What you need to know
Airline and commercial pilots fly and navigate airplanes, helicopters, and other aircraft. Airline pilots work primarily for airlines that transport passengers and cargo on a fixed schedule. Commercial pilots are involved in unscheduled flight activities, such as aerial application, charter flights, and aerial tours.
Airline pilots may spend several nights a week away from home because flight assignments often involve overnight layovers. Commercial pilots also may have irregular schedules. Although most commercial pilots remain near their home overnight, some may still work nonstandard hours.
Some of the things pilots might do
- 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
- 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.
The average pay for pilots in the United States ranges from $43,570 to more than $208,000.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Overall employment of airline and commercial pilots is projected to grow 4 percent from 2016 to 2026, slower than the average for all occupations.
Most job opportunities will arise from the need to replace pilots who leave the workforce. Over the next 10 years, many pilots are expected to retire as they reach the required retirement age of 65.
Airline pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree in any subject, along with a commercial pilot’s license and an ATP certificate from the FAA. Airline pilots typically start their careers flying as commercial pilots. Commercial pilots usually accrue thousands of hours of flight experience in order to get a job with regional or major airlines.
Commercial pilots must have a commercial pilot’s license and usually need a high school diploma or equivalent. The most common path to becoming a commercial pilot is to complete flight training with independent FAA-certified flight instructors or at schools that offer flight training. Some flight schools are part of 2- and 4-year colleges and universities.
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