U.S. military branches offer excellent flight training programs and many airline pilots come from the ranks of military pilots who had completed their tour of duty or who had retired from the military. If one couldn’t get into a military academy or didn’t want to join the armed forces, the other option in the early days was to go to the local airport and take flying lessons. Here you would find some real characters, ranging from the “newbie” flight instructor to the grizzled “old timer” flight instructor who just loves to teach flying. Today many who seek professional flying careers attend universities which offer highly structured flight training programs which are excellent.

Where You Being Your Flight Training

What Does It Take To Become An Airline Pilot? Once you have decided to pursue a career with the airlines the next step is to begin your flight training. Whether at the local airport, a formal Part 141 flight school, through a university or the military, your initial exposure to flight training will be somewhat similar.   As you arrive for your first flight lesson your instructor will look down at you over their aviator sunglasses making you feel somewhat small and intimidated. After all, the instructor knows everything you want and need to know to become a pilot. The typical Student Pilot requires between 50 and 60 hours of flying time to get a Private Pilot License, mainly because of weather and aircraft scheduling problems. The best course of action is to fly on a regular basis, and to not lose hope and quit flying. After you attain a Private Pilot’s license the next step is to build some time. Typically you do this by bumming flights with anyone who will take you, or by getting friends to spring for gas and a weekend jaunt to a nearby town for a burger and a stroll. Once you have logged close to 200 hours the next step is the Commercial Pilot Certificate (this allows you to be paid to fly) and the Certified Flight Instructor rating (this allows you to teach other newbies to fly”). These licenses usually go hand in hand with each other, followed quickly be the instrument and multi-engine ratings.

When To Apply To The Airlines

After you have logged approximately 1,000 hours of flight time it is time to think about that airline pilot position you just know is out there waiting for you. Having attained this level of flight experience the next step is to apply to every airline on the planet, hoping someone is hiring and that you get a call to come in for an interview. And once again you will find a well groomed knowledgeable pilot staring at you through their sunglasses at your interview making you feel like you really should be anywhere else but there. But once you pass muster and are offered a job, the real training to become an airline pilot begins.

Life By The Numbers

In the airlines everyone lives by the numbers. In other words, once you are accepted and complete your initial training at an airline you are assigned a number, and this number will determine what equipment and routes you will fly. Every time you make a change of equipment, or move up to Captain, you find yourself (and your number) at the bottom of the list. From The Flight Deck on All Things Aviation What that means is that if there are layoffs the company starts at the bottom and works its way up the list until it has laid off as many pilots as it needs to. For this reason many pilots remain co-pilots (now called First Officers) for their entire career, not wanting to chance moving to the bottom of yet another list.   Airline pilots are paid by the number of hours flown, and First Officers are paid a percentage of the Captains pay rate. Many airline pilots live far away from their home base airport, and commute from their home to their base airport to fly. To learn more about the life of an airline pilot I highly recommend "From the Flight Deck: Plane Talk and Sky Science"which explains everything you ever wanted to know about airliners and the life of an airline pilot. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 ps: Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter "All Things Aviation" here!

Comments (2)

  • Peter Hanley on June 24, 2019

    Hi John i use to work on the atp at manchester airport where they were built was not far away at woodford aerospace.We use to call them aerospace taking the piss and. another technical problem good days 1998 British Midland hope you never had problems with the landing gear
    Kind Regards

  • Nick on June 24, 2019

    Great information and nice list for those considering being a pilot. Even after you thought you made it, you still have plenty of work to do.

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