Airline pilots work in the aviation industry. They operate aircraft, such as commercial jets, to transport people and goods to destinations all over the world. As an airline pilot, you will fly aeroplanes on short- or long-haul flights for airlines of all sizes, usually on scheduled air carrier routes.
- Carry out pre-flight checks of engines, instruments, fuel and safety systems
- Ensure the aircraft is below its weight limit
- Create a flight plan, using weather reports and information from air traffic control
- Communicate with air traffic control before take-off and during flight and landing
- Navigate the aircraft along planned routes by using cockpit instruments and visual references
- Check data during the flight and adjust the route where necessary
- Communicate with passengers using the public address system
- Brief the cabin crew before the flight and maintain regular contact throughout the flight
- Ensure the safety and comfort of passengers, cabin crew and aircraft
- Update the aircraft logbook and write a report after each flight, noting any incidents or problems
Skills and qualities
You will typically begin your career as a flight engineer before advancing to a first officer position and, after 5 to 15 years, to a captain position. With experience, you could become a flight training instructor or an air accident investigator.
Nights, weekends and holidays
Airline pilots are limited to flying a total of 100 hours per month, or 1,000 hours per year, as regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They typically fly 75 to 80 hours a month and spend an additional 150 hours each month performing other duties such as preparing flight plans.
Though work schedules are variable, the FAA requires a minimum of an eight-hour break between shifts, while flight assignments often involve overnight layovers. Airlines will typically cover accommodation, meals, airport transportation and other expenses for pilots when spending time away from home, and if you’ve worked at an airline for a long time, you can choose the routes and schedules you prefer.
As an airline pilot, fatigue and jetlag are common, as you will work long hours and travel into different time zones. It is also a highly stressful profession, as you are responsible for the safety of your passengers.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Qualifications and training
Bachelor’s degree in aviation or related field
In addition to a bachelor’s degree (which can be in any subject, although a degree in aviation or aeronautical sciences is preferable), you’ll need to obtain a commercial pilot’s licence from the FAA and the FAA-issued Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022