Regional and low-cost
airlines offer the best opportunities; pilots attempting to get jobs at the major
airlines will face strong competition.
Pilots usually start with smaller
commuter and regional airlines to acquire the experience needed to qualify for
higher paying jobs with national or major airlines.
Many pilots have learned
to fly in the military, but growing numbers have college degrees with flight training
from civilian flying schools that are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration
Earnings of airline pilots are among the highest in the Nation.
of the Work
highly trained professionals who either fly airplanes or helicopters to carry
out a wide variety of tasks. Most are airline pilots, copilots, and flight
engineers who transport passengers and cargo. However, 1 out of 5 pilots is
a commercial pilot involved in dusting crops, spreading seed for reforestation,
testing aircraft, flying passengers and cargo to areas not served by regular airlines,
directing firefighting efforts, tracking criminals, monitoring traffic, and rescuing
and evacuating injured persons.
Before departure, pilots plan their flights
carefully. They thoroughly check their aircraft to make sure that the engines,
controls, instruments, and other systems are functioning properly. They also make
sure that baggage or cargo has been loaded correctly. They confer with flight
dispatchers and aviation weather forecasters to find out about weather conditions
en route and at their destination. Based on this information, they choose a route,
altitude, and speed that will provide the safest, most economical, and smoothest
flight. When flying under instrument flight rulesprocedures governing the
operation of the aircraft when there is poor visibilitythe pilot in command,
or the company dispatcher, normally files an instrument flight plan with air traffic
control so that the flight can be coordinated with other air traffic.
and landing are the most difficult parts of the flight, and require close coordination
between the two pilots. For example, as the plane accelerates for takeoff, the
pilot who is flying the take off concentrates on the runway while the other pilot
scans the instrument panel. To calculate the speed they must attain to become
airborne, pilots consider the altitude of the airport, outside temperature, weight
of the plane, and speed and direction of the wind. The moment the plane reaches
takeoff speed, the nonflying pilot informs the flying pilot, who then pulls back
on the controls to raise the nose of the plane. Captains and first officers usually
alternate flying each leg from takeoff to landing.
Unless the weather is
bad, the flight itself is relatively routine. Airplane pilots, with the assistance
of autopilot and the flight management computer, steer the plane along their planned
route and are monitored by the air traffic control stations they pass along the
way. They regularly scan the instrument panel to check their fuel supply; the
condition of their engines; and the air-conditioning, hydraulic, and other systems.
Pilots may request a change in altitude or route if circumstances dictate. For
example, if the ride is rougher than expected, pilots may ask air traffic control
if pilots flying at other altitudes have reported better conditions; if so, they
may request an altitude change. This procedure also may be used to find a stronger
tailwind or a weaker headwind to save fuel and increase speed. In contrast, because
helicopters are used for short trips at relatively low altitude, helicopter pilots
must be constantly on the lookout for trees, bridges, power lines, transmission
towers, and other dangerous obstacles as well as low-flying general aviation aircraft.
Regardless of the type of aircraft, all pilots must monitor warning devices designed
to help detect sudden shifts in wind conditions that can cause crashes.
must rely completely on their instruments when visibility is poor. On the basis
of altimeter readings, they know how high above ground they are and whether they
can fly safely over mountains and other obstacles. Special navigation radios give
pilots precise information that, with the help of special charts, tells them their
exact position. Other very sophisticated equipment provides directions to a point
just above the end of a runway and enables pilots to land completely without an
outside visual reference. Once on the ground, pilots must complete records on
their flight and the aircraft maintenance status for their company and the FAA.
number of nonflying duties that pilots have depends on the employment setting.
Airline pilots have the services of large support staffs and, consequently, perform
few nonflying duties. However, because of the large numbers of passengers, airline
pilots may be called upon to coordinate handling of disgruntled or disruptive
passengers. Also, under the Federal Flight Deck Officer program airline pilots
who undergo rigorous training and screening are deputized as Federal law enforcement
officers and are issued firearms to protect the cockpit against intruders and
hijackers. Pilots employed by other organizations, such as charter operators or
businesses, have many other duties. They may load the aircraft, handle all passenger
luggage to ensure a balanced load, and supervise refueling; other nonflying responsibilities
include keeping records, scheduling flights, arranging for major maintenance,
and performing minor aircraft maintenance and repairs.
Except on small aircraft,
two pilots usually make up the cockpit crew. Generally, the most experienced pilot,
the captain, is in command and supervises all other crew members. The pilot
and the copilot, often called the first officer, share flying and other duties,
such as communicating with air traffic controllers and monitoring the instruments.
Some large aircraft have a third crewmember, the flight engineer, who assists
the pilots by monitoring and operating many of the instruments and systems, making
minor in-flight repairs, and watching for other aircraft. The flight engineer
also assists the pilots with the company, air traffic control, and cabin crew
communications. New technology can perform many flight tasks, however, and virtually
all new aircraft now fly with only two pilots, who rely more heavily on computerized
Some pilots are flight instructors. They teach their students
in ground-school classes, in simulators, and in dual-controlled planes and helicopters.
A few specially trained pilots are examiners or check pilots. They periodically
fly with other pilots or pilotís license applicants to make sure that they are
Work environment. Most pilots spend a considerable
amount of time away from home because the majority of flights involve overnight
layovers. When pilots are away from home, the airlines provide hotel accommodations,
transportation between the hotel and airport, and an allowance for meals and other
Airline pilots, especially those on international routes, often
experience jet lagfatigue caused by many hours of flying through different
time zones. To guard against pilot fatigue, which could result in unsafe flying
conditions, the FAA requires airlines to allow pilots at least 8 hours of uninterrupted
rest in the 24 hours before finishing their flight duty.
face other types of job hazards. The work of test pilots, who check the flight
performance of new and experimental planes, may be dangerous. Pilots who are crop-dusters
may be exposed to toxic chemicals and seldom have the benefit of a regular landing
strip. Helicopter pilots involved in rescue and police work may be subject to
Although flying does not involve much physical effort,
the mental stress of being responsible for a safe flight, regardless of the weather,
can be tiring. Pilots must be alert and quick to react if something goes wrong,
particularly during takeoff and landing.
FAA regulations limit flying time
of airline pilots of large aircraft to a maximum of 100 hours a month or 1,000
hours a year. Most airline pilots fly an average of 65 to 75 hours a month and
work at least an additional 65 to 75 hours a month performing nonflying duties.
Most pilots have variable work schedules, working several days on, then several
days off. Airlines operate flights at all hours of the day and night, so work
schedules often are irregular. Flight assignments are based on seniority; the
sooner pilots are hired, the stronger their bidding power is for preferred assignments.
pilots also may have irregular schedules, flying 30 hours one month and 90 hours
the next. Because these pilots frequently have many nonflying responsibilities,
they have much less free time than do airline pilots. Except for corporate flight
department pilots, most commercial pilots do not remain away from home overnight.
But, they may work odd hours. However, if the company owns a fleet of planes,
pilots may fly a regular schedule.
Flight instructors may have irregular
and seasonal work schedules, depending on their studentsí available time and the
weather. Instructors frequently work in the evening or on weekends.
Other Qualifications, and Advancement
All pilots who are paid to transport passengers or cargo must have a commercial
pilotís license with an instrument rating issued by the FAA. Helicopter pilots
also must hold a commercial pilotís license with a helicopter rating.
and training. Although some small airlines hire high school graduates,
most airlines require at least 2 years of college and prefer to hire college graduates.
In fact, most entrants to this occupation have a college degree. Because the number
of college-educated applicants continues to increase, many employers are making
a college degree an educational requirement. For example, test pilots often are
required to have an engineering degree.
Pilots also need flight experience
to qualify for a license. Completing classes at a flight school approved by the
FAA can reduce the amount of flight experience required for a pilotís license.
In 2006, the FAA certified about 600 civilian flying schools, including some colleges
and universities that offer degree credit for pilot training. Initial training
for airline pilots typically includes a week of company indoctrination; 3 to 6
weeks of ground school and simulator training; and 25 hours of initial operating
experience, including a check-ride with an FAA aviation safety inspector. Once
trained, pilots are required to attend recurrent training and simulator checks
once or twice a year throughout their career.
qualify for FAA licensure, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have at
least 250 hours of flight experience.
The U.S. Armed Forces have always
been an important source of experienced pilots because of the extensive flying
time and experience on jet aircraft and helicopters. Those without Armed Forces
training may become pilots by attending flight schools or by taking lessons from
FAA-certified flight instructors. Applicants also must pass a strict physical
examination to make sure that they are in good health and have 20/20 vision with
or without glasses, good hearing, and no physical handicaps that could impair
their performance. They must pass a written test that includes questions on the
principles of safe flight, navigation techniques, and FAA regulations, and must
demonstrate their flying ability to FAA or designated examiners.
during periods of low visibility, pilots must be rated by the FAA to fly by instruments.
Pilots may qualify for this rating by having the required hours of flight experience,
including 40 hours of experience in flying by instruments; they also must pass
a written examination on procedures and FAA regulations covering instrument flying
and demonstrate to an examiner their ability to fly by instruments. Requirements
for the instrument rating vary depending on the certification level of flight
Airline pilots must fulfill additional requirements. Captains must
have an airline transport pilotís license. Applicants for this license must be
at least 23 years old and have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flying experience,
including night and instrument flying, and must pass FAA written and flight examinations.
Usually, they also have one or more advanced ratings depending on the requirements
of their particular job. Because pilots must be able to make quick decisions and
accurate judgments under pressure, many airline companies reject applicants who
do not pass required psychological and aptitude tests. All licenses are valid
so long as a pilot can pass the periodic physical and eye examinations and tests
of flying skills required by the FAA and company regulations.
qualifications. Depending on the type of aircraft, new airline pilots
start as first officers or flight engineers. Although some airlines favor applicants
who already have a flight engineerís license, they may provide flight engineer
training for those who have only the commercial license. Many pilots begin with
smaller regional or commuter airlines, where they obtain experience flying passengers
on scheduled flights into busy airports in all weather conditions. These jobs
often lead to higher paying jobs with bigger, national or major airlines.
other than airlines usually require less flying experience. However, a commercial
pilotís license is a minimum requirement, and employers prefer applicants who
have experience in the type of craft they will be flying. New employees usually
start as first officers, or fly less sophisticated equipment.
Advancement for pilots usually is limited to other flying jobs. Many pilots start
as flight instructors, building up their flying hours while they earn money teaching.
As they become more experienced, these pilots occasionally fly charter planes
or perhaps get jobs with small air transportation firms, such as air-taxi companies.
Some advance to flying corporate planes. A small number get flight engineer jobs
with the airlines.
In the airlines, advancement usually depends on seniority
provisions of union contracts. After 1 to 5 years, flight engineers advance according
to seniority to first officer and, after 5 to 15 years, to captain. Seniority
also determines which pilots get the more desirable routes. In a nonairline job,
a first officer may advance to captain and, in large companies, to chief pilot
or director of aviation in charge of aircraft scheduling, maintenance, and flight
Civilian aircraft pilots and flight engineers
held about 107,000 jobs in 2006. About 79,000 worked as airline pilots, copilots,
and flight engineers. The rest were commercial pilots who worked as flight instructors
at local airports or for large businesses that fly company cargo and executives
in their own airplanes or helicopters. Some commercial pilots flew small planes
for air-taxi companies, usually to or from lightly traveled airports not served
by major airlines. Others worked for a variety of businesses, performing tasks
such as dusting crops, inspecting pipelines, or conducting sightseeing trips.
are located across the country, but airline pilots usually are based near major
metropolitan airports or airports operating as hubs for the major airlines.
State, and local governments employed pilots. A few pilots were self-employed.
Regional airlines and
low-cost carriers will present the best opportunities; pilots attempting to get
jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition.
change. Employment of aircraft pilots and flight engineers is projected
to grow 13 percent from 2006 to 2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Population growth and an expanding economy are expected to boost the demand for
air travel, contributing to job growth. New jobs will be created as airlines expand
their capacity to meet this rising demand by increasing the number of planes in
operation. However, employment growth will be limited by productivity improvements
as airlines switch to larger planes and adopt the low-cost carrier model that
emphasizes faster turnaround times for flights, keeping more pilots in the air
rather than waiting on the ground. Also, fewer flight engineers will be needed
as new planes requiring only two pilots replace older planes that require flight
Job prospects. Job opportunities are expected to
continue to be better with the regional airlines and low-cost carriers, which
are growing faster than the major airlines. Opportunities with air cargo carriers
also should arise because of increasing security requirements for shipping freight
on passenger airlines, growth in electronic commerce, and increased demand for
global freight. Business, corporate, and on-demand air taxi travel also should
provide some new jobs for pilots.
Pilots attempting to get jobs at the major
airlines will face strong competition, as those firms tend to attract many more
applicants than the number of job openings. Applicants also will have to compete
with laid-off pilots for any available jobs. Pilots who have logged the greatest
number of flying hours using sophisticated equipment typically have the best prospects.
For this reason, military pilots often have an advantage over other applicants.
the long run, demand for air travel is expected to grow along with the population
and the economy. In the short run, however, employment opportunities of pilots
generally are sensitive to cyclical swings in the economy. During recessions,
when a decline in the demand for air travel forces airlines to curtail the number
of flights, airlines may temporarily furlough some pilots.
Projections data from the National Employment
Earnings of aircraft pilots and flight engineers
vary greatly depending whether they work as airline or commercial pilots. Earnings
of airline pilots are among the highest in the Nation, and depend on factors such
as the type, size, and maximum speed of the plane and the number of hours and
miles flown. For example, pilots who fly jet aircraft usually earn higher salaries
than pilots who fly turboprops. Airline pilots and flight engineers may earn extra
pay for night and international flights. In May 2006, median annual earnings of
airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers were $141,090.
earnings of commercial pilots were $57,480 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent
earned between $40,780 and $83,760. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,450,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $115,220.
Airline pilots usually
are eligible for life and health insurance plans. They also receive retirement
benefits and, if they fail the FAA physical examination at some point in their
careers, they get disability payments. In addition, pilots receive an expense
allowance, or ďper diem,Ē for every hour they are away from home. Some airlines
also provide allowances to pilots for purchasing and cleaning their uniforms.
As an additional benefit, pilots and their immediate families usually are entitled
to free or reduced-fare transportation on their own and other airlines.
than half of all aircraft pilots are members of unions. Most of the pilots who
fly for the major airlines are members of the Air Line Pilots Association, International,
but those employed by one major airline are members of the Allied Pilots Association.
The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics
(OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State,
and local earnings data, visit the following pages:
pilots, copilots, and flight engineers
they are not in the cockpit, air traffic controllers and airfield operations specialists
also play an important role in making sure flights are safe and on schedule, and
participate in many of the decisions that pilots must make.
of Additional Information
about job opportunities, salaries, and qualifications, write to the personnel
manager of the particular airline.
For information on airline pilots, contact:
Air Line Pilots Association, International, 1625 Massachusetts Ave. NW.,
Washington, DC 20036.
Air Transport Association of America, Inc., 1301
Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20004.
Administration, 800 Independence Ave. SW., Washington, DC 20591. Internet: http://www.faa.gov
information on helicopter pilots, contact:
Helicopter Association International,
1635 Prince St., Alexandria, VA 22314.
For information about
job opportunities in companies other than airlines, consult the classified section
of aviation trade magazines and apply to companies that operate aircraft at local
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Aircraft Pilots
and Flight Engineers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos107.htm