There are much tougher requirements to be a commercial airline pilot
Just to give you a taste of how tough it is to become a commercial pilot, consider this: Under 2013 FAA regulations, commercial pilots need to secure an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, which requires at least 1,500 flying hours. Previously, first officers were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time, according to the FAA, or Federal Aviation Administration.
Those hours may be reduced if you have a degree or military experience.
The FAA has authorized dozens of institutions to offer the ATP certificate. You can find a list here.
While many flight schools offer training for private pilots and people aiming to become a flight instructor, they may not offer the crucial ATP certificate. So if becoming a commercial pilot is your goal, be sure to vet your program properly first and understand the requirements. Those requirements may not include attending a full-on flight school program, which can add tens of thousands of dollars to your education costs.
Not all fight schools are the same
Flight school training courses typically last 12 months. Flight schools function more like trade schools than typical four-year or two-year institutions. There are two main types of flight schools: Part 61 and Part 141. (The different names refer to the parts of the Federal Aviation Regulations, of FARs, under which they operate.)
The biggest differences between the two are flexibility, funding opportunities for veterans, and oversight. Part 61 schools tend to be able to better accommodate part-time students, as they can arrange curriculum for individual student needs. Part 141 schools are more heavily regulated by the FAA, allow for Veterans Affairs reimbursement of tuition costs, and have lower flight-hour requirements — especially for those aiming for a commercial pilot’s license after they obtain their private pilot’s certification.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has resources to help you determine which option is best for you.
Financing can be tricky
If you dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot, you might be interested in attending flight school. Before you take out a loan to pay for flight school, it’s important to know that most commercial pilots working for mainline carriers are required to have a bachelor’s degree.
That being said, some pilots may choose to obtain certificates through flight school in order to supplement their college degree or possibly become an instructor in their own right. Still others may want to work for regional airlines, become corporate charter pilots or head to the skies purely for recreation. For these latter purposes, you may not necessarily need a bachelor’s.
But funding flight school outside of college can be tricky. Because student loans are not readily available for flight school students, those pursuing this career will likely have to look at alternative options for financing.