Choosing Your Path to Become a Commercial Pilot

Becoming a commercial pilot is a fun, exciting journey and a long one that will require you to make some decisions fairly early on in the process. Ultimately, your goal is to meet minimum qualifications before you can fly for a commercial airline, but some pilots need more hours and some need less. A handful of factors will determine which path you are on.

Do You Want a Degree?

Whether or not you graduate with a degree from an approved, collegiate-based aviation program, you can be a commercial pilot. Pilots who do not have a degree need to have 1,500 hours total time before flying for a commercial airline and must be at least 23 years old. These requirements are for an unrestricted Airline Pilot Transport (ATP) certificate.

Several factors may allow a pilot to start flying sooner and qualify for a Restricted Airline Pilot Transport certificate (R-ATP). Pilots who have their associate’s degree from an approved program with an aviation major can get their R-ATP with 1,250 hours, and those with their bachelor’s need 1,000 hours total time.

Military pilots qualify for an R-ATP with 750 hours at 21 years old.

What is Your Ultimate Goal?

20% of our pilot workforce will call Air Wisconsin home for the rest of their career. While we do not

require our pilots to have degrees, some U.S. mainline carriers prefer or require pilots to have four year degrees. If you dream of operating large aircraft one day, it’s a good idea to research the requirements for your mainline carrier of choice. It may influence your decision to get or not get a degree.

Air Wisconsin pilots have the opportunity to apply to United’s new pilot career program Aviate. While United prefers a bachelor’s degree, they will and have hired pilots who have other types of experience that they deem comparable.

Learn more about Aviate at unitedaviate.com.

How Do You Want to Build Hours?

Even if you graduate with a four-year degree and after you get your various required ratings, you will likely still have hours left to fly before you can meet minimums. This obviously isn’t a decision you need to make immediately, but as you progress along your journey talk to your instructors and peers to see what you can learn from their experiences.

Some pilots decide to become Certificated Flight Instructors (CFIs) and may even relocate to an area with more favorable weather to fly more and meet minimums faster. Many schools are looking for instructors and often hire students after graduation to come back and teach.

Others may begin flying for a Part 135 carrier. You might be operating a private charter or transporting cargo. There’s a good chance that you will fly in many different types of weather conditions in this role, which is great experience to have.

Since many other countries have lower total time requirements, sometimes pilots will fly overseas and build up the hours they need to work for an airline in the US.

To Sum It Up

No one size fits all path exists for a person who wants to become a commercial pilot. You get to decide which path is right for you based on your career goals.

You can find more detailed information on ATP/R-ATP requirements on the bottom of our Pilot page at www.airwis.com/pilots.

Find a list of FAA approved R-ATP eligible schools on the FAA’s website HERE.