How to Become a Pilot

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Pilot? What Pilot do? Degrees for Pilot, Steps to become Pilot and much more.

What does a pilot do?

Pilots fly fixed-winged aircrafts and helicopters in order to provide transportation to passengers or cargo. Most aircrafts usually require two pilots at a time during a flight. One of them is the captain and the other is called the co-pilot or the first officer. The captain is responsible for the safety of the aircraft, its passengers and the cargo and is in command of the aircraft. The captain makes the final decisions and the co-pilot assists the captain. The pilots take turns flying the aircraft to avoid fatigue and safety hazards. While one of the pilots is operating the controls, the other is in constant communication with ground air traffic control and carries out the necessary paperwork and calculations.  Sometimes, there can be three or more pilots on board to take turns flying the aircraft depending on the distance of the route and type of vessel they’re flying.

Flying an aircraft requires much skill, practice and a certain set of qualifications. A pilot needs to perform a list of non exhaustive task on a day to day basis including running a check up prior to take off, briefing the crew about flight details, reporting any malfunctions, staying in constant touch with air traffic control, switching duties with the co-pilot to avoid exhaustion, monitoring all systems, filling the aircraft log among others

Steps to become a Pilot

It is not an easy job to become a pilot. It requires dedication, patience and perseverance to become a pilot. The following is an easy step by step guide of how to become a pilot

Step1. Obtain a College education 

While a degree is not mandatory, employers prefer pilots with a college education.There are college degree programs available for those who didn't learn to fly airplanes in the military. Commercial airlines prefer employees with a bachelor’s degree over those with associate’s degrees. Those that major in physics, mechanical engineering, computer science or aerospace engineering have a better educational foundation for becoming a pilot. Commercial airlines prefer applicants who have taken up aeronautical engineering along with liberal arts classes. Flight school classes are typically taught by instructors who are certified by the federal aviation administration (FAA)

Step2. Gain Flying Hours

A pilot in training needs to log a minimum of 250 flying hours before being able to earn a pilot’s license. There are two ways to log these flying hours- pilots may fly with US Armed Forces where they will be familiarized with many different types of aircraft or they can become an instructor through the FAA. Flight schools help pilots in training earn their necessary flying hours by employing them as instructors. 

Step3. Earn a License

Once the necessary flight hours are gained, the next step is to earn a pilot’s license. The applicant must be 18 years or above and can complete the rest of the requirements for a commercial pilot’s license from the federal government. Candidates must pass a physical and a written examination. While the physical examination ensures that the pilot has good vision, hearing abilities and no physical impairments that might interfere with the performance of the flight. The written exam includes safety information and a skill test that is observed by an FAA certified instructor.

Step4. Complete Additional Tests and Training

Additional tests and training are required depending on the type of pilot position. Certain airlines require their pilots to take psychological and intelligence tests. The FAA offers many different types of certification such as airworthiness certificates and medical certificates.

Step5. Don your Pilot Cap

Major airline companies prefer hiring pilots with a minimum of 4000 hours of flying hours. But pilots must begin somewhere. Hence, most pilots employed with commercial airlines work as co-pilots and obtain additional experience through this position. Alternatively, pilots may work in other industries to gain the required flying hours. These industries include emergency services, agriculture or reforestation. 

Step6. Work your way up the ladders

Pilots typically advance with experience. Pilots follow a ranking system of seniority. After gaining years of experience, typically anywhere between 5-15 years, a candidate is eligible to be promoted to the position of a pilot. Bigger airline companies have opportunities for even further promotion such as director of chief pilot position.

Salary of a Pilot

While each airline has its own pay schedule, nearly all airlines offer standard hikes annually. Pilots experience their biggest salary increase in the first five years of their career. Interestingly, this increase is often larger for first officers than for pilots with the largest hike occurring after a year of a probationary period. 

Depending on the airline, type of aircraft and the pilot’s experience level, a  regional pilot typically starts out making $20 - $50 per hour or about $20,000 to $40,000 per year. Additionally, a pilot receives a stipend during the training period as well as per diem rate when away from home. 

The average annual salary of a large jet pilot is around $122000, while small jet pilots earn an average salary of $105000. Non-jet aircraft pilots make significantly as compared to their peers flying jet aircraft. For a large non-jet pilot, the average annual salary is $79,000 and for a small non-jet aircraft pilot, the average annual salary is $85,500.

Job Growth of a Pilot

According to a report by BLS, overall employment of airline and commercial pilots is projected to grow at an average rate of 6% from 2018 to 2028. Most job opportunities are expected to arise from the need to replace pilots who retire or leave the occupation permanently over the projection period.

Most pilots commence their career as a first officer and it takes anywhere for a first officer five to fifteen years to become a pilot. Depending on the skill proficiencies, a first officer is promoted to the post of pilot. Bigger airline companies have opportunities for further position. Depending on the number of years of work experience as a pilot, a candidate can be promoted to the position of director of chief pilot.

Types of degrees for a Pilot

Earn a High School Diploma or a GED

If you want to pursue a career as a pilot, the first step is to complete your high school and earn a certificate. If you have mathematics and physics in your curriculum, it will act as a bonus point for the candidate. 

Associate Degree

In order to be able to take up the necessary training to become a pilot, a candidate has to either complete a four years bachelor’s degree or a two years associate degree. If a candidate doesn’t have the required fund to pursue a bachelor’s degree program, they can opt for an associate’s degree. Regional airlines do not require pilots to have a four years degree. An associate degree in Science with a focus on physics and mathematics will help you prepare better for the training.

Bachelor’s Degree

For most of the major airlines, a four years bachelor’s degree is a must for a pilot. Candidates must pursue a bachelor's of science with specialization in the field of aviation. Since major airlines pay better than regional airlines, it is recommended to pursue a four years bachelor’s degree. For those that do not pursue a bachelor’s of science but want to pursue a career as a pilot may be able to land him interviews with a smaller airline. The four year bachelor’s degree program is a credential indicating that the candidate has the ability to think critically and complete the airlines’ unique education program.


Once a candidate is done with their bachelor’s degree, pilots will need to obtain a private pilot certificate. As per the FAA, pilots have a minimum of 40 flight hours.. The most ideal place to get certified training are schools that are overseen by the FAA. They offer highest quality training programs that have highly structured phases of learning.

After obtaining a private pilot license, a pilot must obtain instrument rating and commercial certificate which is necessary for any pilot who wants to be paid for flying passengers or cargo. A pilot must have at least 50 flying hours of Pilot in command flying across the country in order to obtain instrument rating. For a commercial certificate, a pilot is required to fly 250 hours of time including 100 hours of PIC, 50 hours of cross country flying and a minimum of 10 hours of learning inside of a complex aircraft.


A pilot must be at least 18 years of age and have a minimum of 250 flying hours in order to be licensed by FAA. For candidates who have completed classes at a flight school approved by the FAA, the flying hours necessary for the license are likely to be reduced. Once hired for the licensure, pilots will have to partake in a week long indoctrination period followed by four to six weeks of training in a flight simulator as well as ground school work. Post this another 25 hours of initial operating experience will be necessary wherein there will be a test ride in the presence of an FAA representative. Pilots must attend simulator checks and partake in recurrent training sessions multiple times per year throughout their entire career.

Concentrations to consider

In order to be a pilot, it is advised that one must complete a four-year bachelor’s degree with focus on aeronautics. Following are the curriculum concentrations to consider :

  • Flight Dynamics: students will learn about motion in this course. It is important to understand how objects move through air or space and is an essential requirement for those who design vehicles. Topics include Kepler’s laws, orbital motion and other equations related to motion.

  • Aerodynamics: Students are introduced to the fundamentals of aerodynamics and review topics such as hypersonic flow and wind tunnels. This is a basic course and is a prerequisite for upper level studies.

  • Aerospace Computing: Aviation students should master computing topics such as C++, arrays, branching and data structures. 

  • Aviation Meteorology: A background in metereology is essential for pilots. One of the day to day job of a pilot is to read weather reports, analyze weather patterns and forecast the weather

Job Concentrations for a pilot

Following are the job concentrations for a pilot

  • Aircraft Pilot: The most common job concentration is to become an aircraft pilot. There are 2 types of aircraft pilot- commercial and cargo. In addition to flying and navigating air transportation, an aircraft pilot is also responsible for quality assurance before and after flights. A pilot has to have an understanding of meteorology to anticipate and address weather-related problems 

  • Academician: Those that want to get into the field of academics and research have to pursue a doctoral degree program in the subject they intend to teach. Profs in the aeronautical field teach curriculums in engineering, design, theory and flight. They teach students the fundamental principles of aerospace and systems related to flight

  • Air Traffic Controller: air traffic controllers ensure safety of the aircraft by monitoring operations in the air and on land. ATCs help aircraft stay on course and maintain safe distances during flight , take off and landings.

Stand out skills for a Pilot

The following skills will help you stand out as a Pilot : 

  • Good interpersonal and communication skills: A pilot has to be constantly in touch with the ground air control, the cabin crew and the passengers and even a slight miscommunication can lead to risking the lives of passengers and crew on board. Hence, it is important that the pilot has good communication skills for the smooth flying of the airplane. 

  • Teamwork and leadership skills: The pilot is in charge and in command of the flight. Hence it is important to show leadership skills as the pilot is responsible for making all the final calls. Being able to work as a team with the crew, coordinating and assigning tasks and working alongside a co-pilot are few of the KRAs of a pilot. It requires the pilot to have a spirit of teamwork.

  • Good Mathematical and physics skills: A pilot needs to be able to calculate and design flight routes and fuel consumption plans. This is where mathematics and physics come into play. A pilot must possess excellent mathematical and physics skills.

  • Stress management and decision making skills :  having good stress management skills will help in moments of high stress. This will help the pilot remain calm and focussed. In case of emergencies a pilot must be able to assess the situation and handle the situation in a timely manner. To be able to make quick and effective decisions is one of the most important skills to become successful as a pilot.

  • Good understanding of Mechanical and flight engineering: A pilot must have a good understanding of mechanical and flight engineering. A pilot must be capable of running system inspections, fixing minor problems if needed and have a good understanding of the basic and complex concepts of airplane systems

  • Good Stamina and physical condition: One of the most important skills for a pilot is to have good stamina. A pilot must possess the stamina for flying  an aircraft through long routes and have excellent vision and hearing abilities. It is important to note that pilots should not suffer from cardiac conditions.

Pilot Salaries