Shaping a Professional Pilot: How You Should Get Started

Anna Green, Virginia Dept. of Aviation – Richmond, VA (RIC)

Many people look up to pilots, especially youth, and dream of one day having the opportunity to push the throttle forward and take to the skies. For a lot of people, getting to the point where they’re buttoning their uniform and grabbing their bags can seem near impossible.

Thinking of how to pay for training, what education to get and how much studying and commitment is involved to get to the point of flying as a career can be overwhelming. The truth is, becoming a professional pilot is not simple.

Though aviation is a complex and heavily regulated industry, it also has many amazing aspects. Unlike many careers, one in aviation means each day will be different. You will constantly be meeting new people and having stories to share.

Captain Rachel Rea, Republic Airways, and her all-female crew prior to departure.

So where do you get started?

There are endless routes to take in getting your pilot licenses, however, depending on your age it may differ. Let’s look at a few different paths.

The most common ways people train to become pilots are at private flight schools and aviation universities, along with the military.

Aviation Universities

An aviation university offers a higher education just like any other college, however, some offer flight training programs. Students who meet the basic requirements set by individual universities are able to enroll and typically receive up to their Commercial and Multi-engine, Instrument Flight Instructor licenses.

Nearly each of these universities have pathway and tuition reimbursement programs with numerous airlines. These universities even have programs allowing students to be eligible for early sign-on benefits and post-graduation employment.

Some aviation universities include Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, University of North Dakota, Purdue University, Liberty University, Auburn University, and many more.

Private Flight Schools

Private flight schools are the most common place for flight instruction, though many of the smaller flight schools will not be able to train you for multi-engine licenses. Those who are able to afford flight training during their youth will typically achieve their Private and Instrument licences at their local flight school, and the rest at an aviation university.

Numerous pilots do not attend aviation universities at all, completing all of their training at private flight schools.

Finding a Flight School

If you are unsure of where to start your training, visit the Flight School Locator on the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) website and search for your local flight schools!

What about the Military?

The military path is a third option. The military will train you and license you through whichever branch you join, with the commitment to a set number of years of service in that branch. You can find yourself flying aircraft from fighter jets, cargo, helicopters, and even unmanned aerial systems (drones). Visit your local military recruitment center for more information.

College Education

What about college degrees? Do you have to have a Bachelor’s degree to become a pilot? The answer is yes and no, it all depends on the employer. To become an airline pilot, most do not require a degree. However, the major U.S. airlines do require a Bachelor’s degree; including Delta, American, United, UPS, FedEx, jetBlue and Southwest to name a few.

Most regional airlines in the U.S. do not require a degree, along with most professional flying jobs like corporate/charter flying. Larger companies like NetJets will however.

The good news about the degree requirement is none of these airlines require your degree to be aviation-based. Some companies may even prefer a non-aviation degree, as you bring a non-aviation skill set to the cockpit.

Tyler Paquette, Vice President of Finance – Young Aviators, Inc.

How should i get my ratings?

One question that many people have asked is choosing which license to go for next. The smartest way we believe you should achieve your ratings is as follows:

  • Private
  • Instrument
  • Commercial (single-engine)
  • Multi-engine add-on
  • Flight Instructor (optional)
  • Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)

The most ideal route and order to take is the one above. Flight instructor was listed as optional, because in order to build flight time towards the 1,500 hour requirement for your ATP rating, you can do other jobs like:

  • Skydiving Pilot
  • Aerial Surveying/Photography Pilot
  • Banner-towing Pilot
  • Corporate Pilot
  • Small Passenger Airline Pilot (Mokulele Airlines)
Swayne Martin, previously a pilot for Mokulele Airlines, explains his job.

There are more options to the list above as well. A flight instructor is regarded as the most marketable license and experience to have on your resume when applying for pilot positions at an airline, charter or cargo company. You will also become highly skilled in the fundamentals of flying and better yourself with crew resource management and understanding aircraft systems and functions.

Hopefully this week’s article shed some light on a complex topic that every new pilot faces. Join us again next Monday for our next article, How Airspace and Cake Share Something in Common.


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