From Private Pilot to Airline Pilot, and Everything in Between

Pilot on a plane
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Becoming an airline pilot is no simple task. It involves extensive training and it costs large sums of money. And even after you finally earn a commercial pilot certificate, employment is achievable only after banking a substantial number flying hours under your belt. Consequently, the path to becoming an airline pilot demands the parallel pursuits of both copious training and patient time-building.


Training can be accomplished at a Part 61 or a Part 141 flight school. The educational process entails earning the following series of certificates in the precise order listed:

  • Private Pilot Certificate
  • Instrument Rating
  • Multi-Engine Certificate
  • Commercial Pilot Certificate, with high-performance endorsement
  • Certified Flight Instructor Certificate (optional, but common)
  • Certificated Flight Instructor—Instrument Add-On and MuIti-Engine Instructor Certificate. Both are optional, but some flight schools require these as minimum qualifications for new flight instructors.


Those who achieve the aforementioned pilot certificates will likely have logged 300-500 hours of flight. But for those intent on building hours in their continuing pursuit of pilot glory, the following activities will help their cause in the interim:

  • Fly as much as possible.
  • Network with fellow pilots and airport employees.
  • Find a job as banner towing pilot
  • Find a job as an aerial photographer
  • Find a job as a flight instructor. Many flight schools offer a retainer fee to keep you as an employee, and since flight schools are often paired with fixed-base operators that have larger, faster airplanes, instructors often have the opportunity for advancement.
  • Seek opportunities to fly bigger, faster airplanes in a scheduled environment.
  • Become turbine pilot in command (PIC), which is the person aboard the aircraft responsible for its operation and safety during flight.

Within a couple of years, you should have the credentials to apply for an airline job. The timetable to achieve this depends on the discipline of each individual. Motivated folks may achieve this within three to five years, while others may require 10-15 years. However at any time during this progression, all individuals may be hired to work for a charter or corporate flight department—even with just few hours logged. Furthermore, once you pass that 1,500-hour mark, you can consider making the transition to a regional airline.