Commercial Pilot License

Learn more about how to become a professional pilot.
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The commercial pilot license is required to receive compensation as a professional pilot. Each country has its own requirements for the commercial pilot license although these can be similar. In this article, we will discuss the FAA commercial pilot requirements in the United States.

The FAA commercial pilot license is the minimum requirement to receive compensation as an aviator. Pilots who fly for the airlines have additional requirements that include the ATP certificate and aircraft type ratings. Commercial pilots can have various types of flying jobs including:

  • Flight Instructors
  • Corporate Flight Departments
  • Charter Operations
  • Banner Towers
  • Crop Dusting
  • Airlines
  • Sight-Seeing Flights

FAA Commercial Pilot License Requirements

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, regulates and issues pilot certification in the United States. These commercial pilot license requirements can be found in Parts 61 and 141 of Title 14. These are the FARs or Federal Aviation Regulations.

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, write and understand the English language
  • Obtain at least a 3rd Class Medical Certificate
  • Receive and log ground training
  • Log at least 250 hours of flight time as a pilot
  • Pass a Knowledge (written) Test
  • Pass a Practical (flight) Test

The list above is for Part 61 pilot training. If you attend a Part 141 school, the requirements are a little different and require less flight time.

Commercial Pilot Job Requirements 

Once you earn your commercial pilot license, it is time to search for a pilot job. These low hour pilot jobs are not as glamorous as flying a Boeing 747 around the globe, but they are a stepping stone to the airlines and large corporate flight departments. The new commercial pilot usually starts flying smaller single-engine piston aircraft. Some of these jobs are banner towing, sight-seeing flights, and flight instructing. Flight instructors have to earn their CFI or Certified Flight Instructor Certificate, and flight instructing is an excellent path to gaining flight time and experience. These jobs will give you the hours and experience needed to fly larger and more complex aircraft.

Commercial pilot jobs like flying complex jet aircraft require a different degree of experience, but for example, the regional airlines want 1500 hours of total flight time. The airlines have their own training program and will teach new pilots how to fly their jets. They also give the new pilot a type rating specific to the aircraft they fly.

How long does it take to become a commercial pilot?

There are a few options on earning your commercial pilot license. Some choose four-year college university programs which will include all your pilot certificates along with your bachelor’s degree. Other potential commercial pilots attend accelerated flight schools where these certificates could be earned within a year. 

Once you earn your commercial pilot license, you will need to build flight time to get hired at a better-paying airline or corporate jet jobs. The regional airlines require 1500 hours of flight time which could take two or three years of flight instruction for example.

Commercial Pilot School

There are a few options when choosing a commercial pilot school. 

  • Local Flying Club
  • Accelerated Part 141 School
  • Aviation University
  • Military 

How much does a Commercial Pilot License Cost?

The cost of becoming a pilot is not a simple question to answer. There are many variables on the path of becoming a commercial pilot. Someone could learn to fly for free in the military or purchase their own aircraft and hire a flight instructor. The more traditional path for a civilian pilot would be to take flying lessons at a local flying club or attend an accelerated Part 141 flight school. If a potential pilot would attend a four-year aviation university, then there would be the cost of the university credit hours along with the aircraft rental and flight instruction. According to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s website, you could expect to pay upwards of $125,000 for their degree and flight program. Earning a commercial pilot license and other required pilot certificates at a local flying club would be much cheaper, but could still be in the $25,000-$35,000 range. Again, the cost of earning a commercial pilot license can vary greatly, and the best way to get a good idea would be to make an appointment with a flight school and discuss their fees and programs. 

How much do commercial pilots make?

Commercial pilot salaries can vary greatly, but the pilot pay is on an upward trend. It’s a long road to make the $300,000 plus as a major airline captain, but most pilots flying jet aircraft will average over $100,000 per year. The smaller regional airlines are even starting pilots at over $60,000 annually. This is a huge improvement from the years of abysmal pilot pay at the regionals. First officers can even make much more than that with per diem, 401k matching, and overtime pay. Captains at the better regional airlines can easily average low six-figure pay. Once a pilot moves over to a major airline, they can expect low to mid-six figures as a first officer and captains have the ability to make $200,000 to $300,000 per year.