The Commercial Pilot
Some people believe flying aircraft is the best job in the world. You travel the globe … and you make your living in the sky!
There are several types of pilots. Airline pilots fly jets for the big carriers, such as Delta Air Lines. They must have extensive training and a four-year degree (from an ATP flight school) and/or military experience.
Commercial pilots fly helicopters and airplanes for all kinds of purposes: charter flights, rescue operations, firefighting, aerial photography and crop dusting. They may work for a company or as an independent pilot. They are one step above a private pilot, as they get paid for their services.
A specialized type of commercial pilot is a cargo pilot. He or she may work for a logistics company to pilot air freight – i.e., transport goods, packages and other items within a region or across the country. A cargo pilot tends to fly at odd hours – early in the day or late into the evening.
Commercial pilot requirements are different from those of airline pilots. The commercial pilot earns a private pilot license (PPL) through PPL training.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A COMMERCIAL PILOT IN GEORGIA
- Schedule flights
- Conduct pre-flight checks: inspecting the overall condition of the plane and checking the fuel supply and weather conditions along the flight path
- Develop and submit flight plans to air traffic control
- Operate and control the plane during takeoffs, landings and the flight itself
- Communicate with air traffic control and monitor the plane’s systems and instruments during the flight
- Prepare for changing conditions such as bad weather and mechanical problems
- Arrange for the plane’s routine maintenance and repairs
- Load luggage and other supplies
WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A COMMERCIAL PILOT
It’s more than a love for being among the clouds. You also need:
- Good vision and physical health – and to prove it, you’ll have to pass a medical exam
- Mechanical aptitude – there are a lot of buttons, switches and systems that allow a plane to take off, fly and land
- Excellent communication skills – you’ll be talking to air traffic control and other pilots. They have to be able to understand you
- Ability to stay calm under pressure – while flying is safe, things can go wrong. You need to think quickly and stay calm when facing challenges such flying through a bad storm or facing engine trouble
IS THIS YOU?
Here are a few things to think about as you explore becoming a commercial pilot:
- Job Security. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of commercial pilots is one of the fastest growing occupations.
- Good pay. Commercial pilots in Georgia are among the highest paid in the U.S.
- Chances are you’ll be someplace different every day. You’ll get to see other parts of the state and the country.
- Your schedule can be wonky. It can vary from day to day, sometimes making it hard to make long-term plans. If you plan to pilot air freight, the hours can be very early or late.
- Pilots have to travel a lot. That means spending a lot of time away from home.
- Flying can be a stressful job. You’ll be taking a plane into the sky, most likely with people in it. You are responsible for making it a safe flight.
A FEW DETAILS OF INTEREST
What’s a typical commercial pilot salary?
In Georgia, commercial pilots can earn an average salary of $108,090 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016). So if you’re wondering if covering the pilot license cost is worth it – it is.
How do you become a commercial pilot?
You do not have to have a college degree to become a commercial pilot. You do, however, have to go to commercial pilot school, where you’ll log dozens of hours both on the ground and in the air as you learn to fly.
Here are the essential commercial pilot requirements:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a high school diploma
- Pass a medical exam
- Earn a commercial pilot’s license (administered by the FAA)
- Earn an instrument rating
To earn a commercial pilot’s license, you must:
- Complete 250 hours of flight training
- Pass a written exam
- Pass a practical skills test
In order to fly alone (without a flight instructor) as part of your training, you must have two certifications:
- A medical certificate from an FAA-authorized physician. Though you can take lessons without it, the FAA suggests you obtain the certificate beforehand, in case you have a medical condition that might prevent you from becoming a pilot.
- A student pilot’s certificate. You can get the application from the FAA flight standards district office in Atlanta.
FIND A FLIGHT SCHOOL (aka a commercial pilot school)
As you pursue your PPL training, know that there are two types of training programs – those that are approved by the Federal Aviation Association and those that are not. FAA-approved schools have to meet certain standards in terms of the equipment they use, the material they teach, and the staff and facilities they use.
Keep in mind that flight schools that are not FAA-approved may still give you good training. It is best to do your homework when looking for the best way to get your PPL training and attend a commercial pilot school.
During the flight training, you’ll learn things like…
- Aviation meteorology (i.e., weather conditions)
- Pre- and post-flight preparation and procedures
- Weight and balance computations
- Flight instruments and the plane’s systems
- Navigational skills
- Flight principles
- Maneuvers and procedures
- Aviation regulations
FAA APPROVED FLIGHT SCHOOLS IN GEORGIA
Falcon Aviation Academy – Newnan
Flight School of Gwinnett – Lawrenceville
Midcoast Aviation Services – Statesboro
Middle Georgia State University – Eastman
APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
If you’re a high school senior and want to go to commercial pilot school at Middle Georgia State University —the one Georgia university that offers a training program — why not apply for a Trade Five Scholarship? OK! Bring on the application >
OUTLOOK FOR COMMERCIAL PILOT
Nationally, the demand for commercial pilots is projected to increase by about 10% by 2024, adding 4,500 jobs.
THE VIEW OF A CARGO PILOT / AIR FREIGHT PILOT
This interview with a cargo pilot does a good job of spelling out how different the job is from an airline.
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
Download this handy PDF for some facts on-the-go.