What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming an Airline Pilot?

If you have always had a passion for aircraft, you’ve probably considered becoming a pilot. Airline pilots enjoy an exhilarating profession and a median salary as high as $98,410 per year the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Most airlines require pilots to have a college degree, but candidates can consider many different options when deciding on a major. In addition to earning a degree, airline pilots must complete flight school and earn many licenses and ratings.

An Airline Pilot’s Education

Aspiring airline pilots must go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree, but they are free to major in whatever subject they wish. Often, they choose degree programs that relate to their desired career, like aviation, aeronautical science, or aerospace engineering. Students who choose to go this route should consider whether their intended school is accredited by the Aviation Accreditation Board International. Other students pursue an undergraduate degree in a different subject of interest, especially one that could provide them with an alternate career path should they decide that flying is not for them or have difficulty breaking into the competitive career. Many professional pilots begin their career path with military training, often in a branch of the military such as the Air Force.

For aspiring pilots, the real career education comes from flight school. Some college degree programs in aviation incorporate flight school work through their own college flight school into their programs, though not all do. Aspiring pilots go to established flight schools, independent instructors or fixed base operators (FBO) to learn about aircraft features and procedures and flying techniques. They gain hands-one experience flying with supervision, alone, on cross-country trips and at night.

Earning Licenses and Ratings

Aspiring airline pilots must earn a number of licenses and ratings. They begin with their Student Pilot Certificate, and then proceed to earn their Private Pilot License. Prospective pilots must earn what’s called an Instrument Rating before they can earn their Commercial Pilot License from the Federal Aviation Administration. With this license, they can begin flying professionally in roles such as piloting charter flights and aerial tours or crop dusting. To be qualified to work as an airline pilot, candidates must earn an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and must usually complete thousands of hours of flying. They also commonly seek the Multi-Engine Rating. For every level of license and rating an aspiring airline pilot pursues, he or she must complete both a written test and a flight test. An optional but popular path is to pursue a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) rating after earning their Commercial Pilot License, which will allow aspiring airline pilots to work as flight instructors and gain more experience and hours flying, themselves.

Professional pilot positions are very competitive, especially with regards to well-paid airline pilot positions. However, for those who have a passion for flying, few other careers offer anywhere near the same excitement and opportunities as being a pilot does.

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