Pilot - Career Information and Job Outlook

A pilot must be exact and accurate at all times. Image Source / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Job Description

A pilot flies aircraft including planes and helicopters. He or she may work for an airline that transports people and cargo on a fixed schedule or for a company that offers charter flights, rescue operations or aerial photography. The former is known as an airline pilot while the latter is called a commercial pilot. Two pilots typically make up the cockpit crew. The more experienced crew member—the captain—is in command of the plane.

His or her co-pilot is also known as the first officer. They share responsibility for flight duties that include steering the plane, communicating with air traffic controllers and monitoring instruments.

Employment Facts

In 2010 there were about 104,000 pilots in the workforce. Airlines, delivery companies and the federal government employed approximately 71,000 airline pilots. About 33,000 commercial pilots worked for hospitals, charter companies, private business and flight schools.

Airline pilots spend an average of 75 hours each month flying and 150 hours on non-flight duties while commercial pilots fly between 30 and 90 hours per month. Both have irregular schedules that involve working for several days in a row and then having several days off. Airline pilots must have, as mandated by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), at least eight hours of rest between flights. They are often away from home for a few days at a time.

Those who have seniority with an airline get preferred routes.

Educational Requirements

Pilots receive their training in the military or by attending FAA certified flight schools. Most employers prefer to hire job candidates who have a bachelor's degree although the minimum requirement is two years of college.

Coursework should include English, math, physics and aeronautical engineering.

Why Do You Need to Know About Educational Requirements?

Other Requirements

To be allowed to transport people or cargo, one needs a commercial pilot's license. To qualify for it, an individual must be at least 18 years old, have 250 hours of flight experience, pass a physical exam, have vision that is correctable to 20/20 and have no physical handicaps that could affect job performance. The candidate must pass a written exam and a flight exam during which he or she demonstrates flying ability to an FAA-designated examiner.

Airline captains and first officers need a transport pilot certificate. To qualify for one, a pilot must be 23 years old with 1500 hours of flight time. He or she must pass written and flight exams.

In addition to the ability to fly aircraft, pilots also need certain soft skills—or personal qualities. He or she must have good communication and problem solving skills and be detail oriented. The ability to work as part of a team is vital since pilots must not only work with one another, but with air traffic controllers and flight dispatchers as well.

Job Outlook

Pilots can expect to see employment growth through 2020 that is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

There will be better job opportunities with regional or low-cost airlines or in general aviation because there is expected to be stronger growth in these business segments. Competition at major airlines will be strong. Pilots with the greatest number of flights and instrument hours will fare best.

Why Do You Need to Know About Job Outlook?


In the United States, airline pilots earned a median annual salary of $114,200 in 2012. Commercial pilots earned less. Their median annual salary was $73,280.

Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much a pilot currently earns in your city.

A Day in a Pilot's Life

On a typical day a pilot's tasks might include:

  • doing preflight checks on aircraft following a prescribed checklist
  • checking that cargo is loaded and properly balanced
  • receiving instructions for takeoff and landing from the control tower
  • monitoring engines and fuel consumption during flights
  • planning flights according to weather conditions and after conferring with air traffic controllers

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Airline and Commercial Pilots, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/airline-and-commercial-pilots.htm (visited August 07, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/53-2011.00 and Commerical Pilots, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/53-2012.00 (visited August 07, 2013).

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