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Published by CareerChoiceInfo.com All information in this book is obtained or verified by the U.S. Department of Labor All Rights Reserved Š 2012


Airline and Commercial Pilot Careers


Summary

What Airline and Commercial Pilots Do Airline and commercial pilots fly and navigate airplanes or helicopters. Airline pilots fly for airlines that transport people and cargo on a fixed schedule. Commercial pilots fly aircraft for other reasons, such as charter flights, rescue operations, firefighting, aerial photography, and crop dusting. Work Environment Pilots spend a considerable amount of time away from home because flights often involve overnight layovers. Those who fly international routes may experience jetlag. Many have variable schedules. How to Become an Airline or Commercial Pilot Many pilots learn to fly in the military, but a growing number have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from a civilian flight school. All pilots who are paid to transport passengers or cargo must have a commercial pilot’s license and an instrument rating. Pay In May 2010, median annual wages of airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers were $103,210, and median annual wages of commercial pilots were $67,500. Job Outlook Employment of airline and commercial pilots is expected to grow 11 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Regional airlines and low-cost carriers will present the best job opportunities. Pilots seeking jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition.


Index Chapter 1

How to become a Airline or Commercial Pilot................. 1

Chapter 2

What they do ....................................................................... 5

Chapter 3

Work environment .............................................................. 7

Chapter 4

Pay ........................................................ .............................. 9

Chapter 5

Job Outlook ..................................................................... 11

Chapter 6

Additional Contacts for more information .........................13


Chapter 1 _______________________________________

How to Become an Airline or Commercial Pilot _______________________________________ Many pilots learn to fly in the military, but a growing number now earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from a civilian flying school. All pilots who are paid to transport passengers or cargo must have a commercial pilot’s license and an instrument rating. To qualify for a commercial pilot’s license, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have at least 250 hours of flight experience. Education and Training Military veterans have always been an important source of experienced pilots because of the extensive training and flight time that the military provides. However, an increasing number of people are becoming pilots by attending flight school or taking lessons from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified instructor. The FAA certifies hundreds of civilian flight schools, including some colleges and universities that offer pilot training as part of an aviation degree. In addition, most airline companies require at least 2 years of college and prefer to hire college graduates. In fact, most pilots today have a bachelor’s degree. Because the number of college-educated applicants continues to increase, many employers are making a college degree an entry-level requirement. Preferred courses for airline pilots include English, math, physics, and aeronautical engineering. Because pilots must be able to make quick decisions and react appropriately under pressure, airline companies will often reject applicants who do not


pass psychological and aptitude tests. Once hired by an airline, new pilots undergo additional company training that usually includes 6-8 weeks of ground school and 25 hours of additional flight time. After they finish this training, airline pilots must keep their certification by attending training once or twice a year. Licenses Commercial pilot’s license. All pilots who are paid to transport passengers or cargo must have a commercial pilot’s license. To qualify for this license, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have at least 250 hours of flight experience. Applicants must also pass a strict physical exam to make sure that they are in good health, must have vision that is correctable to 20/20, and must have no physical handicaps that could impair their performance. In addition, they must pass a written test that includes questions about safety procedures, navigation techniques, and FAA regulations. Finally, they must demonstrate their flying ability to an FAA-designated examiner. Instrument rating. To fly during periods of low visibility, pilots must be rated to fly by instruments. They may qualify for this rating by having at least 40 hours of instrument flight experience. Pilots also must pass a written exam and show an examiner their ability to fly by instruments. Airline certifications. Currently, airline captains must have an airline transport pilot certificate. In 2013, new regulations will require first officers to have this certificate as well. Applicants must be at least 23 years old, have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time, and pass written and flight exams. Furthermore, airline pilots usually maintain one or more advanced ratings, depending on the requirements of their particular aircraft. All licenses are valid as long as a pilot can pass periodic physical, eye, and flight examinations. Advancement Many civilian pilots start as flight instructors, building up their flight hours


while they earn money teaching. As they become more experienced, these instructors can move into jobs as commercial pilots. Commercial pilots may begin their careers flying charter planes, helicopters, or crop dusters. These positions typically require less experience than airline jobs require. Some commercial pilots may advance to flying corporate planes. In nonairline jobs, a first officer may advance to captain and, in large companies, to chief pilot or director of aviation. However, many pilots use their commercial experience as a steppingstone to becoming an airline pilot. Airline pilots may begin as flight engineers or first officers for regional airline companies. Newly hired pilots at regional airline companies typically have about 2,000 hours of flight experience. Over time, experience gained at these jobs may lead to higher paying jobs with major airline companies. Newly hired pilots at major airline companies typically have about 4,000 hours of flight experience. For airline pilots, advancement depends on a system of seniority outlined in union contracts. Typically, after 1 to 5 years, flight engineers may advance to first officer and, after 5 to 15 years, to captain. Important Qualities Communication skills. Pilots must speak clearly when conveying information to air traffic controllers. They must also listen carefully for instructions. Depth perception. Pilots must be able to see clearly and judge the distance between objects. Detail oriented. Pilots must watch many systems at the same time. Even small changes can have significant effects, so they must constantly pay close attention to many details. Monitoring skills. Pilots must regularly watch over gauges and dials to make sure that all systems are in working order. Problem-solving skills. Pilots must be able to identify complex problems and figure out appropriate solutions. When a plane encounters turbulence,


for example, pilots assess the weather conditions, select a calmer airspace, and request a route change from air traffic control. Quick reaction time. Because warning signals can appear with no notice, pilots must be able to respond quickly to any impending danger. Teamwork. Pilots work closely with air traffic controllers and flight dispatchers. As a result, they need to be able to coordinate actions on the basis of the feedback they receive.


Chapter 2 __________________ What Airline and Commercial Pilots Do _______________________________ Airline and commercial pilots fly and navigate airplanes or helicopters. Airline pilots fly for airlines that transport people and cargo on a fixed schedule. Commercial pilots fly aircraft for other reasons, such as charter flights, rescue operations, firefighting, aerial photography, and crop dusting. Pilots typically do the following: • Follow a checklist of preflight checks on engines, hydraulics, and other systems • Ensure that all cargo has been loaded and that the aircraft weight is properly balanced • Check fuel, weather conditions, and flight schedules • Contact the control tower for takeoff and arrival instructions • Start engines, operate controls, and steer aircraft along planned routes • Monitor engines, fuel consumption, and other aircraft systems during flight • Navigate the aircraft, using cockpit instruments • Ensure a smooth takeoff and landing For all but small aircraft, two pilots usually make up the cockpit crew. Generally, the most experienced pilot, the captain, is in command and supervises all other crew members. The copilot, often called the first officer, shares flight duties with the captain. These duties include communicating with air traffic controllers, monitoring instruments, and steering the plane.


Some older planes require a third pilot known as a flight engineer. This person helps the other pilots by monitoring instruments and operating controls. New technology has automated many of these tasks, and most new planes do not require a flight engineer. Before departure, pilots plan their flights carefully, checking various systems on the aircraft and making sure that baggage and cargo have been loaded correctly. They also confer with air traffic controllers to learn about weather conditions and to confirm the flight route. Takeoffs and landings are the most difficult parts of the flight and require close coordination between the pilot and copilot. Once in the air, the captain and first officer usually alternate flying each leg of the flight. After landing, pilots must fill out records that document their flight and the maintenance status of the plane. Some airline pilots may have to help handle customer complaints. With proper training, airline pilots may also be deputized as federal law enforcement officers and be issued firearms to protect the cockpit. Commercial pilots employed by charter companies usually have many more nonflight duties. For example, they may schedule flights, arrange for maintenance of the plane, and load luggage to ensure a balanced weight. Pilots who fly helicopters must constantly look out for trees, bridges, power lines, transmission towers, and other dangerous obstacles. Regardless of the type of aircraft, all pilots must monitor warning devices that detect sudden shifts in wind patterns. The following are occupational specialties: Airline pilots work for airline companies that transport passengers and cargo according to fixed schedules. Commercial pilots are involved in other flight activities, such as crop dusting, charter flights, and aerial photography. Flight instructors use simulators and dual-controlled aircraft to teach students how to fly.


Chapter 3 ____________ Work Environment _____________________________

Pilots held about 103,500 civilian jobs in 2010. About 68 percent worked as airline pilots and 32 percent worked as commercial pilots. In 2010, most airline pilots—about 85 percent—worked for airline companies; the remainder worked for the federal government or express delivery companies. Commercial pilots are typically employed by charter companies, private businesses, flight schools, and hospitals. About 9 percent of these pilots were self-employed in 2010. In 2010, the following industries employed the largest numbers of commercial pilots: Nonscheduled air transportation 31% Technical and trade schools 13% Support activities for air transportation 8% Other ambulatory health care services 6% Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 3% Pilots are located throughout the country, and many are based near large airports. About 62 percent of all pilots are members of a union. The figure is even higher for the airline industry, in which 95 percent of airline pilots are members of a union, including the Air Line Pilots Association, International, and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations. Pilots must learn to cope with several work-related hazards. For example, airline pilots assigned to international routes may experience jetlag. To guard against fatigue, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires


airline companies to allow pilots at least 8 hours of uninterrupted rest between shifts. Commercial pilots face other types of job hazards. Crop dusters, for example, may be exposed to toxic chemicals and seldom have the benefit of a regular landing strip. Helicopter pilots involved in rescue operations may be required to navigate dangerous airspace. All pilots face the risk of hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to engine noise. Although flying does not involve much physical effort, the mental stress of being responsible for the safety of passengers can be fatiguing. Pilots must be alert and quick to react if something goes wrong, particularly during takeoff and landing. As a result, federal law requires pilots to retire at age 65. Work Schedules Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and work an additional 150 hours per month doing nonflight duties. Pilots also have variable work schedules, according to which they work several days in a row followed by several days off. Flight shifts also are variable, because airline companies operate flights throughout the day. Flight assignments are based on seniority. In general, that means that pilots who have worked at the company for a long time get preferred routes. Pilots spend a considerable amount of time away from home because flight assignments often involve overnight layovers—sometimes up to 3 nights a week. When pilots are away from home, the airlines provide hotel accommodations, transportation to the airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses. Commercial pilots also have irregular schedules, typically flying between 30 hours and 90 hours each month. Because commercial pilots frequently have many nonflight responsibilities, they have much less free time than airline pilots. Although most commercial pilots remain near their home overnight, they may still work odd hours. Pilots for a corporate fleet may fly regular schedules.


Chapter 4 _________________ Pay _____________________________

Median annual wages, May 2010 Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers Airline and Commercial Pilots Commercial Pilots Total, All Occupations

$103,210 $92,060 $67,500 $33,840

Note: All Occupations includes all occupations in the U.S. Economy. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics The median annual wage of airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $103,210 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Among airline pilots, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,980 and the top 10 percent earned more than $166,400. The median annual wage of commercial pilots was $67,500 in May 2010. Among commercial pilots, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,860 and the top 10 percent earned more than $119,650. According to the Air Line Pilots Association, International, most airline pilots begin their careers at about $20,000 per year. Wages increase each year until the pilot accumulates the experience and seniority needed to become a captain. The average captain at a regional airline company earns about $55,000 per year, while the average captain at a major airline company earns about $135,000 per year.


In addition, airline pilots receive an expense allowance, or “per diem,� for every hour they are away from home, and they may earn extra pay for international flights. Airline pilots also are eligible for health insurance and retirement benefits, and their immediate families usually are entitled to free or reduced-fare flights. About 62 percent of all pilots are members of a union. The figure is even higher for the airline industry, in which 95 percent of airline pilots are members of a union, including the Air Line Pilots Association and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations. In May 2010, average annual wages in industries employing the largest numbers of commercial pilots were as follows: Aerospace product and parts manufacturing $98,640 Nonscheduled air transportation $68,720 Other ambulatory health care services $64,130 Support activities for air transportation $57,550 Technical and trade schools $57,080 Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and work an additional 150 hours per month doing nonflight duties. Pilots also have variable work schedules, according to which they work several days in a row followed by several days off. Flight shifts also are variable, because airline companies operate flights throughout the day. Flight assignments are based on seniority, so more experienced pilots get preferred routes. Pilots spend a considerable amount of time away from home because flight assignments often involve overnight layovers—sometimes up to 3 nights a week. When pilots are away from home, the airlines provide hotel accommodations, transportation to the airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses. Commercial pilots also have irregular schedules, typically flying between 30 hours and 90 hours each month. Because commercial pilots frequently have many nonflight responsibilities, they have much less free time than airline pilots. Although most commercial pilots remain near their home overnight, they may still work odd hours. Pilots for a corporate fleet may fly regular schedules.


Chapter 5 _________________ Job Outlook _____________________________

Employment of airline and commercial pilots is projected to grow 11 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Modest employment growth is expected as air travel gradually increases over the decade and as more travel takes place between Asia and the United States. Job opportunities will be spread among both passenger and cargo airline companies. However, employment growth may be tempered if airline companies raise prices to pay for higher taxes and fuel costs. Job Prospects Most job opportunities will arise from the need to replace pilots who leave the workforce. Between 2010 and 2020, many pilots are expected to retire as they reach the required retirement age of 65. As older pilots retire and younger pilots advance, entry-level positions may open up. And the demand for flight instructors may increase as they are needed to train a greater number of student pilots. Job prospects should be best with regional airlines, on low-cost carriers, or in general aviation, because these segments are anticipated to grow faster than the major airlines. In addition, entry-level requirements are lower for regional and commercial jobs. However, pilots with less than 500 flight hours will probably need to accumulate hours as flight instructors or commercial pilots before qualifying for regional airline jobs.


Pilots seeking jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition because those firms tend to attract many more applicants than the number of job openings. Applicants also will have to compete with furloughed pilots for available jobs. Pilots with the greatest number of flight and instrument hours usually have the best prospects. For this reason, military and experienced pilots will have an advantage over entry-level applicants.


Chapter 6 _________________________ Additional Contact Information ___________________________________________

For more information about pilots, visit: Federal Aviation Administration www. http://www.faa.gov/ Air Line Pilots Association, International http://www.alpa.org/ Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations http://www.capapilots.org/ Helicopter Association International http://www.rotor.com/ For more information about job opportunities, contact an airline company personnel manager, browse the classified section of aviation trade magazines, or contact companies that operate aircraft at local airports.


Airline Careers  

Airline and Commercial Pilot Careers

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