Age Requirements
The U.S. and Canadian governments have established minimum and maximum ages for airline pilots. A private pilot must be at least 17 years of age, a commercial pilot at least 18, and an applicant for an air/airline transport pilot certificate at least 21 in Canada and 23 in the United States. Federal law in the United States requires airline pilots to retire at age 65; there is no such limit in Canada, but the retirement age on scheduled airlines changed in December 2007 from age 60 to age 65.

The commercial airline pilot profession increasingly becomes more complex and technical. Meeting the constant demands of continuously changing technology requires a high degree of mental dexterity. Airline pilots never stop learning—new systems, new aircraft configurations, new procedures, etc. Because of the ever-changing aviation technology and the requirements for mastery of new systems, pilots must attend and pass ground school courses regularly, as well as passing flight checks in simulators and aircraft.

If you want to work in this technically complex environment, with navigation systems and communications equipment, you need a thorough grasp of mathematics, aeronautics, navigation, and meteorology. You must also think clearly even in times of stress, and communicate accurately, understandably, and concisely while performing other duties.

Wondering how to finance your education and training? Individual academic institutions offer financial aid, grants, and scholarships. Check out the federal and state financial assistance programs and comb through these scholarships, compiled by the University Aviation Association, available specifically to students in an aviation-related major.
The acquisition of these skills begins at the secondary level of education with an emphasis on the basic sciences, particularly math and physics. At the college/university level, preferred courses in preparation for an airline pilot career would include advanced math, English, sciences, aeronautical engineering, and other aviation-related studies.

Physical/Health Requirements
Because of the unique physical demands of a pilot’s daily duties, regulatory agencies require that pilots meet strict health standards, primarily concerning the heart, lungs, physical dexterity, and eyesight (although now, most airlines will allow applicants to wear glasses to correct vision to 20/20 in each eye). Dependence on drugs—even prescription drugs—may be disqualifying.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires medical certificates, classified as First, Second, or Third Class, while Transport Canada requires Category 1 or Category 3 certificates. (Category 2 is for air traffic controllers and flight engineers, although the physical requirements for a flight engineer are similar to those of Category 1 to account for prolonged or difficult flights). Each class or category includes specific physical requirements.

The First Class and Category 1 certificates have the highest standards and are required for an air/airline transport pilot certificate. The First Class Certificate is valid for six months, while the Category 1 Certificate is valid for one year for pilots under age 40, and six months for those aged 40 and older.

Before you begin training for any airline position, schedule a First Class or Category 1 physical from a designated FAA or Transport Canada examiner. You can obtain the names of such examiners from the FAA or Transport Canada regional headquarters nearest you or you can ask the operator of any approved flight training school in your area.

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