Education and Training: Commercial Pilot Certificate; Private Pilot Certificate; civilian flight school or military flight training; high school diploma required, some college preferred
Average Salary: $67,500 per year
Job Outlook: Good
Commercial pilots fly airplanes or helicopters in a number of different industries and capacities. They may transport persons on non-regular schedules, such as a corporate CEO or a journalist, working in a corporate travel department or being self-employed. They may transport cargo for a transport company, follow criminals or rescue hurt or injured people in collaboration with law enforcement and rescue personnel. They may test airplanes for aircraft manufacturers and finally they may release seeds or pesticides over fields for farmers or agricultural companies.
The duties of commercial pilots include planning flights, including the route and altitude; checking the aircraft instruments, systems and equipment prior to takeoff and monitoring them throughout the flight; and flying the aircraft. Commercial pilots may have to go to or service areas without regular air service, take off and land without a landing strip, or otherwise operate in poor conditions.
The non-flying duties of commercial pilots include record keeping, liaising with others, and loading and unloading cargo.
Education and Training Requirements
Commercial pilots must first attend a civilian flight school or receive military flight training and gain flight experience. Then they apply to get a Private Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, which includes passing a flight test and oral test. Afterwards, they apply for a Commercial Pilot Certificate. This includes additional flight time requirements, a written test and a flight and oral test. Commercial pilots also typically receive some on-the-job training with their employer.
The commercial pilot career requires a high school diploma; however, employers prefer candidates who have attended at least some college. Relevant college courses include English, physics and math.
Getting the Job
Aspiring commercial pilots must first earn a Private Pilot Certificate and a Commercial Pilot Certificate. They can then apply for commercial pilot jobs at companies throughout the country, or even become self employed.
Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development
The employment outlook for commercial pilots is good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 19 percent increase in employment for commercial pilots between 2008 and 2018. And as of 2010, Texas, Florida and California hire the greatest number of commercial pilots in the nation.
With experience, commercial pilots can advance to higher-paying commercial pilot positions, or else become an airline pilot.
Working Conditions and Environment
Commercial pilots have flying duties in the aircraft as well as non-flying duties on the ground such as record keeping and loading the aircraft. Their number of flying hours may vary greatly from month to month and working odd hours or irregular schedules may be required. However, commercial pilots are typically back at their home the same day.
As a result of commercial pilots’ constant exposure to engine noise, hearing loss is an ongoing risk. In addition, the job may be prove stressful, as commercial pilots have to deal with varying weather conditions and assume the responsibility for safe and successful flights.
Some commercial pilot jobs are more hazardous than others – test pilots and rescue pilots may be at risk for personal injury and crop dusters for exposure to toxins and chemicals.
Salary and Benefits
With an average median salary of $67,500, commercial pilots earn between $34,860 and $119,650 each year. Salaries vary greatly depending on the exact work performed, industry, employer and geographic location. However, commercial pilots who work in the states of New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York or who fly for corporate flight departments earn the most money. Health insurance and life insurance are typically provided by employers.
Where to Go for More Information
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20591
Helicopter Association International
1635 Prince St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
999 University St.
Montréal, Quebec H3C 5H7