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How To Become a Commercial Pilot (CPL License)!

Updated: Jan 17


commercial pilots flying a plane

Commercial piloting is a challenging yet fulfilling profession that involves safely operating aircraft. To embark on this career path, it's crucial to comprehend the training and experience required. 


This article delves into the role of a commercial pilot, including their responsibilities, necessary skills, and potential earnings. Additionally, we provide a comprehensive guide on how to become a commercial pilot, address common queries about the profession, and explore alternative career options in the same field.


What is a Commercial Pilot?

A commercial pilot, widely known for operating an airplane for the sole purpose of transportation of passengers, mail and cargo to their intended locations. This role demands a range of abilities, such as effective time management, coordination, navigation skills, and clear verbal communication. 


To qualify as a commercial pilot, one must obtain a private pilot certificate, achieve a competent instrument rating, complete supervised flight hours, and pass both written and practical examinations.


What are the Degree Requirements for Pilots?

Obtaining a commercial pilot license does not mandatorily require a degree; however, several airlines prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree alongside their flight experience. Possessing a bachelor's degree can provide broader opportunities within the aviation sector.


Steps To Earn Commercial Pilot License (CPL)

Becoming a commercial pilot involves a systematic process despite the general accessibility of learning to fly a plane by taking part in an introductory discovery flight

Here are the essential steps to pursue a commercial pilot career:


1.Get a Private Pilot Certificate

Commencing the journey to become a commercial pilot involves obtaining a private pilot certificate. This initial step demands comprehensive training in aviation fundamentals, laying the groundwork for handling more complex aircraft.


Typically, learners start with single-engine planes and progress to larger, intricate aircraft. Acquiring this certificate necessitates about 40 hours of training, split between 20 hours of instruction and 20 hours of solo flight, with costs ranging from $6,000 to $20,000.


2. Obtain an Instrument Rating

The subsequent milestone is securing an instrument rating, enabling pilots to navigate aircraft under Instrument Flight Rules and operate in varied weather conditions. This stage requires training in meteorology and instrument flying techniques.


3. Accumulate Flight Hours

To obtain a commercial pilot license, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates specific flight experience, which includes:

  • A total of 250 flight hours, with a minimum of 100 hours in powered aircraft and 50 hours in airplanes.

  • 100 hours as pilot-in-command, including at least 50 hours in airplanes.

  • 50 hours of cross-country flying, with at least 10 of those hours in airplanes.

  • 20 hours of advanced training covering instrument flight, training in technologically advanced aircraft (TAA), and exam preparation.

  • 10 hours of solo flying, encompassing night and cross-country flights.


Additionally, the FAA requires pilots to maintain a logbook with flight hours, verified by a certified flight instructor (CFI). This logbook serves as evidence of the necessary skills for safely operating the chosen aircraft. Before undertaking the official licensing test, a CFI must endorse the pilot's readiness and skill competence.


4. Pass Written and Practical Exams

Obtaining a commercial pilot license from the FAA involves passing both a written and a practical examination. The written test, known as the Commercial Pilot Airplane (CAX) exam, consists of 100 questions with a three-hour time limit. Achieving a score above 70% is considered passing. 


In the practical test, an evaluator assesses your abilities, focusing on aeronautical knowledge, flight proficiency, and safety and risk management practices. Successful completion of this test, deemed satisfactory by the evaluator, leads to the issuance of a Temporary Airman Certificate, a key step towards acquiring your commercial pilot license.


5. Obtain a Commercial Pilot License

The next step involves securing a commercial pilot license. It's crucial to familiarize yourself with the FAA's criteria to confirm you fulfill all the prerequisites for commercial airline pilots. The expense associated with acquiring a commercial pilot license is approximately $20,000. Once licensed, pilots are authorized to receive compensation for their aviation services.


6. Pursue Additional Certifications (Optional)

To further enhance your aviation career and expand your opportunities, consider pursuing advanced qualifications. The highest level of pilot certification is the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, a requirement for most airlines and numerous major aviation employers. To qualify for the ATP, the FAA mandates a minimum of 1,500 flight hours.


Additionally, if you're interested in teaching aviation, becoming a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) is a viable option. Most CFIs hold commercial pilot licenses and obtaining this certification involves passing both written and practical exams, which demonstrate your capability to instruct aspiring pilots. The journey to earning a CFI credential typically spans about six months. Holding a CFI not only qualifies you for specific roles but also opens up more job opportunities in the field of aviation education.


7. Work as a Commercial Pilot

After obtaining your license and fulfilling the required minimum flight hours, you become qualified to work as a commercial pilot for an airline. In this role, commercial pilots are tasked with transporting passengers and cargo. They may also find employment opportunities with government agencies, flight schools, or shipping companies.


What Does a Commercial Pilot Do?

Commercial pilots are responsible for flying passenger and cargo aircraft and, depending on their expertise and credentials, may also pilot planes used in firefighting, rescue missions, charter flights, crop dusting, and aerial photography. Their routine responsibilities include:


  • Following pre-flight checklists to inspect engines and other aircraft systems.

  • Ensuring the aircraft's weight is properly balanced.

  • Reviewing flight schedules, fuel levels, and weather conditions before takeoff.

  • Communicating with air traffic control for takeoff and landing instructions.

  • Operating the plane's engine, controlling its mechanisms, and navigating along predetermined routes.

  • Monitoring aircraft systems such as fuel consumption.

  • Managing the instruments and controls in the cockpit for safe navigation.

  • Executing smooth takeoffs and landings.

  • Completing post-flight reports on any mechanical issues encountered.


In larger aircraft, two pilots typically share the flying responsibilities. The more experienced pilot, known as the captain, assumes command of the plane and its crew. The first officer, or the second pilot, assists the captain in operating the aircraft and can take over when needed. Their duties often include communicating with air traffic control and implementing necessary adjustments during the flight.


Best Ways to Become a Commercial Pilot

There are various pathways to becoming a commercial pilot, each offering distinct advantages and considerations that cater to different preferences, circumstances, and career aspirations.


Here are several routes aspiring pilots commonly take:


1. Flight School

Attending a dedicated flight school is one of the most popular paths for aspiring commercial pilots. These institutions offer structured training programs that cover both theoretical knowledge and practical flight experience. Many flight schools provide certifications and licenses that align with industry standards, preparing students for a career as a commercial pilot.


SOCAL Flight Training is a flight school in San Diego, that offers an array of training programs to get you prepared for your commercial pilot certification in California.


2. Military Experience

Joining the military and becoming a pilot through military service is another avenue for aspiring commercial pilots. Military training programs offer a robust education in aviation, often allowing pilots to gain significant flight hours and experience in a wide range of aircraft.


3. Individual Training

Some individuals opt for self-paced training by working with certified flight instructors (such as Ivan Cibrian from SOCAL!) independently or through local flying clubs. They gradually accumulate flight hours and certifications without formal enrollment in a dedicated flight school program.


Choosing the right pathway to become a commercial pilot often depends on an individual's resources, preferences, and career goals. Each route offers unique advantages and considerations, and it's essential to consider these factors before embarking on the journey toward a career in commercial aviation.


Key Takeaways: Learn What It Takes to Be a Commercial Pilot

The responsibility of becoming a commercial pilot comes with a combination of essential skills and requirements. The process of earning CPL involves passing FAA tests and the minimum number of flight hours. 


The Aviation sector has a promising prospect for career advancement and growth yet, the demand for pilots can fluctuate time and again, so it is vital to stay updated with accurate industry trends and networks. With the right tips, you can prepare yourself to pass the assessment to become one of the best commercial pilots. 

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