Commercial Pilots

This is a sub-career of Airline or Commercial Pilot

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Job Outlook:
As fast as average
Education: Postsecondary nondegree award
Salary
High: $217,530.00
Average: $123,250.00

What they do:

Pilot and navigate the flight of fixed-wing aircraft on nonscheduled air carrier routes, or helicopters. Requires Commercial Pilot certificate. Includes charter pilots with similar certification, and air ambulance and air tour pilots. Excludes regional, national, and international airline pilots.

On the job, you would:

  • Use instrumentation to pilot aircraft when visibility is poor.
  • Start engines, operate controls, and pilot airplanes to transport passengers, mail, or freight according to flight plans, regulations, and procedures.
  • Monitor engine operation, fuel consumption, and functioning of aircraft systems during flights.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Pilots must speak clearly when conveying information to air traffic controllers and other crew members. They must also listen carefully for instructions.

Observational skills. Pilots regularly watch over screens, gauges, and dials to make sure that all systems are in working order. They also need to maintain situational awareness by looking for other aircraft or obstacles. Pilots must be able to see clearly, be able to judge the distance between objects, and possess good color vision.

Problem-solving skills. Pilots must be able to identify complex problems and figure out appropriate solutions. When a plane encounters turbulence, for example, pilots assess the weather conditions and request a change in route or altitude from air traffic control.

Quick reaction time. Pilots must respond quickly, and with good judgment, to any impending danger.

Personality

A3 Your Strengths Importance

Characteristics of this Career

92% Dependability  -  Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
90% Attention to Detail  -  Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
85% Cooperation  -  Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
85% Self-Control  -  Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
84% Stress Tolerance  -  Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
81% Initiative  -  Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.
79% Analytical Thinking  -  Job requires analyzing information and using logic to address work-related issues and problems.
77% Achievement/Effort  -  Job requires establishing and maintaining personally challenging achievement goals and exerting effort toward mastering tasks.
76% Integrity  -  Job requires being honest and ethical.
76% Leadership  -  Job requires a willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.
74% Adaptability/Flexibility  -  Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.
73% Concern for Others  -  Job requires being sensitive to others' needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.
73% Persistence  -  Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.
71% Independence  -  Job requires developing one's own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.
68% Social Orientation  -  Job requires preferring to work with others rather than alone, and being personally connected with others on the job.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Strengths

95% Realistic  -  Work involves designing, building, or repairing of equipment, materials, or structures, engaging in physical activity, or working outdoors. Realistic occupations are often associated with engineering, mechanics and electronics, construction, woodworking, transportation, machine operation, agriculture, animal services, physical or manual labor, athletics, or protective services.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Values of the Work Environment

95% Support  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees. Corresponding needs are Company Policies, Supervision: Human Relations and Supervision: Technical.
89% Independence  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to work on their own and make decisions. Corresponding needs are Creativity, Responsibility and Autonomy.
83% Recognition  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value offer advancement, potential for leadership, and are often considered prestigious. Corresponding needs are Advancement, Authority, Recognition and Social Status.
78% Achievement  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value are results oriented and allow employees to use their strongest abilities, giving them a feeling of accomplishment. Corresponding needs are Ability Utilization and Achievement.
61% Working Conditions  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value offer job security and good working conditions. Corresponding needs are Activity, Compensation, Independence, Security, Variety and Working Conditions.
61% Relationships  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment. Corresponding needs are Co-workers, Moral Values and Social Service.

Aptitude

A3 Your Strengths Importance

Abilities | Cognitive, Physical, Personality

81% Near Vision  -  The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
81% Problem Sensitivity  -  The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.
81% Far Vision  -  The ability to see details at a distance.
81% Control Precision  -  The ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust the controls of a machine or a vehicle to exact positions.
78% Response Orientation  -  The ability to choose quickly between two or more movements in response to two or more different signals (lights, sounds, pictures). It includes the speed with which the correct response is started with the hand, foot, or other body part.
75% Inductive Reasoning  -  The ability to combine pieces of information to form general rules or conclusions (includes finding a relationship among seemingly unrelated events).
75% Information Ordering  -  The ability to arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).
75% Deductive Reasoning  -  The ability to apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.
75% Oral Expression  -  The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
75% Oral Comprehension  -  The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
75% Depth Perception  -  The ability to judge which of several objects is closer or farther away from you, or to judge the distance between you and an object.
72% Speech Clarity  -  The ability to speak clearly so others can understand you.
72% Perceptual Speed  -  The ability to quickly and accurately compare similarities and differences among sets of letters, numbers, objects, pictures, or patterns. The things to be compared may be presented at the same time or one after the other. This ability also includes comparing a presented object with a remembered object.
72% Speech Recognition  -  The ability to identify and understand the speech of another person.
69% Multilimb Coordination  -  The ability to coordinate two or more limbs (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while sitting, standing, or lying down. It does not involve performing the activities while the whole body is in motion.
69% Selective Attention  -  The ability to concentrate on a task over a period of time without being distracted.
69% Written Comprehension  -  The ability to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.
69% Reaction Time  -  The ability to quickly respond (with the hand, finger, or foot) to a signal (sound, light, picture) when it appears.
66% Flexibility of Closure  -  The ability to identify or detect a known pattern (a figure, object, word, or sound) that is hidden in other distracting material.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Skills | Cognitive, Physical, Personality

75% Operation and Control  -  Controlling operations of equipment or systems.

Job Details

Responsibilities
Inspect aircraft or aircraft components.
Communicate with others to coordinate vehicle movement.
Pilot aircraft.
Monitor engine operation or functioning.
Choose optimal transportation routes or speeds.
Resolve issues affecting transportation operations.
Review work orders or schedules to determine operations or procedures.
Plan flight operations.
Pilot aircraft.
Inspect cargo to ensure it is properly loaded or secured.
Communicate with others to coordinate vehicle movement.
Choose optimal transportation routes or speeds.
Coordinate flight control or management activities.
Record operational details of travel.
Train transportation or material moving personnel.
Train transportation or material moving personnel.
Communicate with others to coordinate vehicle movement.
Test performance of aircraft equipment.
Assist others during emergencies.
Direct passenger or freight transport activities.
Arrange maintenance activities.
Maintain vehicles in good working condition.
Evaluate performance of applicants, trainees, or employees.
Plan flight operations.
Record operational details of travel.
Pilot aircraft.
Test performance of aircraft equipment.
Pilot aircraft.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Attributes & Percentage of Time Spent

92% Contact With Others  -  How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others (face-to-face, by telephone, or otherwise) in order to perform it?
91% Face-to-Face Discussions  -  How often do you have to have face-to-face discussions with individuals or teams in this job?
91% Telephone  -  How often do you have telephone conversations in this job?
90% Importance of Being Exact or Accurate  -  How important is being very exact or highly accurate in performing this job?
88% Impact of Decisions on Co-workers or Company Results  -  What results do your decisions usually have on other people or the image or reputation or financial resources of your employer?
86% In an Enclosed Vehicle or Equipment  -  How often does this job require working in a closed vehicle or equipment (e.g., car)?
85% Frequency of Decision Making  -  How frequently is the worker required to make decisions that affect other people, the financial resources, and/or the image and reputation of the organization?
85% Structured versus Unstructured Work  -  To what extent is this job structured for the worker, rather than allowing the worker to determine tasks, priorities, and goals?
84% Outdoors, Exposed to Weather  -  How often does this job require working outdoors, exposed to all weather conditions?
83% Freedom to Make Decisions  -  How much decision making freedom, without supervision, does the job offer?
82% Sounds, Noise Levels Are Distracting or Uncomfortable  -  How often does this job require working exposed to sounds and noise levels that are distracting or uncomfortable?
82% Spend Time Using Your Hands to Handle, Control, or Feel Objects, Tools, or Controls  -  How much does this job require using your hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools or controls?
81% Consequence of Error  -  How serious would the result usually be if the worker made a mistake that was not readily correctable?
81% Physical Proximity  -  To what extent does this job require the worker to perform job tasks in close physical proximity to other people?
81% Responsible for Others' Health and Safety  -  How much responsibility is there for the health and safety of others in this job?
80% Work With Work Group or Team  -  How important is it to work with others in a group or team in this job?
80% Deal With External Customers  -  How important is it to work with external customers or the public in this job?
77% Spend Time Sitting  -  How much does this job require sitting?
73% Time Pressure  -  How often does this job require the worker to meet strict deadlines?
72% Responsibility for Outcomes and Results  -  How responsible is the worker for work outcomes and results of other workers?
70% Cramped Work Space, Awkward Positions  -  How often does this job require working in cramped work spaces that requires getting into awkward positions?
70% Extremely Bright or Inadequate Lighting  -  How often does this job require working in extremely bright or inadequate lighting conditions?
70% Coordinate or Lead Others  -  How important is it to coordinate or lead others in accomplishing work activities in this job?
69% Importance of Repeating Same Tasks  -  How important is repeating the same physical activities (e.g., key entry) or mental activities (e.g., checking entries in a ledger) over and over, without stopping, to performing this job?
69% Indoors, Not Environmentally Controlled  -  How often does this job require working indoors in non-controlled environmental conditions (e.g., warehouse without heat)?
67% Level of Competition  -  To what extent does this job require the worker to compete or to be aware of competitive pressures?
67% Exposed to Contaminants  -  How often does this job require working exposed to contaminants (such as pollutants, gases, dust or odors)?
66% Wear Common Protective or Safety Equipment such as Safety Shoes, Glasses, Gloves, Hearing Protection, Hard Hats, or Life Jackets  -  How much does this job require wearing common protective or safety equipment such as safety shoes, glasses, gloves, hard hats or life jackets?
65% Very Hot or Cold Temperatures  -  How often does this job require working in very hot (above 90 F degrees) or very cold (below 32 F degrees) temperatures?
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Tasks & Values

95% Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment  -  Running, maneuvering, navigating, or driving vehicles or mechanized equipment, such as forklifts, passenger vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft.
89% Getting Information  -  Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
88% Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Materials  -  Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.
85% Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events  -  Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
84% Making Decisions and Solving Problems  -  Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
82% Controlling Machines and Processes  -  Using either control mechanisms or direct physical activity to operate machines or processes (not including computers or vehicles).
77% Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards  -  Using relevant information and individual judgment to determine whether events or processes comply with laws, regulations, or standards.
76% Monitoring Processes, Materials, or Surroundings  -  Monitoring and reviewing information from materials, events, or the environment, to detect or assess problems.
72% Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge  -  Keeping up-to-date technically and applying new knowledge to your job.
71% Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates  -  Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
66% Processing Information  -  Compiling, coding, categorizing, calculating, tabulating, auditing, or verifying information or data.
66% Estimating the Quantifiable Characteristics of Products, Events, or Information  -  Estimating sizes, distances, and quantities; or determining time, costs, resources, or materials needed to perform a work activity.

What Airline and Commercial Pilots Do

Airline and commercial pilots
Commercial pilots are involved in activities such as firefighting and crop dusting.

Airline and commercial pilots fly and navigate airplanes, helicopters, and other aircraft.

Duties

Pilots typically do the following:

  • Check the overall condition of the aircraft before and after every flight
  • Ensure that the aircraft is balanced and below its weight limit
  • Verify that the fuel supply is adequate and that weather conditions are acceptable
  • Prepare and submit flight plans to air traffic control
  • Communicate with air traffic control over the aircraft’s radio system
  • Operate and control aircraft along planned routes and during takeoffs and landings
  • Monitor engines, fuel consumption, and other aircraft systems during flight
  • Respond to changing conditions, such as weather events and emergencies (for example, a mechanical malfunction)
  • Navigate the aircraft by using cockpit instruments and visual references

Pilots plan their flights by checking that the aircraft is operable and safe, that the cargo has been loaded correctly, and that weather conditions are acceptable. They file flight plans with air traffic control and may modify the plans in flight because of changing weather conditions or other factors.

Takeoff and landing can be the most demanding parts of a flight. They require close coordination among the pilot; copilot; flight engineer, if present; air traffic controllers; and ground personnel. Once in the air, the captain may have the first officer, if present, fly the aircraft, but the captain remains responsible for the aircraft. After landing, pilots fill out records that document their flight and the status of the aircraft.

Some pilots are also instructors using simulators and dual-controlled aircraft to teach students how to fly.

The following are examples of types of pilots:

Airline pilots work primarily for airlines that transport passengers and cargo on a fixed schedule. The captain or pilot in command, usually the most experienced pilot, supervises all other crew members and has primary responsibility for the flight. The copilot, often called the first officer or second in command, shares flight duties with the captain. Some older planes require a third pilot known as a flight engineer, who monitors instruments and operates controls. Technology has automated many of these tasks, and new aircraft do not require flight engineers.

Commercial pilots are involved in unscheduled flight activities, such as aerial application, charter flights, and aerial tours. Commercial pilots may have additional nonflight duties. Some commercial pilots schedule flights, arrange for maintenance of the aircraft, and load luggage themselves. Pilots who transport company executives, also known as corporate pilots, greet their passengers before embarking on the flight.

Agricultural pilots typically handle agricultural chemicals, such as pesticides, and may be involved in other agricultural practices in addition to flying. Pilots, such as helicopter pilots, who fly at low levels must constantly look for trees, bridges, power lines, transmission towers, and other obstacles.

With proper training, airline pilots also may be deputized as federal law enforcement officers and be issued firearms to protect the cockpit.

Work Environment

Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers held about 91,700 jobs in 2022. The largest employers of airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers were as follows:

Scheduled air transportation 85%
Couriers and express delivery services 5
Federal government, excluding postal service 4
Support activities for transportation 2
Nonscheduled air transportation 1

Commercial pilots held about 50,900 jobs in 2022. The largest employers of commercial pilots were as follows:

Nonscheduled air transportation 38%
Support activities for air transportation 10
Ambulance services 8
Scheduled air transportation 7
Technical and trade schools; private 7

Pilots assigned to long-distance routes may experience fatigue and jetlag. Weather conditions may result in turbulence, requiring pilots to change the flying altitude. Flights can be long and flight decks are often sealed, so pilots work in small teams for long periods in close proximity to one another.

Aerial applicators, also known as crop dusters, may be exposed to toxic chemicals, typically use unimproved landing strips, such as grass, dirt, or gravel surface, and may be at risk of collision with power lines. Helicopter pilots involved in rescue operations may fly at low levels during bad weather or at night, and land in areas surrounded by power lines, highways, and other obstacles. Pilots use hearing protection devices to prevent their exposure to engine noise.

The high level of concentration required to fly an aircraft and the mental stress of being responsible for the safety of passengers can be fatiguing. Pilots must be alert and quick to react if something goes wrong. Federal law requires pilots to retire at age 65.

Most pilots are based near large airports.

Injuries and Illnesses

Although fatalities are uncommon, commercial pilots experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.

Work Schedules

Federal regulations set the maximum work hours and minimum requirements for rest between flights for most pilots. Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and work an additional 150 hours per month performing other duties, such as checking weather conditions and preparing flight plans. Pilots have variable work schedules that may include some days of work followed by some days off. Flight assignments are based on seniority. Seniority enables pilots who have worked at a company for a long time to get preferred routes and schedules.

Airline pilots may spend several nights a week away from home because flight assignments often involve overnight layovers. When pilots are away from home, the airlines typically provide hotel accommodations, transportation to the airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses.

Commercial pilots also may have irregular schedules. Although most commercial pilots remain near their home overnight, some may still work nonstandard hours.

Getting Started

Education:
28%
Bachelor's Degree
25%
Post-Secondary Certificate - awarded for training completed after high school (for example, in agriculture or natural resources, computer services, personal or culinary services, engineering technologies, healthcare, construction trades, mechanic and repair technologies, or precision production)

How to Become an Airline or Commercial Pilot

Airline and commercial pilots
Airline and commercial pilots who are newly hired by airlines or on-demand air services companies must undergo on-the-job training.

Airline pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree and experience as a commercial or military pilot. Commercial pilots typically need flight training, and some employers may require or prefer them to have a degree.

Airline and commercial pilots also must have specific certificates and ratings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Education

Airline pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree in any field, including transportation, engineering, or business. They also complete flight training with independent FAA-certified flight instructors or at schools that offer flight training.

Commercial pilots typically complete flight training, and some employers require or prefer that they have a degree.

The FAA certifies hundreds of civilian flight schools, which range from small fixed base operators (FBO) to state universities. Some colleges and universities offer pilot training as part of a 2- or 4-year aviation degree.

Training

Airline and commercial pilots who are newly hired by airlines or on-demand air services companies undergo on-the-job training in accordance with federal regulations. This training usually includes several weeks of ground school and flight training. Various types of ratings for specific aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 or Cessna Citation, typically are acquired through employer-based training and generally are earned by pilots who have at least a commercial pilot certificate.

Pilots also must maintain their experience in performing certain maneuvers. This requirement means that pilots must perform specific maneuvers and procedures a given number of times within a specified amount of time. Pilots also must undergo periodic training and medical examinations, generally every year or every other year.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Airline pilots typically need work experience as a commercial or military pilot.

To get a job with a major or regional airline, pilots need extensive flight experience. Some pilots work as flight instructors or on-demand charter pilots, positions that usually require less experience than airline jobs require, to help build enough flying hours so that they can apply to the airlines.

Military pilots may transfer to civilian aviation and apply directly to airlines to become airline pilots.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Those who are seeking a career as a professional pilot must meet FAA requirements. Pilots typically get their FAA-issued certificates and ratings in the following order:

  • Student pilot certificate
  • Private pilot certificate
  • Instrument rating
  • Commercial pilot certificate
  • Multi-engine rating
  • Airline transport pilot certificate

Each certificate and rating requires that pilots pass a knowledge test on the ground and a practical flying exam, usually called a check ride, in an appropriate aircraft. In addition to earning these credentials, many pilots get a flight instructor certificate after they get their commercial pilot certificate. The flight instructor certificate helps them build flight time and experience quickly and at less personal expense.

Commercial pilot certificate. To qualify for a commercial pilot certificate, applicants must meet age and flight-hour requirements. Student pilots use a logbook and keep detailed records of their flight time, which must be endorsed by a flight instructor. Federal regulations specify the types and quantities of flight experience and knowledge needed.

Applicants must pass the appropriate medical exam, meet all of the detailed flight experience and knowledge requirements, and pass a written exam and a practical flight exam in order to get a commercial pilot certificate. The medical exam confirms that the pilot’s vision is correctable to 20/20 and that no physical or mental conditions exist that could impair the pilot’s performance.

Commercial pilots must hold an instrument rating if they want to carry passengers for pay more than 50 miles from the point of origin of their flight, or at night.

Instrument rating. Pilots who earn an instrument rating can fly during periods of low visibility, also known as instrument meteorological conditions, or IMC. They may qualify for this rating by having at least 40 hours of instrument flight experience and 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command, and by meeting other requirements detailed in the federal regulations.

Airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate. All pilot crews of a scheduled commercial airliner must have ATP certificates. To earn the ATP certificate, applicants must meet certain federal requirements, such as for age, hours of flight, and written and practical exams. A commercial pilot certificate is a prerequisite for the ATP. Airline pilots usually maintain one or more aircraft-type ratings, which allow them to fly aircraft that require specific training, depending on the requirements of their particular airline.

Pilots must pass periodic physical and practical flight examinations to be able to perform the duties granted by their certificate.

Advancement

Commercial pilots may advance to airline pilots after completing a degree, accruing required flight time, and obtaining an ATP certificate.

Advancement for airline pilots depends on a system of seniority outlined in collective bargaining contracts.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of airline and commercial pilots is projected to grow 4 percent from 2022 to 2032, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 16,800 openings for airline and commercial pilots are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Employment of airline and commercial pilots is projected to grow as the demand for air travel increases. The post-pandemic expansion of hybrid and remote work arrangements is likely to increase demand for trips that combine business and personal travel, also known as “bleisure” travel, supporting employment demand for pilots.

Continued demand for private chartered flights is expected to sustain job growth for commercial pilots.

Contacts for More Information

For a list of FAA-approved pilot school locations, visit online or contact your local FAA field office for training providers in your area.

For specific information about pilot certificate and ratings requirements and other federal regulations, visit

Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14

For more information about pilots, visit

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

Air Line Pilots Association, International

Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations

Federal Aviation Administration

Helicopter Association International

National Agricultural Aviation Association

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of airline and commercial pilots.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2022
Air traffic controllers Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of aircraft to maintain safe distances between them.

Associate's degree $132,250
Water transportation occupations Water Transportation Workers

Water transportation workers operate and maintain vessels that take cargo and people over water.

See How to Become One $66,100

Information provided by CareerFitter, LLC and other sources.

Sections of this page includes information from the O*NET 27.3 Database by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license.

CareerFitter, LLC has modified all or some of this information. USDOL/ETA has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.