Have you always thought about becoming an airline pilot? For some people it’s a dream they’ve had since they were a child. For others, it’s an opportunity for a great career that pays well, offers opportunity for personal growth, and offers great pay and benefits.
If you aren’t sure if being an airline pilot is a good career decision for you, you aren’t alone. Many prospective pilots wonder about some of these same questions. Common questions include the educational requirements, pay, benefits, and schedule. Well, we’re here to help.
Below is a short quiz you can take to help you decide if a career as an airline pilot is a good decision for you.
1. Do You Meet the Requirements?
The first thing you need to consider if you are thinking of becoming an airline pilot is if you would meet all of the eligibility requirements. Unlike many other professions, there are aspects of being a pilot that might make you ineligible to be a pilot that have nothing to do with flying airplanes.
In order to work as an airline pilot, you’ll need to earn and maintain an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) designation. It’s important to consider these requirements before going down the path to become a pilot.
Here is a list of the requirements for earning your airline transport pilot license required to become an airline pilot according to the FAA:
- Be of good moral character
- Be at least 23 years old
- Hold a current commercial pilot license and instrument rating
- Pass medical exam (more info: FAA Medical Exam)
- Meet all training, flight hours, and testing requirements (more on this in the next section)
As you can see, the FAA has a strict list of requirements for airline pilots due to how important it is for pilots to be safe while flying with passengers.
In addition, airline have their own standards you must meet to be hired as an airline pilot. This can include items like:
- College degree
- Background check
- Drug/Alcohol Testing
- & More
Meeting these requirements is the first step to becoming an airline pilot.
2. Do You Like Learning & Training?
Being an airline pilot puts you in a position to be responsible for the safety of hundreds of people every time you go to work. To make flying as safe as possible (and yes, it is VERY safe) there are extensive training requirements for airline pilots.
Here are the requirements to be considered for an ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) License:
- 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)
These flight times are in addition to already having earned:
- Commercial pilot license
- Instrument rating
Related: Types of Pilot Licenses
As you can see, there is a lot of training and education that goes into being an airline pilot. If you enjoy learning new things and training, this won’t be a problem. It does require you to be patient and put in the time to learn everything you need as well as pass all of the written and practical tests.
3. Do You Enjoy Working Odd Hours?
Being an airline pilot does not come with what most people would consider a “normal” schedule. Pilots usually work very odd hours compared to an 8am to 5pm office job.
Airline pilots work nights, weekends, holidays, and can have some very long shifts as well as having layovers far from home. Something to consider is that if you become an airline pilot you’ll not only be away from home more than others, you’ll also have to miss out on nights and weekends when first starting out.
The way scheduling typically works for airline pilots (and others in the aviation industry) is that when first starting your career you’ll have to take on shifts that are less desirable.
As you gain experience and seniority, you’ll have more input as to which flights you take. Once you’ve a seasoned pro you’ll not only be able to take the shifts you’d like to plan the schedule you prefer, you’ll also be able to pick trips to places you’d much prefer to visit.
This opens up the opportunity to use your lay-overs as mini vacations. This is a great benefit in the eyes of many, but remember that you still have to be ok with working a non-traditional schedule.
4. Do You Like to Travel?
This question goes hand-in-hand with the previous question. Being an airline pilot means you’ll be travelling a lot. While your first instinct might be to be excited to see exotic places, keep in mind it also includes some less luxurious aspects as well.
This includes being ok with not sleeping in your bed often. Instead you’ll find yourself sleeping in hotels, in the aircraft, and anywhere you can get some quiet for a few minutes. It also includes living out of a suitcase. For many people this isn’t an issue at all. For others, this is more inconvenient than it’s worth.
If you like to travel (or at least don’t mind it) then this won’t be an issue for you.
5. Do You Like to Fly?
This seems like common sense, but it needs to be said. To be a pilot you have to love to fly. Successful airline pilots often find flying airplanes exciting. It’s often a passion for them and something the enjoy doing and would even do for free as a hobby if they weren’t professional pilot.
If you’re passionate about flying then this is an easy box to check. If you’ve never flown an airplane but are interested to get a taste, you should reach out to a local flight schools for a test ride right away. This will give you your first taste of what it’s like to be in a cockpit flying a plane.
If you are afraid of flying or your stomach is in knots every time you take-off, you might want to reconsider this career.
6. Are You Good at Math?
Being an airline pilot also includes having a good understanding of the math and science needed to navigate and fly an airplane. While many of the calculations are done by tools including the aircraft itself, calculators, and apps, you still need to understand what is going on behind the scenes.
While you won’t need to be a math whiz, you will need a good background in topics like arithmetic, physics, and algebra. Do you like math? If so, you should not worry about this at all. If you aren’t good at math, you’ll have to make sure you study hard to learn the concepts needed to be a pilot.
- Related: Pilots & Math: What’s needed?
7. How Much Money do you Expect to Make?
Airline pilots can make great money. They also often earn fantastic benefits.
The average airline pilot can expect to make well over $100,000 per year. Experienced airline pilots that get promoted (i.e. Captain) can earn over $200,000 per year.
Much of this depends on the airline you work for as well as the level of experience you have and the routes you fly. That being said, you can expect to earn a great living as a pilot that is well above what the average American earns.
You can also take advantage of some great benefits as an airline pilot. This includes access to medical insurance, retirement plans, free travel, and more. See below for a much more specific write up on the benefits of being an airline pilot.
- Related: Benefits of being a pilot
8. Do You Handle Stress & Pressure Well?
There are few jobs that place more responsibility on a single person or team. You will be in charge of the safety of as many as several hundred people every time you take off. You not only have to do your job free of mistakes, you have to be able to predict and correct the mistakes of others.
This can be a lot of pressure. Some people thrive on this pressure to perform while others find it causes a lot of anxiety and stresses them out.
You have to have certain personality and outlook on life to excel in these conditions. It isn’t for everyone.
9. Do You Have a Professional Appearance?
This might seem petty, but it’s worth thinking through before you decide to pursue being an airline pilot. Pilots are expected to always meet the specific image that airlines want their pilots to have.
This includes always wearing a neat and clean uniform, being free of any tattoos or piercings that are visible while working, as well as not being permitted to have a beard.
You can expect that your career as an airline pilot will include always meeting these requirements while working. If you’ve gotten this far in the quiz, I’m guessing that this is not a big factor for you.
Being an airline pilot is a rewarding career with some great benefits but it isn’t for anyone. If you took this quiz and find yourself answering “yes” to most questions, then it just might be a great career for you. I would recommend taking a few minutes to read and answer these questions for yourself.
Be as honest as you can. There are no wrong answers here. The goal is to make the most informed decision you can before spending the time and money to start flight training.
If you are interested in learning more, I would recommend you contact a couple of local flight schools and spend some time learning more about being a pilot from people who have first hand experience. They’ll be able to answer your specific questions in depth and provide you with personalized guidance.
Good luck and happy flying!