How to Become an Airline Pilot

Airline Pilot
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Have you ever wondered what it takes to be an airline pilot? Perhaps you’ve considered a career in aviation, or maybe you simply wonder how pilots get their wings. Either way, you can be assured that learning to fly an airplane isn’t much more complex than learning to operate your new iPad, especially considering many airplanes are flown mostly by computers these days. Training to become an airline pilot does, however, require hard work and a significant financial commitment.

Here are four possible routes that a prospective pilot could take to become an airline pilot:

Here's how to become an airline pilot

Part 61 or Part 141 Flight School:
Most people start flying at with a small flight school at a local airport. Most of these schools are categorized as Part 61 flight schools, but some are considered Part 141. What's the difference? Part 61 details the requirements for the certification of pilots, while CFR Part 141 describes the regulations surrounding pilot schools. 

Flight instruction that takes place under Part 61 is the least regulated, making it the most informal and often the least expensive option. Instructors at Part 61 schools can conduct training in the manner they choose, without much oversight from the FAA.

Part 141 flight schools, on the other hand, must adhere to a strict training outline that has been approved by the FAA. Both training methods might offer a casual, at-your-own-pace environment, but Part 141 training is known to be a bit more fast-paced.

Most flight schools offer training on nights and weekends. With this route, a student can get the necessary certificates and ratings to become a commercial pilot, but will still need additional experience to become an airline pilot. For this reason, many pilots go on to become flight instructors.


Aviation College or University
The obvious benefit of attending a college or university with an aviation program, such as UND or ERAU, is that students can earn a four-year degree while learning to fly.

Coursework consists of aviation-related classes that are geared toward the career pilot, and the quality of training is high. A university might provide a student with a professional experience and the most up-to-date technology and equipment in the country.

The disadvantage of a collegiate program is the cost. But scholarships and other types of financial aid are available to help offset tuition and flight costs. After graduating, most students need additional experience to become an airline pilot.


Aviation Academy
An advanced technical program or aviation academy, such as ATP offers a way for students to gain the required pilot certificates and knowledge in a short amount of time. Often these programs will train people to be airline pilots in a year or two with condensed coursework and intense airline-oriented training under a Part 141 program. Many times these companies will partner with airlines to offer guaranteed job interviews to graduates. The biggest drawback here is the cost. Advanced technical programs are the most expensive option.


Military Aviation Career
A military aviation career can ease the financial burden of flight training. While the military expects a lengthy commitment from its aviators (about ten years), the training is paid, making this a desirable option for some.

In addition to the financial benefits, military pilots can enjoy traveling the world while gaining experience flying large aircraft.

Becoming a military pilot means facing stringent acceptance requirements, both physically and mentally.

The drawbacks of becoming a military pilot include the long commitment, a lot of time away from home, and the likelihood of deployments. When the commitment is over, many military pilots apply for airline jobs. Military experience is highly desired by airline recruiters, though, and pilots with a military background can typically find work easily within the civilian aviation industry when they leave the military.



  1. To save money, order the required books and/or software and study at home.
  2. Does the thought of flying an airplane intimidate you? Remember that flying the aircraft isn't the hard part for most people. Finding the time and money to complete flight training is usually the bigger challenge.
  1. Gain support by joining a professional aviation organization in your community, such as the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), or the Aircraft Owners and Pilot's Association (AOPA). Many times these organizations offer scholarships and free training seminars.