How to Become a Commercial Pilot: Your Comprehensive Guide

What Steps Should I Take to Become a Commercial Pilot?

Embarking on a career as a commercial pilot involves several key steps, each building on the previous one. Starting with a Private Pilot Certificate, you'll progress to an Instrument Rating, a Commercial Pilot Certificate, and eventually, additional certifications and ratings tailored to your career goals.

All the flight time is accumulative.


Step 1: Earn Your Private Pilot License


First and foremost, aspiring commercial pilots need to obtain a Private Pilot License. This foundational step allows you to fly an airplane under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), building your skills and experience in preparation for more advanced training.



Infographic showing Private Pilot Aeronautical Experience requirements by the FAA. Total flight time needed is 40 hours, broken down as 20 hours of flight training, 2.5 hours on an Aviation Training Device (ATD), and 10 hours of solo flying. Additional requirements include 3 hours of night flying, 3 hours of instrument flying, and 3 hours of cross-country training, with another 5 hours of solo cross-country flying.

Fast-Track Your Private Pilot License with a Simulator

Accelerate your training by using a flight simulator alongside your in-airplane flight training. Flight Simulators help you gain the required aeronautical experience more efficiently, bringing you closer to your Private Pilot Certificate.



Step 2: Obtain an Instrument Rating

Next, you'll need to acquire an Instrument Rating.. This essential certification enables you to fly in varying weather conditions, relying solely on your aircraft's instruments and navigation systems. Gaining this expertise is crucial for commercial pilots who must navigate various weather scenarios. Training with an Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) enhances your efficiency and allows you to accrue 20 hours of experience.

Infographic detailing Total Instrument Time required for pilots under FAA regulation 14CFR61.65: 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time. This includes a minimum of 50 hours cross-country time as Pilot in Command (PIC), 15 hours of instrument flight training with an instructor, and 20 hours in an advanced Aviation Training Device (ATD). For the Instrument Rating, 3 hours of instrument flight training must be done within 2 months before the practical test, and there's an IFR cross-country flight requirement with a total distance of 250 nautical miles, including an instrument approach at each airport and three different kinds of approaches.

In the Simulator (ATD), you can work on multiple skill sets, making your Instrument Training more efficient:

  • Instrument scanning
  • Practice using Advanced Avionics such as Garmin G1000 NXi
  • Brief the approach
  • PAUSE the scenario when you have a question and get the answers right away
  • Learn how to communicate with ATC and practice the proper IFR phraseology with a live person acting as ATC (not the instructor) without getting oversaturated with information. 

Step 3: Secure Your Commercial Pilot License


With your Private Pilot and Instrument Rating under your belt, it's time to pursue your Commercial Pilot License. This certification allows you to work as a professional pilot, flying aircraft for various jobs such as aerial photography, banner towing, or cargo transport. You can use 50 hours of Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) experience towards the required aeronautical experience for your Commercial Pilot Certificate.

What Additional Certifications or Ratings Should I Consider as a Commercial Pilot?

Beyond the foundational licenses and ratings, commercial pilots may also benefit from obtaining additional certifications tailored to their specific career paths or interests

Multi-Engine Privileges: Expanding Your Horizons

Adding a Multi-Engine Rating to your Commercial Pilot License expands your employment opportunities, as many aviation jobs require experience in multi-engine aircraft. This rating demonstrates your ability to operate aircraft with multiple engines, increasing your versatility as a pilot.

Infographic displaying FAA Commercial Pilot Requirements for Single Engine under Part 61. General requirements include the ability to read, write, and converse fluently in English, being at least 18 years old, holding a current third-class FAA medical certificate, having a Private Pilot and Instrument Rating, and passing the FAA Commercial Pilot Written Exam. Aeronautical Experience includes 250 hours of flight time with 100 hours as pilot-in-command, 50 hours of cross-country time, 20 hours of training, which includes 10 hours in a complex or Technically Advanced Airplane (TAA), 10 hours of instrument flying, and various specified dual and solo training exercises including long-distance and night flights.

Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Certification: Building Flight Hours

Becoming a Certified Flight Instructor is a popular way for commercial pilots to build flight hours and experience. As a CFI, you'll be able to teach other aspiring pilots, honing your own skills and knowledge in the process.

Instrument Instructor Certificate: Enhancing Your Expertise

By obtaining an Instrument Instructor (CFI-I) certificate, you can train others for their instrument rating and conduct Instrument Proficiency Checks (IPCs). This certification requires passing an additional written exam.

Multi-Engine Instructor: Gaining Valuable Experience

A Multi-Engine Instructor (MEI) rating is essential, as most jet operator positions with on-demand charters or regional airlines require over 25 hours in multi-engine airplanes. Instructing other pilots in multi-engine aircraft is a cost-effective way to accrue these hours.

The Ultimate Goal: Regional Airlines and Beyond

After accumulating approximately 1,500 flight hours, you'll be eligible for a position with a regional airline, flying aircraft such as the Embraer 145 or Canadair CRJ 700. With over 5 years of experience, you'll have the qualifications necessary to be considered for a major US airline position. As you advance toward your Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification, your experience in an Aviation Training Device (ATD) becomes less significant, but you can still use 25 hours towards the aeronautical experience requirements.


How Can I Prepare for a Successful Career as a Commercial Pilot?

As you work towards becoming a commercial pilot, it's essential to consider factors such as choosing the right flight school, understanding the job market, and networking within the aviation industry. By staying informed and proactive, you'll be better equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with a career in aviation

Career Path Flow Chart

Frequently Asked Questions