There are a number of paths to an airline piloting career. Regardless of which path you take, you will ultimately need a combination of pilot certificates and ratings, flight experience, and a great attitude.  

Under today’s regulations, in order to be eligible for employment at an airline governed by Part 121 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, you will need a commercial pilot license with a multiengine and instrument rating. Due to fairly recent legislation, you will soon need an Airline Transport Rating, which requires you to be 23 years of age and have obtained 1,500 hours of flight time, among other requirements. Because this new law takes effect in August 2013, airlines are already amending their eligibility requirements for applicants to ensure that any pilot they hire between now and August will still be eligible for employment once the new law takes effect.

On a side-note, the FAA is currently drafting a regulation that will allow pilots with less than 1,500 hours to obtain a "restricted" Airline Transport Pilot license and it appears that regulation may be published around May of 2013, just a few months before the Airline Transport Pilot license requirement takes effect.

There are three primary ways to acquire pilot licenses. The first is by joining the military. Although receiving pilot training in the military requires a multiyear commitment to the armed services, the training you will receive is top notch and requires a high level of personal commitment. The benefits are numerous, such as excellent pilot training, increased personal discipline, a well-rounded education, and the fact that none of this costs the pilot candidate any money. Airlines look very favorably on pilots who were trained in the military. In addition, the aforementioned regulation that the FAA is finalizing will include military trained pilots among those eligible for a restricted Airline Pilot Transport license.  

The second option is to enroll in an accredited aviation university. Here, you will not only receive excellent flight training, but this training is typically developed specific to the airline pilot career. In fact, many institutions actually offer additional training in the simulators of airliners in order to ensure that their graduates are ready to transition to the airline industry. Although an aviation university education is expensive, there are numerous financial aid options available through the individual institutions. Another benefit of this option is that you will enter the workforce with a college degree and the personal enhancement that comes with it. We have posted a link to accredited aviation universities under the “Resources” tab. Just click “AABI Accredited Institutions” from the drop-down menu. Accredited four-year aviation university graduates are also among those who will be eligible for a restricted Airline Transport license.

The third option is to hire a personal flight instructor at a local airport. While this is the most common form of flight training for those candidates who are on a pay-as-you-go budget, there are a few challenges associated with this option. First, although there are many excellent personal flight instructors, the best instructors can be challenging to identify, especially if you are just entering the world of aviation. Second, you will likely transition through a number of instructors as you pursue additional licenses and ratings. Although you will receive different training styles and strengths from each, you will likely not receive a comprehensive education with an airline career in mind. For example, military and university programs train with jet aircraft in mind, and therefore students are required to learn about high altitude meteorology, high altitude aerodynamics, swept-wing aerodynamics, turbine systems, etc. Receiving basic flight instruction from a local flight school usually trains the candidate for the rating required and no further. Therefore, the responsibility lies with the student to seek the additional education necessary to be ready for the airline industry. Statistics show that pilots entering the airline industry without a comprehensive education such as that gained through military or aviation university education have a more challenging time making it through initial training at the airlines. This is not a statement of the quality of the candidate but can be an unfortunate consequence of having been trained for individual FAA licenses and ratings but not under a comprehensive "A to Z" syllabus with an airline pilot career as the end goal. Because of the wide variation in instruction received from local Fixed Based Operators (FBOs), the FAA does not consider pilots trained in this manner as eligible for the restricted Airline Transport license and therefore, pilots trained in this manner will need to obtain a full Airline Transport Pilot license in order to be eligible for airline pilot employment.

In addition to receiving your pilot licenses and ratings as described above, you will need to build flight experience. One constructive way to do so is to obtain a Certified Flight Instructor certificate. This will allow you to use your new skills to train other pilots while enhancing your own skills and knowledge, building flight experience, and doing so while earning money. Other options for building single-engine flight time include flying for small cargo operators, crop dusting, pipeline inspecting, or “traffic watch” for local radio stations, etc. Once you have acquired a few hundred hours of flight time, it will be time to attempt to get a multiengine flying job. These are more challenging to obtain because the insurance requirements on the operators are more stringent. That is where having a good number of single-engine flight hours will be helpful. We cannot recommend strongly enough the need to network with other pilots who are one or two steps ahead of you. The single greatest way to achieve employment in aviation is through the recommendation of a pilot currently employed with the operator where you are applying. Because operators are entrusting their pilot work force with expensive aircraft and the lives of their passengers, character recommendations are almost, if not as important as flight experience.  

Because of how quickly hiring requirements are changing, we are no longer posting these on our website. They remain available at each carrier's employment website as well as through third party vendors, such as (formerly Nonetheless, once you have obtained the minimum requirements for employment, we strongly encourage you to apply at your preferred employer. We discourage pilots from waiting until they are “extra-qualified” before applying. Most airlines have seniority-based systems, and the earlier you are employed, the more protection you have against furlough, and the quicker you will reach higher-paying statuses and more reliable schedules. Once you have applied with an airline, you can update your application as you achieve more ratings or experience, but getting your initial application on file early is, in our opinion, essential.  

The airline piloting career is a superb way to make a living. We wish each of you the best in your endeavor.




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