What License Do You Need to Be an Airline Pilot

Different people have different goals, and that’s totally okay. In fact, I encourage that.

The world would be a boring place if everyone was the same.

Unless everyone was like me. I’m awesome, so that would make the world awesome.

All joking aside, diversity is the spice of life. You don’t want to surround yourself with people that are all the same; people with the same background and beliefs, because it doesn’t challenge you or help you grow. 

The perfect example of different people having different goals is my wife and me. She is incredibly smart (her 4.0 GPA in grad is proof) and empathetic, so she works in public affairs and helps people all the time.

But she tells me all the time that she would quit in the middle of a flight if she was a flight attendant based on some of the stuff that happens on airplanes every single day. 

That’s okay, she can throw parties for her job and I’ll just keep taking vacations for a living.

My long term goal is to become an airline pilot. 

But that doesn’t mean I want to only do that in aviation. I also want to give aerobatics (that’s doing cool tricks in an airplane like a barrel roll) a try and venture into flying sea planes because I love the ocean.

On top of that, I pretend like I’m an influencer with my blog and social media (podcast and YouTube coming soon). 

Other people have different goals when it comes to aviation. 

Some people have the sole goal of becoming an airline pilot. I met a person that wanted to become an Airforce pilot and just fly all the fastest airplanes they could. Then there are people that want to become Alaskan bush pilots, helicopter rescue pilots, heck, there are people that just want to get their most basic license to fly for fun!

Like I said, different people have different goals. That means the FAA has offered a ton of different certifications to meet those goals.

Since I’m online and presenting myself as an authority on aviation (I promise I’m just telling all the stuff I Googled myself), I’m going to tell you the typical path to become an airline pilot. 

Tons of people have this goal, so maybe it’ll have universal appeal…at least for the United States because other countries have different rules and governing bodies.

Private Pilot License (PPL)

The most common first license attained by aviators is the Private Pilot License, or PPL for short.

It’s not the first license you have the option to get, but it is the most commonly sought after license. There’s also the recreational pilot license and the sport pilot license, but they’re more restrictive. 

The most basic part of the PPL is that it’s the first step to becoming an airline pilot. You get this to learn how to fly airplanes, not a specific aircraft, but general airplanes. 

While acquiring this license, you gain basic knowledge that will take you all the way through to the big leagues. 

It requires a minimum of 35 hours flight time if you’re at a Part 141 school or 40 hours if you’re at a Part 61 flight school. The differences between Part 141 and Part 61 have been discussed here if you want that knowledge (remember knowledge is power so follow the link!).

The most important piece of info is that you legally cannot, I repeat CANNOT, be paid for your flying if you have a PPL only. 

Compensation comes later when you’re a little more experienced.

Having your PPL also means you can only fly in Visual Flight Rules, better known as VFR. Which can be summed up as only being able to fly if you can see really well outside and you can’t fly into clouds.

Instrument Flight Rating (IFR)

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com illustrating poor visibility.

The Instrument Flight Rating is technically not a license, but it is a rating or endorsement on your current PPL. 

Essentially, a Certified Flight Instructor has said that you have shown proficiency in flying under conditions that are outside of VFR conditions. You can use your instruments inside the aircraft to navigate without being able to see, such as inside a cloud.

While getting your PPL, you get a little bit of training on how IFR conditions work. You even get a few hours of IFR time. It will most likely be simulated because you legally can’t fly IFR yet though.

The main requirement for this endorsement is that you have 40 hours of flight time under IFR conditions or simulated IFR conditions. 

To go ahead and answer your question: simulated IFR conditions does NOT mean you play on a simulator. It means you fly an actual airplane while wearing foggles.

Foggles are easily the most attractive goggles/glasses you will ever wear ever. 

Basically, they obscure your vision outside of the aircraft and teach you to fly while completely relying on the instrument panel. 

This is absolutely important because when you fly a Boeing 747 or an Airbus A380 or another massive airline airplane, your view is very limited and you need a lot of forethought and planning before executing any maneuvers you might need. Shoot, you even need it to follow the GPS and make the appropriate radio calls.

So, if you plan on moving forward in aviation, you are required to get your IFR endorsement.

Commercial Pilot License (CPL)

Photo by Asad Photo Maldives on Pexels.com

Remember when I said you can’t get paid with your PPL and you lost a lot of steam because you were thinking you get your PPL then conquer the world as a pilot in a little Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee?

Well, here is where you can finally make that up. You can, after getting 250 hours of flight time, get your Commercial Pilot License, or CPL.

There are a few specific maneuvers you are supposed to learn to prove your proficiency as a pilot. I like to think of that being a personal challenge, but I’m also a masochist or something because I like to kill my self esteem before I know how to do things. 

After getting your CPL you can officially fly for money! 

The downside is you will likely need training to work for most places in the specific aircraft they have. There’s a chance you get lucky and can fly a little Cessna 172 around to spot traffic or something.

You definitely need some sort of gig to make sure you can build time to get to the airline level. A common practice is to become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) to build time and get paid, but it’s not a requirement to get to the airlines.

Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)

Photo by Ahmed Muntasir on Pexels.com

Congrats! You made it to the last aspect that is an absolute requirement to work for an airline.

To be able to fly jets you have to have logged at least 1,500 hours of pilot-in-command flight time. You also have to be 23 years old, but this is usually a given for someone to have logged that much flight time. 

Typically, you also have gotten the Multi-Engine (ME) endorsement because most jets have at least 2 engines and sometimes more. 

It’s not a requirement though because there are a few companies out there that will hire you even if you only have experience in a single engine aircraft. There are some big airplanes that have only one engine. 

Again, I only pretend to be an authority on this whole aviation thing, so take my words with a grain of salt. That being said, I would recommend getting the multi-engine endorsement because it opens more doors for you to get a job and more hours. 

There’s a chance you start out at a small airline, flying small planes, until you get the hours to be able to move up in the world and go get your endorsement to fly a big boy like a Boeing 747 or Airbus A380.

As long as you spend your time with airplanes, I’m a happy camper.

Remember, we study not to be pilots, not to be good pilots, but to be the best pilots! Now, go out there and be the best.

3 thoughts on “What License Do You Need to Be an Airline Pilot

  1. Pingback: Now We’re Flying! How to do S-Turns | Josh The Writer Pilot

  2. Pingback: 6 Real Tips to Help You Pay for Flight School | Josh The Writer Pilot

  3. Pingback: What is the PAVE Checklist? | Josh The Writer Pilot

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