Tip: Visit our support page for typical Flight Training questions and answers. This is a great resource for AOA and most other flight school students and instructors.
Our Guide to Becoming a Pilot
If you are considering becoming a pilot for fun or for a career, it is important to understand the educational process and choose the learning path that is right for you.
In this mobile-first world, and especially after the current COVID-19 crisis becomes a painful history lesson, there will be a well-documented need for pilots to replace those that will retire in the next two years, and those that will move on to other avenues of the aviation field due to many other personal reasons.
A career pilot can fly not only for the commercial airlines, but for regional carriers, charter companies, the emergency service industry, search and rescue and even local sightseeing and crop farming airplanes. Job posting sites like JSFirm and indeed display hundreds of pilot jobs, but the commonality is the need for professionally trained and commercially available advanced piloting skills as soon as the world opens back up to travel.
We get many potential students asking what steps they will have to take to become an airline pilot. While a huge amount of information can be found all over the web, we understand that it’s helpful to have it right in front of you. Let's go through a step-by-step guide, and explain the process in a straightforward and easy to understand list.
But, please keep this in mind: earning your commercial pilot certificate is more than just taking flying lessons. You will need to pass your 2nd Class medical certificate which needs to be renewed every 12 months, and you will need to be fluent in English, the preferred language for international pilots. The age requirement to start your training is 18, and contrary to most popular beliefs, you do not need to have a college degree to become a commercial pilot. Take your FAA written exams as soon as you feel ready, and enter the cockpit with a Certified Flight Instructor to start flying.
The commercial pilot certificate course track is fairly specific, and every flight school will follow a similar curriculum. Not all flight schools are created equally, so you want to choose one that will satisfy your goals with a balance between cost-effective flight training time, quality training courses and engaged instructors. Do your research, apply for loans if you are qualified, and most importantly, talk to your Admissions and Enrollment professionals at each school you are interested in, as many times there will be hidden costs and other complexities in educational programs not divulged on flight school websites.
Commercial pilots always start out as private pilots. Learning the foundations of flying is done in single engine airplanes (Cessna and Diamond) with both conventional instruments/six-pack and glass TAA (technically advanced aircraft) cockpits-- and then moving up to multi engine and other advanced aircraft. You will have classroom and in-the-sky study with either one or a small group of selected pilots and a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI).
A prerequisite to becoming a commercial pilot is at least 250 hours as PIC (pilot in command) to earn your license. You will fly at night, in fog, in rain and ice, go through spin training, and become an all-around pilot. Your mental state will be considered at all times, and you will be assessed on reaction and professionalism in flying and non-flying situations.
Your physical proficiency and aeronautical ability will dictate your future as a commercial pilot.
Commercial Pilot Costs
How much does flight training cost and can I get a loan?
Learning to fly is never going to be cheap, and while you really have to shop around to find the best cost to training ratio that works for you, you have to also do your due diligence to choose a school that does not place money over lives. Going "cheap" on your training can actually cost you more in the long run, as you may find yourself undertrained and unprepared for a job flying human lives.
Fixed-cost training and further job placement is a benchmark of a well-rounded flight school experience, and most training facilities have partnerships with regional airlines that guarantee an immediate interview with successful students. Many schools will hire recent graduates as CFI's so that they can practice, refine and substantiate their skills as a pilot by teaching new students, and ultimately earn the FAA minumim 1500 hours flight time to move on to the airlines.
If you are serious about your training, talk to an Admissions and Enrollment Specialist at every school you'd like to check out. Is your program truly fixed cost or are there other factors that will result in you paying more than quoted? Again, ask your Admissions and Enrollment Specialist and learn about exactly what you are signing when you enroll.
Be sure to look at all financial options – including grants, scholarships and family loans. Alternatively, you may be eligible for full financial aid for your flight training, and you can ask your Admissions and Enrollment Specialist about those as well.
Step 1: Earn Your Private Pilot Certificate
Part 141 or Part 61? You decide.
Part 141 Pilot course training syllabi have been evaluated by the FAA and follow a strict protocol. Both the student and the flight schools must adhere exactly to what the FAA has approved so there are no variations in training. The benefit, you can obtain your FAA Private Pilot License in fewer hours, which means shorter training time and less money.
Part 61 Pilot courses, in comparison, are simply more flexible in how the training is conducted but have a higher flight hour requirement. It should also be noted that some airlines and Civil Aviation Authorities in other countries require Part 141 training, so make sure you discuss your overall aviation career goals with our Admissions Team for guidance. You can read the FAA Federal Aviation Regulations for Part 61 and Federal Aviation Regulations for Part 141 in depth here if you really want to understand the differences.
To earn a private pilot's license, individuals must be at least 17 years old. An FAA medical certificate is also required, and is obtained by being examined by an FAA-designated Aviation Medical Examiner and demonstrating good overall health. A summary of the FAA Medical Standards is available here.
Aspiring pilots must also pass a written exam and complete at least 35 hours of flight training. Half of this training must be with a flight instructor, and at least 5 hours must be in solo flight time. A practical flight test is also required, and is called a check ride.
Along with a minimum amount of flight hours, students need to demonstrate sufficient skills and knowledge to their flight instructor before they may earn an FAA private pilot's license. This license, also known as a certificate, will allow them to fly an aircraft and carry passengers and baggage without compensation. Individuals will need to earn a commercial pilot's license to get paid to transport people and property.
Academy of Aviation's Private Pilot course is both standalone and included in our Career Pilot track. As such, we offer both Part 141 and Part 61 pilot courses.
One of the most compelling comparisons between Academy of Aviation and a four-year college is the time/money factor. Unlike a full-time college commitment, we immerse you into the world of pilot training for the full duration of your experience. If you’ve got your heart set on a career as a pilot, our Accelerated Career Pilot Program will put you on a direct course to your goal in much less time, and for less money than a college or university.
Step 2: Earn an instrument rating and a multi-engine rating.
IFR: Operate aircraft in low-visibility situations where you cannot solely
navigate using visual references under VFR or Visual Flight Rules. Heavy cloud cover, heavy
rain and night flying are examples of flying IFR, or Instrument Flight Rules, and you learn
to navigate the aircraft between navigation aids and carry out instrument approaches to
Multi-Engine: Your multi-engine commercial rating is a necessary step for any professional pilot who wishes to make the transition to the airlines. Your expertise in systems, controllability, and performance of multi-engine airplanes and Academy of Aviation is proud to offer the advanced abilities of the Diamond DA-42 aircraft to our students.
Step 3: Earning a Commercial Pilot certificate. More experience and higher requirements allows pilots to legally be paid to fly.
In order to be compensated for transporting people and property, pilots should obtain a
commercial pilot certificate. While in training, students should keep detailed logs of both
their in-flight hours as well as their on-ground hours. A detailed article explaining
examples of logging Pilot-In-Command time can be seen here:
"LOGGING PILOT-IN-COMMAND (PIC) TIME"
In order to receive a commercial pilot's certificate, students must pass a variety of medical and physical exams, an FAA written exam, and a check ride with flight standards that are more stringent and a knowledge level higher than that of the private pilot. Once pilots have obtained their license, they must pass regular physical screenings and practical flight tests in order to keep the status of the license up-to-date.
At Academy of Aviation, we take pride in preparing our students for all examinations on the way to their pilot license, and this includes making sure we cover all the required material for you to pass your written exams with ease and confidence. As a certified Cessna Pilot Center, we use Cessna developed computerized courses which closely resemble the FAA written exams, and we administer professionally proctored knowledge examinations in a relaxed and friendly environment.
Step 4: Earning Certified Flight Instructor Certificates allows pilots to earn a living flying while simultaneously obtaining the flight experience required by airlines.
• Certified Flight Instructor
Becoming a CFI gives you the qualifications to teach Private Pilot and Commercial Single-Engine students.
• Certified Flight Instructor Instrument Rating
Your CFII allows you to teach instrument rating students both on aeronautical knowledge and flight training and is a great way to build on your own instrument skills.
• Multi-Engine Certified Flight Rating
As an MEI, your qualifications and credentials allow you to teach Multi-Engine courses to flight school students.
Step 5: Gain flight experience and earn your minimum 1,500 hours total flight time.
As an enrollee of Academy of Aviation's Career Pilot program, we encourage students to apply
for a Certified Flight Instructor job upon graduation. A position as an AOA flight
instructor allows you to build experience and flight time; in about 18-22 months, you can
build the flight experience required for the ATP Certificate and 1500-hour airline hiring
minimums. The Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate is the highest level of aircraft
Your airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate is the highest level of aircraft pilot certificate and your key to unlocking your potential to fly for regional and major airlines. The experience of your instructors, the resources of your commercial airline pilot school and the airline relationships that your academy has to offer will be essential to your successful career as a pilot.
Every factor will come into play when you sign up for a flight academy. The fleet of aircraft will be as important as the reputation of the school. A great tool to utilize when researching any flight school is probably how you found this guide: Google. Look up your chosen flight school and read the reviews and responses. Does the school respond to both good and bad reviews, and do they explain why the review is bad and try to rectify any issue personally and personably? Do they deliver what they promise on their websites and in their advertisements? Actual reviews from actual students are what you are looking for, not embedded website quotes and inflated statistics.
The time it takes to become a commercial pilot is completely up to you if you choose to learn at a Part 61 school, but a serious career pilot student may choose to study under Part 141, which is closely monitored by the FAA. Some schools are overseen by the United States Department of Education. In New York, for example, the Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision (BPSS) oversees and monitors non-degree granting proprietary schools. This can be an factor in helping you decide about the quality of the training you will receive.
The steps you take to become a commercial pilot are laid out all over the internet, and the certificates you earn become more advanced in their distinction as you advance further in your education. A Private Pilot cannot earn money flying, while a commercial pilot may fly for compensation. An Airline transport pilot, or ATP, may fly scheduled flights for an airline after attaining your 1500 hours of flight time among other qualifications (500 hours of cross-country, 100 hours of night, and 75 hours instrument.) There are many ways that a commercial pilot student can earn money as they continue towards their ATP. Most become flight instructors, while other options exist such as corporate, charter and sightseeing jobs. It really is all about the time building and experience you acquire as you progress in your career.
Read more about Pilot certification in the United States.
Individuals with a Commercial Pilot's License may seek employment as a pilot anywhere they choose. According to job postings for aircraft pilots, employers seek pilots to fill First Officer positions with an airline, test new aircraft, develop flight simulation programs, and conduct national security missions. Employers preferred pilots with several years of flight experience and various pilot licenses.
Where do you go after your training with Academy of Aviation?
Academy of Aviation has partnered with all major regional airlines in order for our students to participate in Cadet Programs, gain seniority while still training, earn tuition reimbursement, or earn sign-on bonuses. These partnerships include a conditional letter to interview for a First Officer position with upgrade potential to major carries such as American Airlines, JetBlue, United, etc. in as little as 2 years.
As we said before, call every school that you are interested in and talk to someone. Ask the right questions and get solid answers. Work with the school you choose to make sure you are getting the best flight education you can pay for, and find out if they are a training mill that will "place" you in a call center or at a desk after your training, or if they will really work with you to make you the best pilot you can be.
Academy of Aviation’s accelerated courses are a defining factor in getting you into the air as a working pilot, and this is manifested in the seniority ranking you will earn as you progress through your career.