What Does a Commercial Pilot Do?

Commercial pilots oversee the smooth and safe operation of aircraft that carry passengers, cargo, or other specialized missions. Depending on their area of expertise, piloting skills, and level of training, they may also be involved in firefighting or search and rescue operations. Some fly passenger charter ops while others are responsible for crop dusting duties or conducting aerial photography, but most especially, commercial pilots work as Certified Flight Instructors.

Commercial pilots require increased skill in order to identify any potential problems with their plane, its instrumentation, or the conditions outside and relate that to the legal, safe operation of the aircraft. They must also be able to accurately land without an operating engine and do advanced flight maneuvers. 

Requirements to Getting your Commercial Pilot Certificate

Generally speaking, if you want to be paid to fly, a commercial pilot’s certificate is required.

Basic Requirements to become a Commercial Pilot

In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a new rule that no longer requires a commercial pilot applicant to have to train with older technology or rent ancient school craft that fall under the “Complex Airplane” designation (meaning the airplane has flaps, a controllable pitch propeller, and a retractable landing gear). Instead, applicants can now use modern aircraft that mirror what they will be flying professionally known as “Technically Advanced Aircraft” aka “TAA.” A TAA is an airplane featuring (1) a continuously visible electronic Primary Flight Display (PFD) that includes, at a minimum, an airspeed indicator, turn coordinator, attitude indicator, heading indicator, altimeter, and vertical speed indicator; (2) an electronic Multifunction Display (MFD) that includes, at a minimum, a moving map using Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation with the aircraft position displayed; and (3) a two-axis autopilot integrated with the navigation and heading guidance system.

The basic requirements to become a commercial pilot are as follows:

  • At least 18 years old
  • FAA Second-Class or First-Class Medical Certificate holder (must be current)
  • Able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language.
  • Hold at least a Private Pilot Certificate.
  • Must have logged at least 250 hours of total flight time as a pilot, consisting of at least:
    • 100 hours in a powered aircraft, 50 of which were in an airplane
    • 100 hours as “Pilot in Command,” which includes at least:
      • 50 hours in airplanes
      • 50 hours in cross-country flight (10 hours in airplanes)
    • 20 hours of training specific to the operations the FAA requires for commercial pilots , which includes at least:
      • Ten hours of “instrument training.”
      • 10 hours of training in a “complex airplane” or a Technically Advanced Airplane (TAA) (can be combined from either to reach the 10 hours)
      • One 2-hour cross-country flight more than 100 nautical miles from the origin
      • One 2-hour cross-country night flight more important than 100 nautical miles
    • 10 hours of flight time (solo or with an instructor), which includes at least:
    • One cross-country flight of at least 300 nautical miles with landings at three different points, one landing at least 250 miles from a departure point
    • 5 hours in night VFR conditions, with:
    • Ten takeoffs and landings, each landing involving a flight in the “traffic pattern.”
  • Exams Required for Certification
    • Knowledge Test
      • Multiple choice exam administered by FAA-authorized facility
    • FAA Checkride
      • Oral Exam
      • Flight/Practical Exam

Aeronautical Experience Requirements For Commercial Pilot Applicants to get Pilot Certificate

Aeronautical experience requirements for commercial pilot applicants are necessary before attempting to pass the FAA checkride as a flight time requirement. Flight schools establish the aeronautical experience requirements for commercial pilot applicants with their students to participate in a training program or certificate. Commercial pilot applicants must have at least a Private pilot certificate before attempting to pass the FAA check ride.

To obtain a commercial certificate in an airplane under FAR Part 61 rule, here are the requirements:

  • 250 hours of flight time, 100 hours in powered aircraft, and 50 hours in airplanes;
  • 50 hours cross-country time, 10 of which in an aircraft;
  • 100 hours of pilot-in-command time, 50 of which in planes;
  • 10 hours of solo training, including a smattering of cross-country and night;
  • 20 hours of training, including 10 instrument, 
  • 10 of complex or TAA, and a handful of cross-country and practical test preparation; and
  • Additional class ratings (multi-engine rating to single-engine commercial pilot certificate)

For pilots, there are industry-approved programs that are economically and time-efficient, such as the FAR Part 141 program. Pilots in these training schools can earn commercial licenses and certificates with fewer hours required.

4 Steps to getting your Commercial Pilot Certificate

  • Meet the basic and aeronautical experience requirements for the certificate.

You need to meet specific requirements to become a commercial pilot. If you are 18 years or older, hold a valid private pilot’s license, and can speak English fluently, you must decide whether you want to fly multi-engine or single-engine aircraft as a commercial pilot. It is VERY common to become instrument rated prior to applying for the CPL, otherwise, limitations are imposed by the FAA on your pilot certificate which prohibit most commercial operations beyond 50 nautical miles and any distance at night.

  • Ground school training

Ground school training is the foundation of your pilot certificate – without it, you cannot become a pilot! Although there is no specific time requirement prescribed or required by the FAA, in order to be eligible for the CPL, there are over a dozen areas of knowledge that an applicant is required to be educated in. This is typically accomplished one-on-one with your flight instructor. 

  • Flight training

To get a commercial pilot’s license, in an airplane, you must have logged 250 hours of flight time – 100 in powered aircraft and 50 in airplanes. Also, one hundred of those hours must be pilot-in-command, fifty of which must have been in an airplane. You must also have logged fifty hours of cross-country flying, ten of which in airplanes.

  • Pass your checkride.

As part of the FAA commercial pilot licensing process, you will take a two-part exam administered by a designated pilot examiner or DPE. The first phase, or oral test (Part 1), will check for your knowledge based on what you studied in ground school. The next phase (Part 2) involves flying with the DPE to be evaluated against the airmen certification standards for the flight portion of the exam. Both are done on the same day, and passing both will mean you have become certified!

  • Get Additional Certification

Commercial airline pilots must keep their licenses and certifications up-to-date, which is regulated by the FAA in the form of a flight review. Though 18 years of age is all you need to become certified by the FAA, you will likely need to be at least 23 years of age to work for most airlines, and in many instances, you will also be expected to have several hundred hours of flying experience under your belt. Most companies also require that you pass several aviation examinations. In addition, the BLS’ reported 20% job growth for commercial pilots through 2025.

What can I do with my Commercial Pilot Certificate?

An FAA Commercial Pilot’s license will open up a lot of different career paths for you since a Commercial Pilot License is highly sought-after and recognized internationally. One skill you will learn after earning your Commercial Pilot Certificate is that it can make you more employable because there are many jobs you can get in both commercial freight and passenger aviation.

Here are the other career paths you can pursue:

  • Airline Pilot
  • Cargo Pilot
  • Charter/Air Taxi Pilot
  • Corporate or Business Aviation Pilot
  • Flight Instructor
  • Agricultural Pilot
  • Medical/Air Ambulance Pilot

A commercial pilot license (CPL) is required to become an airline pilot. Suppose you are, however, looking to become a first officer on smaller planes. In that case, some airlines provide temporary positions to people who have not yet achieved the 1,500 flight hours needed for receiving the ATPL. Some airlines alsotes by providing a connection to programs assisting them with obtaining the necessary hours.

To become a flight instructor, a pilot must first get a private pilot license (PPL). Once acquired, a pilot may continue training for additional certifications. The Commercial Pilot certification is a prerequisite to being a CFI-A. A CFI-S, on the other hand, does not have the same prerequisites. 

Average Salary of a Commercial Pilot

Commercial pilot salaries can fluctuate wildly, depending on where and what the job is. For example, flying for a local shop could earn you as little as $15,000 per year with a pilot certificate. Still, if you were to become a co-pilot for an airline or private company with a multi-million dollar budget, you might be looking at as much as $186,000 per year with a pilot certificate.

FAQs about being a Commercial Pilot or Airline Pilots

A lot of aspiring pilots like to wonder about these questions, and the answers are as follows:

  1. How do I become a pilot without a degree?

No degree is required to become a commercial pilot, and most airlines do not require you to have a bachelor’s degree either. 

  1. What subjects should I be good at to become a pilot?

Pilots need extensive training and employable skills in science and math due to the complexities of navigating aircraft through the skies. However, language comprehension is also a valuable asset that can help when applying for pilot jobs. One must also be aware of their surroundings and willing to work with other people in a team setting, as planes require complex teamwork between multiple crew members.

  1. Is it difficult to become a pilot?

Working as a commercial pilot is challenging, requiring tremendous insight and technical expertise in the aircraft. Still, many professional pilots say that the most difficult part is becoming responsible for everyone’s safety in the skies.

Santa Monica Flyers: Your Ticket to Getting your Commercial Pilot Certificate & Training

It’s the same with anyone who’s been flying for years and loves it still… we’re part of a world we deeply love. Just as musicians feel about scores and melodies, dancers about the steps and flow of music, so we’re one with the principle of flight, the magic of being aloft in the wind!” — Richard Bach.

Santa Monica Flyers is a flight school operating under Part 61 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. We deliver quality flight instruction and provide the highest level of flight training in a safe, professional, and flexible fashion. Santa Monica Flyers is one of the most prestigious flight schools in the country and is committed to the development of aviation professionals with the highest level of integrity, professionalism, and dedication.


Sign up for your Intro Flight today!