Airline pilots and commercial pilots share a great deal in common. For example, they’re both responsible for assessing the overall condition of aircraft before and after flights, verifying fuel supply and load balance, preparing and submitting flight plans to air traffic control, monitoring aircraft systems during flight, responding to changes in weather, wind, and other factors — and the list of critically important tasks goes on. Indeed, it is a difficult and demanding set of obligations, which is why for many pilots the role is less of an occupation, and more of a calling; one that certainly has its rewards, both personally and professionally.
However, according to experienced pilot and flight instructor Henry Vinson of Cincinnati, Ohio, there are some significant differences regarding the training requirements for commercial pilots versus airline pilots in the U.S.
Commercial Pilot Training
Under federal government regulations, commercial pilots require a minimum of 250 hours of flight time, which must include at least 100 hours in powered aircraft (of which at least 50 hours must be in airplanes); 100 hours of pilot-in-command (PIC) flight time (of which at least 50 hours in airplanes and 50 hours is in cross-country flights); at least 10 hours of instrument training; and at least 10 hours of training in a complex aircraft. Prospective commercial pilots must also hold a private pilot license, receive logbook endorsements from their instructor, and pass two tests: the commercial pilot knowledge test (a.k.a. CAX), and the commercial pilot practical test (a.k.a. checkride).
Henry W. Vinson says that generally, it takes around six or seven months for an individual with no prior flight experience to obtain their commercial pilot license. Job prospects for commercial pilots is currently very strong, with a projected occupational growth of six percent from 2018 to 2028 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Henry Vinson Explains Airline Pilot Training
Under federal government regulations, prospective airline pilots who want to earn their airline transport pilot certificate must be at least 23 years of age; be capable of reading, writing, and speaking English; have good moral character; hold a private pilot license (which can take around three months and requires at least 40 hours of flight time); and hold a commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating. They must also log a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time (of which at least 500 hours must be cross country; at least 100 hours must be at night; and at least 75 hours must involve instrument flight time), and pass both a written test and a flight test.
Henry W. Vinson says that pilots who obtain an airline transport pilot certificate have demonstrated their mastery of aviation skills. What’s more, airline pilots are significantly in-demand these days as a growing number of experienced pilots are reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. For example, in 2017 the FAA reported that there were approximately 609,000 airline pilots in the U.S., which was 30 percent less than the number in 1987. And as more people book flights each year, the demand for airline pilots— and the shortage — is only going to get bigger and bigger.