Timeline to be a Commercial Pilot

I just finished my 4 year degree and am looking into the ATP program. The question I have is probably vague and simplistic so bear with me, but I am just looking for a ballpark timeline here. I know the ATP program can be finished in 9 months and then you have to get your instructor hours in after that followed by regional work, then on and on. I’m just curious what a realistic timeline to get on as a first captain for a major airline might be? Is 6 years realistic to achieve this goal? I know my lazy questioning might rub some wrong here, but I’m just curious what some timelines have been for commercial pilots that have gone through the motions and I think that having my 4 year degree helps on some level. If my question feels lazy to you, I apologize. If you have a decent ballpark that comes to mind I’d love to hear it.


Your question isn’t vague but the answer must definitely will be. The short answer is no, you’re not going to be a Capt at a Major in 6yrs. While it’s theoretically possible it’s unrealistic. If you made it to First Officer at a Major in 6yrs you’d actually be doing pretty good.

A year ago things were zooming pretty good. Hiring was booming and we could actually give a fairly accurate timeline:
2.5yrs for training and time building
2 yrs Regional FO
2 yrs Regional Capt = Major FO so 6.5yrs give or take. Problem is 2020 came and wreaked havoc on the world. Obviously the training timeline hasn’t changed but the time to build 1500hrs may? People have less money and are feeling less secure. That translates to less students and therefore less hours, maybe? You could possibly happen to be in an area with lots of training or even find another means to build hours so how long is a guess? Next getting hired by a Regional. Right now there’s no demand but most believe there will be again. When? Again who knows BUT if I takes you 2-3yrs to build your 1500hrs that might be right on time? There are also other jobs for pilots with 1500hrs (corporate, charter, light cargo) so that might not be a problem at all. The biggest question mark is getting hired by a Major. The shortest time I’ve ever heard is a year (but that was someone with ALOT of connections) and the longest is never. I know so excellent pilots with great resumes who never got the call. Flying for a Major is the pinnacle of this industry and frankly some pilots never get there. There are literally no guarantees.

As I said the answer right now is incredibly vague and since we’re still in the pandemic it’s impossible to know exactly how long it’ll take to fully recover. What we do know it’s those that are trained and ready will have a leg up on those who are not.



I think by “first Captain” you actually mean “first officer”. The time from starting ATP to being a pilot for a major airline can vary greatly and most likely, it will be longer than six years. Let’s say you go through the nine month program, then instruct for nearly two years, so let’s call that 2.5 years. Then hopefully things are going well again and you get onto a regional airline right away. Your time at a regional could vary anywhere from two years, to around ten or even more. Before Covid hit it seemed like most new hires that I was flying with had about eight years in when they got hired, but that is a very unofficial number.

The four year degree will not help, other than the fact that it is a requirement for the majors and you really need to have one to have any shot of being hired, regardless of what the official qualifications state.

Take a look around the FAQ section as there is a ton of good information there. Welcome to the forum.