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Airline/Commercial/Professional Pilot and Flight Crew

Program Description

Just the Facts

Airline/Commercial/Professional Pilot and Flight Crew. A program that prepares individuals to apply technical knowledge and skills to the flying and/or navigation of commercial passenger and cargo, agricultural, public service, corporate and rescue fixed wing aircraft. Includes instruction in principles of aircraft design and performance, aircraft flight systems and controls, flight crew operations and procedures, radio communications, navigation procedures and systems, airways safety and traffic regulations, and governmental rules and regulations pertaining to piloting aircraft. Programs may qualify individuals to sit for the FAA commercial and airline aircrew examinations.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate

High School Courses

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Additional Information

Wilbur and Orville Wright didn't study in an aviation program before they took to the air on Dec. 17, 1903. They had to become inventors and pilots on their own. Fortunately, it is not as difficult for aspiring pilots these days. Aviation programs can train students to fly in as little as a year.

There are a few ways to become a licensed pilot. Aviation programs are offered by community colleges, universities and private flight schools or clubs. Academic institutions often team up with flight schools to offer an aviation program where students learn to fly and get a certificate or degree in management, business administration or another major.

Future pilots split their time between the air and the classroom. Students learn about flight and the aviation industry.

Programs range from one to four years. Graduates become licensed pilots who are qualified for entry-level pilot jobs.

The minimum age to become a private pilot is 17. Commercial pilots must be 18. To become a transport pilot, you must be 23.

You must also pass a medical exam before you fly. Adequate vision and hearing are necessary. Pilots should not have any significant illness that could create a safety issue while they are in flight.

It is a myth pilots must have 20/20 vision without glasses, however. "The regulations require you to have vision that is correctable to 20/40 for the basic ratings and 20/20 for airline captains. In general, aviation medical standards are set to make sure the pilot is safe to fly the aircraft," says Laura Gerhold. She is the aviation academic advisor at the University of Illinois - Institute of Aviation.

Wayne Cave is the director of flight operations for a flight training company. He says the first thing aspiring pilots should do is get examined by a doctor who is licensed to administer pilot medicals.

"Almost everyone is medically sound enough to be a commercial pilot. However, there are a few who find they are color-blind, have a heart defect or some other problem they never knew existed," says Cave.

Entrance requirements for programs vary. Competition for some aviation programs is fierce. At the University of Illinois - Institute of Aviation, there are about 250 students vying for 70 slots. Applicants are assessed based on coursework, grades, standardized test scores and essays.

"Aviation as a professional field requires strong technical and organization skills," says Gerhold. "Emphasis is placed on their essays and their passion for flying."

Other programs are not as tough to enter. The application process might be designed to find out whether the applicant will be successful in the program.

"Some prerequisites are set for minimum math, physics and English high school marks, and an interview is done in order to assess the applicants' suitability," says Cave.

It is possible to land a job as a pilot without a formal diploma or degree. But a bachelor's degree makes any pilot a stronger job candidate.

"Subjects which might typically be covered in the final years of a degree program would include multi-crew operations, heavy jet operations, aviation management and advanced aerodynamics," says Cave.

In high school, students should focus on English, math and physical sciences courses.

"Foreign language is also becoming more important as aviation is increasing their international flights," says Gerhold.

Outside of classes, find organizations that help build leadership and teamwork skills. If you join an aviation organization you can also learn about aviation and start networking.

"Air cadets is a wonderful way to get exposed to flying and sometimes flight training scholarships for private pilot licenses can be earned," says Cave.

Aviation programs are expensive. Tuition and books are just the start. You also have to pay for the fuel you need, licenses and medical tests. It is not unusual for flight training to cost over $30,000 per year.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers

Federal Aviation Administration
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Women in Aviation
Resources for women in aviation


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