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A Peek Into a Commercial Pilot's Life

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The childhood dream of spending the workday flying through fluffy white clouds while watching the earth from high above the ground has led many to become commercial pilots. While the actual hours spent in-flight can provide incredible views, the job requires far more than sitting in the cockpit. Because the pilot is responsible for the crew and passengers, rigorous training, testing, and hundreds of hours of in-flight experience are required before carrying any cargo or passengers. Regulations are strict, and sanctions are given for the slightest infractions. Given all this, most commercial pilots wouldn’t trade the job for any other occupation.

Early Sacrifices
There are many paths to becoming a commercial pilot, and all begin with a private pilot license. Some obtain the certification at a private flight school, others attend a college that offers an aviation program, and some receive the certification through the military. Pilots are often glamorize and considered wealthy, but not so in the beginning. It takes several years before the pilot is ready for employment and many more before making a significant salary. Early in the career, with the high cost of education, many borrow to purchase a car or utilize swimming pool financing options for the home.
After obtaining a private pilot license and putting in the additional hundreds of in-flight hours on various aircraft, a commercial license is awarded. Although a four-year degree isn’t required, major airline carriers except one. If a position with one of the major airlines is a goal, a degree is expected.
Early in a career, pilots often take jobs in cities far from home. Irregular hours, nights, and weekends are an expected part of the workweek. Traveling to and from the domicile location can be time-consuming. To cut down costs and commute time, many beginning pilots rent space in a house near the airport and bunk with other airline personnel. When adding up in-flight hours, commuting time, mechanical and weather delays, days are often long. Family time can suffer when the pilot misses important events.

Initial Employment
Commercial positions are found in many industries. Some pilots work for cargo carriers and fly freight such as mail and packages. Others work for charter companies and carry small groups and sports teams. Flying helicopters for local news stations, police departments, or medical transportation are in demand. The variety of positions is seemingly endless, and the employment outlook is good, with projected growth above the average of all other occupations.
Starting pay is moderate for the commercial pilot, but the long-term benefits are great. Companies provide paid training and experience on a variety of aircraft. After several years, pilots can move up to captains, make more money and have better routes and schedules. In the aviation industry, there are no quick paths to the top. Carriers want the most experienced pilots as captains, and the only way to achieve that is by hiring those with the hours.

Path to Advancement
In time, after thousands of in-flight hours and obtaining an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification, commercial pilots can apply to major carriers for airline positions. Airline pilots are well paid and have substantial benefits. Benefits include free flights for the pilot and immediate family members on a variety of airlines. Stepping up to the airlines results in a significant salary increase and better company benefits with profit sharing and lucrative retirement plans. Major companies treat employees well and often pay for five-star hotels and resorts during layovers. Time off is substantial, and when the job is done for the day, the pilot is done. The job does not go home with them.
An aviation career isn’t for everyone. Though the benefits are great, the responsibilities are enormous. Those who excel are strong communicators and creative problem solvers with an aptitude for technology. A commercial pilot’s life can be exhausting, education requirements are extensive, and they last the entire career, but the rewards are excellent for those who stick with it.

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