Real Answers from Real Pilots

How do I become an Airline Pilot?

This is really the point of this entire forum. So why not make this FAQ #1? Because as I said that’s what this forum is all about and to dilute it down to one single thread is impossible (and frankly much too ambitious for me. I am after all an airline pilot which means by definition I’m lazy and VERY resistant to over exerting myself physically or mentally :slight_smile: ) That said I thought it might be beneficial to post a quick and dirty primer. I’m sure others will (and I welcome them to) to chime in.

  1. Desire: While this can be argued as a requirement, it is most pilot’s prime motivation and something I believe is essential to a successful and happy career. The industry can be challenging at times but if you love what you’re doing it just never seems to be that bad.

  2. Get your feet wet (ie, GO FLY!): It blows my mind how many people come on this forum is saying “I wanna be a pilot!”, “I’ve always dreamed of being a pilot”, and of course my favorite “I KNOW I’d be a great pilot” but have never flown in a small plane. Yes EVERYONE looks in the sky when a jet passes overhead or gets excited when they go to the airport but until you’ve actually sat upfront with your hands on the controls you simply don’t know. I know you sat in the back going to grandma’s or Cancun and saw someone who looked like the average Jane or Joe climb into the cockpit and thought “I can do this” (and maybe you can, maybe you can’t) but again it’s all academic. If you’re entertaining the idea of being a pilot (let alone quitting your career of 20yrs, mortgaging your home, risking divorce, cashing in the kids college fund etc) you MUST GO FLY FIRST! It’s like seeing an ad for Taco Bell having never eaten it and saying “WOW! That looks amazing! I’m going to clear out my kitchen and live on nothing but Taco Bell for the rest of my life”. You may love it but you may end up sick to your stomach. GO FLY!

  3. Find a School: Ok you went flying, loved it and have decided this is what you’re going to do. Now what? You need to learn to fly. This is where things get complicated. There’s everything from the local flight school to aviation universities to full time flight academies like ATP (and yes this is ATP’s forum and yes I’m a fan). Which is right for you? That’s another topic of much conversation on this forum but here’s more quick and dirty.
    a) Locals schools: Great for getting your feet wet and recreational flying. If you’re serious about doing this for a career you need to be serious about your training.
    b) Universities: There are many great college programs. Downside is they’re stupid expensive and take too long. There’s also the fact you’re putting all your eggs in the aviation basket. If for some reason flying doesn’t work out you’ve got this degree in aviation which looks nice hanging in your den but not much else. It’s always good to have a Plan B (C, D etc). Remember, you DO NOT need a degree in aviation to be an airline pilot BUT you cannot be an accountant (or a Dr, lawyer, etc) with a degree in aviation.
    c) Fulltime Academies: (OK here’s my ATP commercial) ATP was created BY airline pilots to train airline pilots. You can’t go to ATP and get just your Private Pilot’s license. It’s the full Monty or nothing. ATP has been around for over 30yrs and placed over 300 pilots at airlines in the last year alone (end of commercial).

  4. Exactly what training do I need?: Ok you picked a school but what do I need to learn? Obviously you need to learn to fly but Private Pilot’s can fly and can’t be airline pilots so whatelse do I need? Here’s the rundown:
    a) Private Pilot License (PPL): This is your basic license that allows you to impress and astound you family and friends. Most people who start flight training either never earn their PPLs or quit right after.
    b) Instrument Rating (IR): This allows you to fly when the weather is less than great. Probably the most challenging and most important rating (IMHO). I could stick you in a plane with ZERO experience and talk you through a takeoff, point and tell you to fly “over there” and you could do it no problem but fly into some clouds where you have ZERO visibility and things get interesting REALLY fast. It still amazes me that I can takeoff and fly half way around the world and land and literally never see out the window.
    c) Multiengine Rating (ME): This allows you to fly an airplane with more than 1 engine. In truth it teaches you to fly a plane with 2 engines AFTER you lose 1 of them. Interesting Fact: more pilots die flying in twin engine aircraft that lose 1 engine than in single engine aircraft that lose the only engine.
    d) Commercial Pilot license (CPL): This allows you to work and get PAID as a pilot.
    *Now, up until 2013 with all the above you could get hired and fly as a First Officer for an airline. In 2013 the govt passed the Airline Safety Act which included (amongst many things) the 1500 Hour Rule which states that ALL pilots flying for Part 121 Carriers (aka airlines) MUST have their ATP (Airline Transport License) and that means 1500hrs minimum. So how do I build 1500hrs? The most common method is by flight instructing (btw did I mention the ATP program also includes ALL 3 Flight Instructor Ratings (CFI, CFII, MEI) AND a GUARANTEED Instructor job to it’s successful graduates?)

  5. Now what?: Congrats! You earned all your licenses and ratings and built your 1500hrs now what? 10 years ago (even 5) I would’ve said start applying, get letters of recommendations, go to church, sacrifice a chicken, do whatever it takes to get an interview but the aviation world has turned upside down. There is in fact a pilot shortage and the Regionals are hiring and recruiting like never before in history! If you build your time, do well, have a clean record, you will get hired.

As I said above this is really a rough and very general outline but if you’re interested in being an airline pilot but don’t have a clue now you have one. Albeit quick and dirty :slight_smile: