If you are considering becoming an airline pilot, you might be wondering if you meet all the requirements. Everyone knows that the path to becoming an airline pilot is not an easy one, but the exact requirements can be confusing. We had to contact several sources to put together this complete list.
In this article we’ll look at all of the requirements you’ll need to meet in order to become an airline pilot. This includes eligibility, education, training, and the hiring process itself.
We’ve used information from current airline pilots, hiring standards from major airlines, as well as the FAA requirements for airline pilots.
The ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) License
The governing body for the aviation industry in the United States is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). For someone to work as a pilot in the United States, they need to meet all requirements the FAA has set for airline pilots in order to earn a Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license. This license is the one required for pilots who will be flying with paid passengers as airline pilots do.
The ATP license is the highest level of license available to a pilot in the United States and requires the most training, flight time, and experience to earn.
Although each airline does have some of their own hiring standards, you will first have to meet these federal requirements to even have the ATP license in the first place.
Airline Pilot Eligibility
In order to be eligible to earn the Airline Transport Pilot license, you’ll first have to meet some basic eligibility requirements. This is before you have taken any tests or applied for a job. This just lets the FAA know that with enough training and practice, you might be able to become an airline pilot.
Here is a list of these requirements:
- Be of good moral character
- You must be at least 23 years old
- Hold a current commercial pilot license and instrument rating
- Pass FAA medical exam (learn more: FAA Medical Exam)
- Meet all required training, flight hours, and testing requirements
As you can see, before beginning your journey to become an airline pilot, you’ll first have to pass a medical exam as well as have some flying experience. This means that for most people, you aren’t going to go from never having flown a plane directly to airline pilot.
You’ll likely have to learn the basics of being a pilot by learning to fly smaller planes and earning lower licenses before eventually working your way up to the ATP license.
FAA Medical Exam
One requirement for becoming an airline pilot that worries a lot of people is the medical exam. You’ll have to go through a process of getting a medical exam specifically to be cleared to be a pilot.
Many prospective pilots that have some pre-existing condition worry about this exam. The fear for many people is that unless you are perfectly healthy you won’t be allowed to become a pilot. In reality, the goal of this exam is to make sure that you and your passengers are safe.
There are many pilots that have health issues that are managed by a doctor. As long as you are staying on your medication and are completely upfront with what health issues you have, many of them can be accommodated.
A common question we hear all the time is if a college degree is required to be an airline pilot. The answer can be a little complicated. Generally speaking, the answer is no. The FAA does not require airline pilots to have a bachelors degree. The catch is that many of the airlines either require it, or prefer it.
For many of the larger airlines here in the United States (American, United, Delta, Southwest) a college degree is required to be an airline pilot. For some of the smaller airlines (Allegiant, Spirit, Hawaiian) a college degree is not required although they would prefer it.
For the airlines that do require a college degree, they do not have a requirement as to what that degree is in. So, if you have a degree in an unrelated subject and eventually want to become an airline pilot, you should be fine provided you meet all other requirements.
If you don’t have a college degree, you can still work as an airline pilot for one of the smaller/regional airlines. If you want to someday get a job flying with the larger airline, you’ll likely have to go back to school to earn that degree.
- Related: Do pilots need a college degree?
Flight Time Requirements
In order to earn your ATP license, you’ll have to get quite of bit of flying under your belt. In order to ensure that airline pilots are the highest trained and most experienced pilots in the sky, the FAA has the following requirements:
- 1500 hours of flight time, including…
- 500 hours of this being cross-country time
- 100 hours of night flying
- 50 hours in the class of airplane you’ll be getting a rating for
- 75 hours of instrument time
- 250 hours of flight time as pilot in command
- Pass written tests
- Pass practical tests (practice flights)
All of this is in addition to already having earned:
- Commercial pilot license
- Instrument rating
If this seems like a lot of flying – it’s because it is. In fact, most airline pilots cut the costs on all of these flight hours by first earning one of the pilot licenses that requires less training then getting a job using that license to build up hours. For example, you can earn your commercial pilot license then work as a cargo pilot. That way, you are getting paid to get those 1500+ flight hours instead of paying to rent an airplane and hire an instructor.
Written and Practical Exams
Once you’ve completed all of the training needed and have all of the flight hours listed above, you’ll finally have the opportunity to earn your airline transport pilot license. To do so, you’ll have to pass both a written and a practical test.
The written test is exactly what it sounds like – an exam to test your knowledge as a pilot. The practical exam is a hands-on test actually flying an aircraft.
Have you ever noticed while travelling that pilots seem to always look nearly perfect? That is because airline pilots have to adhere to the appearance standards that their airline has set. For airline pilots, this typically includes the following:
- Uniform that is clean and pressed
- Little or no facial hair (beards are typically not allowed, other facial hair might depending on airline)
- No visible tattoos
- No visible face or body piercings (aside from one ear piercing per ear for ladies)
Pilots have to have an image of experienced and trustworthy professionals. These rules are set up to make sure that passengers see them in this positive light. Make sure that you keep these appearance standards in mind as you prepare for your potential career as an airline pilot.
Finally, once you’ve met all of the requirements to be an airline pilot and an airline is willing to hire you, you’ll still be required to meet all the requirements your new employer has. For airline pilots, this includes:
- In-person interview
- Criminal background check
- Drug Test
- Ongoing random drug and alcohol screenings
The goal is for the airline to make sure you are qualified as a pilot and able to safely transport passengers.
In addition, many airlines like to meet you to get to know you and your personality. As a pilot, you’ll be working in close quarters with other pilots, flight attendants, and other members of the team. Airlines want to make sure you can work well as part of a team and will be a good employee, thus the typical job interview (both over the phone and in-person).
Being an airline pilot is one of the most respected occupations in the world. There is a lot of responsibility placed on pilots, so it’s no surprise that there are many requirements you’ll have to meet in order to have the job. Many of these requirements are things that you can work on to improve and eventually meet if you do not already.
It does take a lot of hard work and determination to complete all necessary work and training to become an airline pilot. Those who achieve this goal are rewarded with great pay, an exciting career, and much more.