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Pilot Career Guide

A pilot has the very important job of flying an aircraft by operating its directional flight controls. Note, only read on if you’re not afraid of flying or heights and have a great sense of adventure!

Being a pilot is a very respectable, admirable and thrilling career that is set to offer many exciting employment opportunities over the coming years. To have the best opportunities as a pilot, you will need a degree in any subject. You will then receive the relevant training and pass a number of licensing exams.

No joke. Becoming a pilot makes you smarter. You'll gain knowledge that you never thought you would need to know. You'll become a better planner, a logical decision-maker, and a meteorologist.

Sarina Houston

Pilot Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Pilot Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Pilot field.
ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
32920 Fighter Pilot Male 30 $74,988 Wichita Falls, TX 01/01/2010
32657 Pilot Male 33 $90,000 Gilbert, NY 01/01/2010

Overview

What a pilots actually does

An aircraft pilot has the very important job of flying an aircraft by operating its directional flight controls. Pilots have a huge amount of responsibility as they ensure safety and comfort of everyone on board the flight. As an aircraft pilot, you can work for large commercial airlines, small private businesses or as part of the department of defence. The daily duties and responsibilities of a pilot will depend on where, and who, they work for. However, they will typically need to perform duties such as:

  • Checking the overall condition of the aircraft before and after every flight
  • Ensuring that the plane is balanced and not overloaded
  • Checking that the fuel supply is adequate enough to get to the final destination
  • Ensuring that the weather conditions are acceptable for flying
  • Whilst flying, pilots communicate with air traffic control over the radio system
  • Operating the aircraft along planned routes and during take off and landing
  • Monitoring the aircraft whilst flying (e.g., checking fuel consumption and engine performance)
  • Responding to changing conditions (such as rain or wind)
  • Communicating with passengers and other aircraft staff (e.g., the cabin crew)

Why they are needed

The aviation industry is one of the fastest transportation sectors. Each year, airlines carry more than 4.5 billion passengers, which is expected to generate 581 billion dollars in global revenue. Arguably, pilots play the most crucial role in this industry. Without pilots to fly the planes, the aviations industry would be practically nonexistent, and we would be forced to rely on cars, trains and boats as our mode of transportation!

Pros and cons of a career as a pilot:

Pros:

  • Being a pilot is a very well respected and admirable career
  • Pilots get paid good money
  • As a pilot, you will get to fly and to travel the world
  • Every shift offers a huge sense of adventure
  • No two days are the same when working as a pilot, which means you’ll never be bored!
  • You tend to get to work as part of a close and supportive team
  • The aviation industry is constantly growing and adapting so the learning never stops.

Cons:

  • Being a pilot can be a very stressful job, as you are responsible for the lives of a lot of individuals
  • There is the constant threat of losing your career in an instant due to unforeseen medical reasons
  • It is a steep learning curve – there are lots of exams to pass to get a pilots license that allows you to fly commercial aircrafts
  • Pilots can work long hours and they may have to work holidays
  • Pilots who fly long-haul may be away from home for long periods of time

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of pilots is projected to grow 5% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This employment growth is expected because the growing population will create a demand for commercial flights. The demand for pilots in various other industries, such as in the ambulance services, is expected to increase because pilots will be needed to transfer patients to healthcare facilities.

It is important to note that pilots seeking jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition, because these places tend to attract more applicants than the number of job openings.

Career paths

Typically, all pilots start their career as commercial pilots and usually accrue thousands of hours of flying experience in order to get a job with a major airline. To become a commercial pilot, you will need a high school diploma and to complete flight training with an independent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight instructor or at a school that offers flight training.

To progress to become an airline pilot, you will typically need a bachelor’s degree in any subject, along with a commercial pilots license and an ATP certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Airline and commercial pilots who are newly hired will receive on-the-job training in accordance with Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). Training normally includes 6 to 8 weeks of ground school. Throughout their career, all pilots must maintain their experience in performing certain manoeuvres. They do this my performing specific manoeuvres a given number of times within a specific amount of time.

Example Job Titles for Pilot

Below is a list of common job titles in the Pilot field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for a commerical pilot was $86,080 in 2019. The lowest 10% earned less than $45,480 and the highest 10% earned more than $179,440 per annum.

At a more advanced level, the median annual salary for airline pilots was £147,220 in 2019. The lowest 10% earned less than $74,100 and the highest 10% earned more than $208,000 per annum. Scheduled air transportation was the highest paying industry, with a median annual salary of $161,110.

Autonomy and Flexibility

The level of autonomy and flexibility of a pilot will vary depending on what stage of their career they are at. A pilot who is yet to achieve their commercial license and is still being supervised is likely to have little autonomy and flexibility. Whereas, an experienced airline pilot is the most senior person on the plane, and will have control over many decisions. Flexibility will not be particularly high, as pilots won’t really get to pick their working hours and they will have to follow certain flights paths and listen to the instructions from air traffic control. However, more senior pilots may be allocated the more preferable routes.

Locations and commute

Most pilots are based near large airports, as this means they can get to and from their shifts with ease. According to Zippia, the best states to be a pilot, based on average annual salary and number of jobs available, are:

  1. Oregon, where the average annual salary is $80,697
  2. Alabama, where the average annual salary is $72,709
  3. Pennsylvania, where the average annual salary is $75,845
  4. Oklahoma, where the average annual salary is $74,999
  5. North Dakota, where the average annual salary is $72,417

The worst states, according to Zippia, are Kentucky, Nebraska, Maryland, Vermont and South Carolina.

Work environment

It will be of no surprise to hear that pilots will work in small teams for long periods of time in close proximity to one another. The high levels of concentration required to fly an aircraft and the mental stress of being responsible for the safety of passengers can be fatiguing. Similarly, pilots may be assigned to long-distance routes. These types of pilots may experience fatigue and jetlag. Pilots must be alert and quick to react if something goes wrong. Federal law requires pilots to retire at age 65.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Pilot careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Pilot career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Pilot.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

One study has found that the ENTP personality type was the most common personality type found in trainee pilots. ENTP’s are energetic, charming and witty, which is ideal for working as part of a small team and for building rapport with passengers. They tend to have erratic sleep-wake schedules, which will help them get used to the long-haul flights and different time zones. The ENTP also has a knack for picking up new skills quickly and connecting the dots, which is essential for pilots.

Accomplishment and mastery

To become a pilot, you must be committed to the process. Therefore, when you finally qualify and have all the necessary skills, you will probably feel a huge sense of accomplishment and mastery. Furthermore, throughout your career as a pilot, you will successfully navigate and land plans, and each time you will feel accomplished.

Meaning and contribution

Pilots play a meaningful role in the aviation industry. If you wanted to have a job with lots of meaning and contribution, you should consider becoming an emergency services pilot or one that helps with special flights.

Life fit

Federal regulations set the maximum work hours and minimum requirements for rest between flights for most pilots. Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and work an additional 150 hours per month performing other duties, such as checking weather conditions and preparing flight plans. Pilots have variable work schedules that may include some days of work followed by some days off.

Flight assignments are based on seniority. Seniority enables pilots who have worked at a company for a long time to get preferred routes and schedules.

Airline pilots may spend several nights a week away from home because flight assignments often involve overnight layovers. When pilots are away from home, the airlines typically provide hotel accommodations, transportation to the airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses. Overall, this doesn’t provide the best life fit.

Who will thrive in this career?

To be a good pilot you need to show excellent communication, teamwork and interpersonal skills. You must also be adaptable, be able to remain calm under pressure and be able to think quickly. Being able to make decisions quickly is absolutely paramount to pilots, as pilots may need to make decisions that could save the lives of others. You must have situational awareness to thrive as a pilot, as navigating planes requires an awareness of ones surroundings. On top of this, you cannot be afraid of heights and must have an interest in travelling the world.

Who will struggle in this career?

People who prefer more active jobs, such as a personal trainer, construction worker or a physiotherapist, may struggle with the very sedentary lifestyle of a pilot – although a thrilling career, pilots spend the majority of their day sat down. Those who are not excitement seeking may struggle as a pilot, because you need to thrive off taking risks each day. Those who cannot communicate and don’t enjoy working as part of a team will struggle with the nature of a pilots work. Finally, those who cannot remain calm and collected under pressure will struggle when things go wrong.

Requirements

Skills and talents

As well as not being afraid of heights or flying, pilots need skills such as:

  • Interpersonal skills, as pilots need to build trusting relationships with passengers
  • Communication skills, as pilots need to clearly communicate with lots of people, such as the cabin crew and air traffic control
  • Observational and attention to detail skills, as pilots must observe numerous screens, gauges and dials to ensure that the systems are functioning correctly
  • Quick reaction time, as pilots must be able to respond quickly and with good judgement to unforeseen circumstances
  • Problem solving skills, as pilots must be able to identify and solve complexed problems in their immediate environment
  • Active listening skills, as airline pilots need to give their full attention to what other people are saying and understand the points being made
  • Spatial awareness, as pilots must be able to navigate planes through the sky

Education

Typically, all pilots start their career as commercial pilots and usually accrue thousands of hours of flying experience in order to get a job with a major airline. To become a commercial pilot, you will need a high school diploma and to complete flight training with an independent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight instructor or at a school that offers flight training.

To progress to become an airline pilot, you will typically need a bachelor’s degree in any subject, along with a commercial pilots license and an ATP certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Certifications

Those who are seeking a career as a professional pilot typically get their licenses and ratings in the following order:

  1. Student pilot certificate
  2. Private pilot license
  3. Instrument rating
  4. Commercial pilot license
  5. Multi-engine rating
  6. Airline transport pilot certificate

Each certificate and rating requires that pilots pass a written exam on the ground and a practical flying exam in an appropriate aircraft. In addition to earning these licenses, many pilots get a certified flight instructor (CFI) rating after they get their commercial certificate. The CFI rating helps them build flight time and experience quickly and at less personal expense. Current licensing regulations can be found in FARs. Pilots must pass periodic physical and practical flight examinations to be able to perform the duties granted by their certificate.

How to Become

Summary

An aircraft pilot has the very important job of flying an aircraft by operating its directional flight controls. Pilots have a huge amount of responsibility as they ensure safety and comfort of everyone on board the flight. It is a respectable, admirable and thrilling career that is set to offer many exciting employment opportunities over the coming years.

Immediate action

If you want to become a pilot, then you must consider what degree program you would like to take. You should also look at local flight schools and try and gather some flying/instructing hours.

Education and learning

Typically, pilots start their career as commercial pilots and usually accrue thousands of hours of flying experience in order to get a job with a major airline. To become a commercial pilot, you will need a high school diploma. To progress to become an airline pilot, you will typically need a bachelor’s degree in any subject.

Skill development

Pilots will learn their skills through their formal training and through on-the-job training. What is more, is that throughout their career, all pilots must maintain their experience in performing certain manoeuvres. This will further increase and solidify their skills and knowledge.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Pilot careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
32920 Fighter Pilot Male 30 $74,988 Wichita Falls, TX 01/01/2010
32657 Pilot Male 33 $90,000 Gilbert, NY 01/01/2010

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