An airline pilot, the type you are probably more familiar with, is expected to transport people and cargo in aircraft such as airplanes and helicopters within strict time schedules. A commercial pilot would be called upon for other reasons, including charter flights, rescue operations, firefighting, photography, and aerial applications. Pilots must monitor the condition of their aircraft, evaluate weather conditions and fuel supply, and communicate with air traffic control. They have to be capable of using cockpit instruments as well as responding to unexpected occurrences quickly and calmly.
How much would you earn in this position?
In 2012, the median annual wage for all airline pilots and copilots was $114,200. Most airline pilots start off making about $20,000 per year with annual increases until captain status. In this senior position, earnings are about $55,000 per year for regional airlines and $135,000 per year for major airlines. Additionally, airline pilots receive an expense allowance for every hour they are away from home and extra pay for international flights. Their perks typically include health insurance and retirement benefits, and their immediate families usually can take free or reduced-fare flights. As for commercial pilots, the median annual wage was $73,280 in 2012.
Some skills that will help you to succeed in this career include working well under pressure, teamwork, communication, observational, and problem-solving. Pilots interact with customers as well as small teams, including copilots and flight attendants, in close quarters. Therefore, their ability to communicate is important; they must be friendly and provide clear and honest feedback.
As for education and experience requirements, commercial pilots need a high school diploma. For certain specialties, additional requirements exist. Airline pilots are required to have a bachelor’s degree in whatever subject. All pilots must possess a commercial pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration. Other certificates and ratings may be required by certain companies.
Many pilots attend some type of extra schooling to learn how to fly. This includes independent instructors, flight schools, fixed base operators, and 2 to 4 year universities. Furthermore, most jobs have on-the-job training requirements, which is usually 6-8 weeks long plus 25 hours of flight time. Pilots are not done after this, however. Tests must be passed for the remainder of their career to ensure pilots’ ability to perform certain maneuvers in certain time frames. Periodic training and medical exams also occur.
In 2012, about 64 percent of pilots worked as airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers. The remainder worked as commercial pilots. This is a fairly stressful job, as pilots may have to cope with work-related hazards such as fatigue, jetlag, hearing loss from overexposure to engine noise, high concentration demands, being responsible for other people’s safety and lives, and having to be ready at all times for emergencies or tough landings.
Pilots work all over the country, but most are based near large airports. Their work hours are regulated by federal mandates, especially pertaining to the amount of rest between flights. Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and work an additional 150 hours per month performing other duties. Schedules are often atypical, with intense days on and then several days off.
Commercial pilots usually fly between 30 hours and 90 hours per month. They typically have more nonflight responsibilities than airline pilots. Both types spend long periods of time away from home, although this is usually truer for airline pilots. All pilots are required by federal law to retire at age 65.
What interests you about this career? What other information would you like to know about it?
Occupational Outlook Handbook: Transportation and Material Moving