Airline Pilot Eligibility Frequently asked questions about who can become a commercial airline pilot.

How to Become an Airline Pilot What are the steps to become a commercial airline pilot?

  1. Step 1: Earn Private Pilot Certificate

    The first step in becoming an airline pilot is to earn a Private Pilot certificate. Starting in a single-engine plane, this stage of training focuses on the fundamentals and sets the foundation for more advanced certificates and ratings.

  2. Step 2: Add Instrument & Multi-Engine Ratings

    After becoming a private pilot, the next step is to earn an instrument rating and a multi-engine rating. An instrument rating allows a pilot to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) in all kinds of weather, while a multi-engine rating adds the privilege to operate these larger and faster aircraft.

  3. Step 3: Earn Commercial Pilot Certificate

    Next is earning a Commercial Pilot certificate. Pilots must meet specific experience requirements and fly to a higher standard in order to become commercial pilots, which ultimately allows them to legally be paid to fly.

  4. Step 4: Earn Certified Flight Instructor Certificates

    Once a commercial pilot, earn all three Certified Flight Instructor certificates (multi-engine, single-engine, and instrument). Becoming a CFI allows pilots to earn a living flying, while they obtain the flight experience required by airlines.

  5. Step 5: Gain Experience

    Flight instruct to gain the type of quality and relevant flight experience necessary to satisfy the requirements of the Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which airline pilots must hold and includes a minimum of 1,500 hours total flight time.

  6. Step 6: Airline Pilot Job

    Upon meeting the requirements of the Airline Transport Pilot certificate, you are eligible to fly for an airline and will meet the hiring minimums of most regional airline pilot jobs. ATP's Airline Career Pilot Program can take you from zero time to airline pilot job in just two years. View the training timeline »

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Education Do I have to get an aviation degree or go to an aviation college to become an airline pilot?

No, but many regional airlines prefer an associates degree or at least two years of college experience. Major airlines typically require a bachelors degree, but it can be in any field of study, not just aviation. Online degree programs are also an option for you to complete your bachelors degree while flying as a professional pilot. FAA pilot certificates obtained thru ATP’s flight training are accepted for transfer credit by many colleges with aviation degree programs.

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Vision Do I have to have perfect vision to be a commercial pilot?

No, as long as your vision can be corrected to 20/20 with glasses or contacts, you will be eligible for a 1st Class FAA Medical Certificate, which makes you eligible to fly as a civilian professional pilot. This is much less restrictive than military pilot vision requirements.

What if I’m Colorblind?

An FAA Medical can be obtained by some people with colorblindness. The restrictions will depend on the degree of colorblindness. The FAA has several mechanisms for making this determination. Consult an Aero Medical Examiner (AME) for more information. Some airlines have their own restrictions more stringent than the FAA’s.

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Background Check What are the background check requirements?

Some airlines perform FBI 10-year background checks, driving record checks, drug tests and credit checks as part of their standard pre-employment process. You cannot have any felonies on your record. DUI’s and misdemeanors are handled at the discretion of the airline, but a significant amount of time must have passed since those events to even be considered for airline pilot employment. Random drug tests are performed throughout employment.

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Credit Is it important to have good credit?

Yes, for a couple of reasons:

First, the cost of flight school is relatively expensive and most students will need to finance some, if not all, of the flight training cost. While it’s important that you have good credit for the loan, it’s equally important that you find a cosigner who has excellent credit. The cost of financing is directly related to your credit history. In order to keep loan rates as low as possible, it is very important to have a solid credit history. It is equally important to have a credit worthy cosigner on the application.

Second, the airlines will perform a credit check as a standard step in their background check process. An unblemished credit history will make the best impression with the airline.

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Age Am I too young/old to begin flight training to become a commercial pilot?

You can hold a commercial pilot certificate as young as 18 years old, but ATP strongly urges high school graduates to pursue some college experience before enrolling in the Airline Career Pilot Program. As for being too old, it’s important to realize what your training investment will be and how long you can fly before reaching mandatory retirement at age 65. If you want to become a career pilot, look at how many years’ earnings you’ll have before retirement and ensure that it’s a worthwhile investment.

Discuss this topic with a current ATP flight instructor by requesting more information »