Considering a Pilot Career?

Airplane pilot
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Professional pilots fly and navigate airplanes, helicopters, and other types of aircraft. Airline pilots work for specific companies, transporting people and cargo on fixed schedules, while commercial pilots work for companies that offer charter flights, rescue operations, or aerial photography. 

Modern airplanes are operated by a cockpit crew made up of the captain and the co-pilot or first officer. Together, they share responsibility for flight duties such as steering the plane, communicating with air traffic controllers, and monitoring instruments. Older plans may also have a flight engineer on board, while newer aircraft have automated this role.

Pay and Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers was $111,930 per year as of May 2017, the most recent figures available as of February 6, 2019. The median salary for commercial pilots during the same period was $78,740.

There were roughly 124,800 jobs available as of 2016. The BLS expects the industry to continue to continue to grow 4 percent through 2026, which is a much lower than the average for other jobs. Openings will become available as people retire from the industry. That means competition in the field will be strong, as there will be more pilots than job openings by 2026. 

Pilot Qualifications

Pilots receive their training in the military or by attending U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified flight schools. Most employers prefer to hire candidates who have a bachelor's degree, although the minimum education requirement is two years of college. Coursework should include English, math, physics, and aeronautical engineering.

To work as a pilot, you need a commercial pilot's license. In addition, you must be least 18 years old and have 250 hours of flight experience, vision that is correctable to 20/20, and no physical handicap that may affect job performance. You will also have to pass physical and written exams, in addition to a flight exam during which you will demonstrate your flying ability to an FAA-designated examiner.

Airline captains and first officers need a transport pilot certificate. To qualify for one, a pilot must be 23 years old with 1,500 hours of flight time, and pass written and flight exams.

Required Soft Skills

Along with the ability to fly an aircraft, pilots also need particular soft skills or personal qualities. You must have excellent communication and problem-solving skills, and be detail-oriented. The ability to work as part of a team is vital. In addition to working with your crew, you must also work with air traffic controllers and flight dispatchers.

Requirements employers listed in actual job announcements on Indeed.com include:

  • "Exceptional interpersonal skills with an ability to get along with others"
  • "Able to prioritize tasks and projects"
  • "Conducts business in a professional manner and demeanor at all times"
  • "Ability to adapt to unusual working hours and working conditions"

Common Job Tasks

While job duties may vary depending on the type of pilot, there are some that are common among pilots. According to job postings on Indeed.com, a pilot's tasks may include performing pre- and post-flight aircraft inspections; selecting safe and efficient flight routes; determining risks that may occur; keeping accurate records for compliance purposes; communicating with required agencies and personnel; and ensuring the safety and comfort of the passengers, crew, and aircraft. 

Other Considerations

Although a pilot career may sound attractive with the travel benefits, it also has its drawbacks: 

  • Airline pilots spend an average of 75 hours each month flying and 150 hours on non-flight duties. Commercial pilots fly between 30 and 90 hours per month.
  • Both have irregular schedules that involve working several days in a row and then having several days off.
  • Airline pilots must have, as mandated by the FAA, at least eight hours of rest between flights.
  • They are often away from home for a few days at a time.
  • Those who have seniority with an airline get preferred routes, so newer pilots may not get to choose where they fly.

    Related Occupations

    You may also want to consider other positions that require some of the same skills as that of a pilot, such as

    • Air Traffic Controller. Directs the movement of aircraft in the air and on runways 
    • Ship Captain. Commands water vessels that carry people and cargo to various destinations
    • Flight Attendant. Keeps aircraft passengers safe and comfortable

    A pilot career may seem alluring and adventurous, as it provides an opportunity to visit other places. However, it can also be tiring and isolating, and cost you time away from loved ones. Before you invest the time and effort in pursuing such a career, make sure that you are fully informed about it to make the best decision for your future.