Home > General > How Long Does it take to become an airline Pilot

How Long Does it take to become an airline Pilot

I have received a few questions about how long it takes to become an airline pilot. Normally this means, how long does it take to get an ATPL, that is an Airline Transport Pilot License, or how to become a commercial pilot. I will go over the basics again. Please note that most information here is based on the assumption that you are training in the USA.

       Entry Requirements

Entry requirements vary according to training location and local regulatory requirements however generally you should meet the following minimum entry criteria:

  • Aged over 18 years old to commence training
  • Completed Secondary School education achieving national qualifications in English Language, Mathematics and Science subjects.
  • Proficient in the English language, or the language you will be learning in.
  • Capable of holding a Class 1 Pilot Medical Certificate.
  • Successfully complete and pass the assessment process for your preferred training program
  • Pilot Medical Certificate

    Prior to enrolling on any Pilot Training Program, you must possess a valid Class 1 Medical Certificate, or be able to get one. All pilots are required to have this certificate throughout their entire flying careers. Further information on this can be obtained from your local aviation authority but a typical medical examination would include:

    • Review of your medical history
    • Hearing and vision tests
    • Lung function and heart tests
    • Blood and urine analysis
    • General physical examination

    Whilst a medical certificate may not be required to attend some schools, we recommend that you thoroughly check that you meet the qualifying criteria for a pilot medical certificate before embarking on the application and selection process for a program.

    How to Become a Pilot

    Go to University

    While a college degree is not required to fly for any of the regional airlines in the United States, a four year degree is required to fly for a major US airline. It’s preferable to get a Bachelor of Science degree with an emphasis in aviation (but your degree doesn’t necessarily have to be aviation related).

    Go to a Flight School

    Look around your local area for a good flight school and flight instructor to begin working on your Private Pilot License, PPL. The FAA minimum flight time is 40 hours, but the average is around 60. Schools with FAA oversight can be more desirable if you want a highly regimented training program.

    Complete your certified flight instructor (CFI) rating and begin working at your flight school. Some flight schools offer you flight hours in exchange for instructing for them. This can be useful when you go on to your multi-engine rating.

    • Pilots 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 pilot’s 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; three to six 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.
    • To qualify for FAA licensure, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have at least 250 hours of flight experience.

    How long does it take?

    To get a PPL(Private Pilot License) can be done in as little as 4 months. To be a Commercial Pilot, that is in an airline, it could take 2-7 years. It all depends on how fast you take your lessons, there are some schools that can get you your private pilots license in a week if you can pay all the money at once…If you throw lots of money at your training, you will accumulate lots of hours in a short time. At the end of the day, it all about hours.

    With the proper ratings and 1500 hours of flight time, you could get hired by any number of regional airlines flying turboprop and regional-jet aircraft. So it all depends on how long it takes you to get the hours.

    • To work for a major airline, you will typically need 3,000 hours total flight time including at least 1,500 hours multi-engine, and at least 1000 hours as pilot in command (PIC) of turbine (jet) powered aircraft, preferably in scheduled airline flying and in type of aircraft. These numbers are estimates and will vary depending on the airline. Also, while these may be the minimums required to apply for a job at a major airline, they may be far from the actual competitive numbers and the actual experience of successful applicants may be considerably higher than the minimums.
    • Airline pilots must fulfill additional requirements. Both Captains and First Officers must have an airline transport pilot’s 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.
    • Companies other than airlines usually require less flying experience. However, a commercial pilot’s 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.
    • 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 engineer’s 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.

    Ways of Increasing hours

    Seek a variety of flying jobs. To advance to the pinnacle of your profession, you’ll need to gain experience in any number of creative ways. For example:

    • Try teaching. Many pilots start their careers as flight instructors.
    • Take assignments with charter planes or air-taxi companies.
    • Go private. Don’t forget about opportunities flying corporate planes.
    • And some pilots take jobs as flight engineers with the airlines.


    Its not all rosey.

    • Your career will always depend on your maintaining your medical certificate.
    • If you want to move to another country, you often need to convert your license to the license for that particular country. Europe uses EASA, America FAA while other countries have their own licenses. To move from Zimbabwe to South Africa, you will need to get licensed in South Africa.
    • Not only will a new airline pilot start out at barely $20,000/year, due to new legislation, they are also required to have the same minimum requirements as a Captain (1500 hours of flight time, Airline Transport Pilot License). You will now be required to spend more time to earn these minimums, make the same amount of pay as when the minimums were 500-1000 hours, and invest more of your life leaving less time to make more down the road. Passion will be a must because the logistics of these changes don’t make sense.
    • Flying as a career is a stressful job. A pilot’s ultimate responsibility, the safety of his/her passengers and/or cargo means making a lot of personal sacrifices – constant training and evaluation, constant drug and alcohol testing, background checks, difficult hours, long days, and huge liability. Think long and hard before taking on this career.
    • You could have long absences from home and family. You will never be able to stop that. No matter what is going wrong at home, you will be going back into the sky.
    • Anytime you change jobs, by choice or because you’ve been laid off or your airline has gone out of business, you will be starting at the bottom again at your new airline in terms of your position, schedule, and pay, regardless of experience.
    • Most of the steps and tips on this page apply primarily to people eligible to work in the USA and planning to train, fly, and become an airline pilot in the USA. While some of them may be applicable to other countries and job markets, it is best to ask for more advice in your home country about becoming an airline pilot.
    • You will always be taking written exams, oral exams, and check rides multiple times in a year for the rest of your career. Yes, you will still be performing stalls and steep turns on check rides as a 747 captain. Failing these checks can be an end to your airline pilot career. Failure of any airline training or checking event becomes part of your permanent airman record which is required, by law, to follow you to any new employer for your entire career.
    • In recent years, airlines have made cuts to pilot pay, days off, hotel quality and location, uniform expenses, medical and dental plans, and vacation time. Unless the regional carriers radically increase the starting pay ($45,000 or more), it may not be worth your time and money for training. Flight experience has been devalued and many pilots have opted to change careers altogether. Others pursue alternative airline positions that don’t involve “flying the line.”
    • This used to be a very glamorous profession, but not anymore. Pilot’s pay has been slashed and they have to stay in the airport to board the next flight. If they want to relax they can sleep on operation desk pads. Often they also have to go for screening and pass the security check just like all of the passengers.
  •  Previous Flying Experience

    Whilst gaining some flying experience can be beneficial and can help you determine whether flying is the career for you, it is not an entry requirement for the majority of our training programs. The exceptions to this include our Modular Training Program where some previous flying experience and qualifications are necessary to embark on the more advanced modules of pilot training.

    Airline Programs

    Further information on these requirements can be viewed on airline program pages.

More Infor

How to become a pilot

Pilot Training Schools in Zimbabwe

Learn to Fly in South Africa



Keep Flying Southern Africa

Tafadzwa Nyakuya- Winner of the Keep Flying Scholarship

Categories: General
  1. Ivan
    April 4, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    I need to start a pilot career

  2. Linco
    December 5, 2016 at 7:20 am

    I need a career guidance in zimbabwe im 16 yrs old i have the passion to be a pilot

  3. poelano
    February 26, 2017 at 8:41 am

    I want to know how to qualify

    …should I pass with dinstiction bachelor ,diploma?
    how high should my percentage marks be at every subject?
    ..where can I get bursary?

  4. April 19, 2017 at 9:24 am

    l also have a passion for flying@ Linco and the advice l can give you is that just try it once,if it works then thats it, if it doesnt then drop it..its only a matter of giving it a try.sometimes you think flying is the best way to go for you but for you to be so sure about it is when you TRY.

    • July 21, 2017 at 10:27 am

      Good Advice @mataya

  5. June 25, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Thanks for the info and I will never give up on my dream of being the rarest black pilot or captain

    • July 21, 2017 at 8:44 am

      You can make it. Go for it!!

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