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Top 10 how to become a pilot captain That Will Change Your Life

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How Long Does it Take to Become an Airline Captain

Today I’m going to share with you how long it takes to become an airline captain.

People ask us this question every single day.

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward.

I’ll go deeper into every step along the way but I want to start off by noting that your timeline largely depends on the overall aviation industry.

From zero time to becoming an airline captain it will likely take at least 15 years. And that is largely dependent on how quickly you go through training, build time to airline minimums, and most importantly, the state of the aviation industry.

If they are desperate for pilots, you may be able to move a little more quickly through a regional airline and into a major airline.

If the industry has slowed down it’s hiring, you could be sitting at any one of these steps for months to years.

Two pilots in the cockpit

Traditional Pathway to Becoming an Airline Pilot

Here’s a look at the traditional path a career-seeking pilot might take if they keep their eyes on the end goal—becoming a captain at a major airline.

  • Complete a four-year bachelor’s degree
  • Complete flight training through the commercial pilot multi-engine instrument
  • Accumulate 1,000 or 1,250 hours for Restricted ATP or 1,500 hours for ATP
  • Get a job for a regional, charter, or cargo company flying a turboprop or jet — complete your first type rating and ATP checkride during training
  • Upgrade to captain to accumulate turbine PIC time
  • Apply for jobs at major airlines
  • Work as copilot until you are eligible to upgrade to captain

Bachelor’s Degrees

A four-year degree is understood to be a minimum requirement for most major airlines. There are plenty of pilot jobs that you can do without a degree requirement, but a four-year degree helps keep your application at the top of the stack when applying to pilot jobs.

But here’s a little talked about fact—your degree doesn’t need to be in aviation.

Many professionals in all sorts of careers went to school for something and then decided to practice something else later on.

A four-year university degree is more about completing the task and having the broad skill-set of an educated person. It’s not about the on-the-job skills that an employer is going to teach you.  

If aviation is your passion, then an aviation degree makes sense. But if you are changing careers and have an English degree, for example, please excuse the comma usage in this article and go ahead–apply to those pilot jobs!

If you’re going to school and aren’t sure what you want to do, a generic liberal arts degree is nothing to dismiss. As far as the airlines are concerned, a four-year degree is a four-year degree.

Most aviation programs have some serious advantages for those looking to get into the left seat quickly, though. They often have connections with airlines—and some even have agreements that can hook you up with an interview.

A four-year flight program can also hook you up with a Restricted ATP license. That shaves 250 flight hours off of your time-building requirements. 

You Don’t Have to Get a Degree Before Flight Training

If your goal is to get to the airlines as quickly as possible, I recommend starting your flight training first. Most regional airlines don’t require a degree to get a job (in fact even the majors are becoming more lenient on this requirement).

So you can instead go through your flight training and then, once you get a job at a regional, enroll in a degree program and get it while you work. Then when it’s time to move up to the majors you’ll be ready.

Sportcruiser in the hangar

Flight Training

The typical course of flight training for a career pilot goes something like this.

  • Private pilot
  • Instrument rating
  • Commercial pilot single-engine
  • Multi-engine rating
  • Certified flight instructor (CFI)
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Each one of these programs is a significant undertaking in terms of learning and accumulating flight hours.

You can choose a professional pilot training center licensed under FAA Part 141 or any FBO or instructor that conducts training under FAR Part 61.

Either one ends at the same place—getting your ATP at 1,500 hours.

But 141 programs are often designed from the ground up to move fast and provide airline-style training—a great way to start the career of your choice.

Time Building

Getting those 1,500 hours to be eligible for the ATP (or 1,250 for the Restricted ATP) means that every pilot will have to plan for their time building. At the end of the commercial pilot checkride, most pilots have about 250 hours total time. 

So how long does it take to get 1,500 flight hours? That all depends on how you build your hours. Most people find a pilot job that they can do with only a commercial pilot license, and the most common choice is to become a flight instructor. 

Flight instructor training is more bookwork than flying, and most students can complete the course in a few weeks. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got the power to log pilot-in-command time while teaching students and getting paid. At a busy school, you can put 100 to 150 hours per month in your logbook. 

At that rate, you could expect to work as a CFI for about a year before you’re eligible to move on to your ATP training and applying for your first airline job. 

Most CFIs do not fly that much, however.

The average CFI works in flight training for two to three years.

They earn their flight instructor-instrument and flight instructor multi-engine ratings, gaining more experience teaching advanced students and sometimes building more than the minimum required hours for the airline.

If the industry is in a downturn, it’s sometimes preferable to build up more hours before applying. 

Inside airline

First Commercial Pilot Jobs

When a pilot begins applying for their first airline jobs depends a lot on the jobs they’re looking at and the health of the airline industry as a whole.

For example, during economic downturns, airlines may go through a period of low hiring for a year or two.

During these times, competition for jobs is fierce, and new pilots with low hours will generally be passed up for more experienced pilots.

During periods of boom and growth, however, airlines become almost desperate for pilots.

The minimum hours you need to apply goes down, and they may even offer signing bonuses to encourage you to leave your CFI job sooner rather than later. 

The cyclical nature of the airline industry is one reason why it’s so hard to estimate how long it takes to become a captain at a major airline.

Once hired by a small charter company or regional flying bigger equipment, your next move is to work hard until you are eligible for an upgrade.

Turbine PIC Time

Moving from a small carrier to a major requires turbine time.

This is a requirement you won’t find in many other pilot jobs, but it makes the candidate pool and the majors a little more exclusive.

Article continues below.

become an airline pilot with Zero Time to Airline training

You’ve got to be a captain of something at your company, which means you need to work to get your upgrade as soon as possible before you can apply to the majors. 

Upgrade times at smaller operators are usually short. These companies have high turnover since their pilots are constantly moving through the system.

All the copilots are becoming captains, and all the captains are moving on to the majors, so the process repeats. 

If the economy is slowing down and the majors stop hiring, you might be in the right seat longer than you expect. But then, the guy next to you will be in the left seat longer than they expect, too.

On the other hand, if the majors are hungry and hiring pilots left and right, you might get lucky and upgrade in a matter of months. 

Jet at the terminal

Apply to the Majors

Once you’ve collected enough turbine PIC time, you start applying to first office positions for the majors. How many of those hours do you need?

Again, it all depends on how desperate the majors are for pilots. At a minimum, expect to work as a captain for an entire year before you begin to apply for bigger and better jobs. 

Seniority Perks and Staying in the Right Seat

Once you’re working at one of the big guys, you may find that your career goals begin to change.

Many pilots enjoy their time being first officers. They’re learning from the most senior and experienced pilots in the world. And the longer they stay a first officer, the easier it is to build seniority.

Money concerns start to wane at this point in your career, and you’ll place more value on your free time and getting a great schedule. Your seniority controls these things.

If you upgrade to captain, you’ll be low on the list again. If you stay in the right seat for a few years, you can be on the top of the list. 

Like all other factors up to this point, how long it takes to go from first officer to captain depends more on the airline you work for and the condition of the industry. You could be working away for anywhere from one to five years before you’re eligible to upgrade.

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You may choose to switch bases or upgrade to bigger equipment before you make the upgrade to captain. There are simply many factors at play, and every pilot makes different choices at this point in their career. 

But one thing is clear—by the time you’re on the payroll and working the line at a major carrier, you are there.

You have become an airline pilot.

You’ve put an incredible amount of time, money, and effort into getting there, and the perks are well worth the price of the journey. 

Extra Information About how to become a pilot captain That You May Find Interested

If the information we provide above is not enough, you may find more below here.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Airline Captain

How Long Does it Take to Become an Airline Captain

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  • Matching Result: Traditional Pathway to Becoming an Airline Pilot · Complete a four-year bachelor’s degree · Complete flight training through the commercial pilot …

  • Intro: How Long Does it Take to Become an Airline Captain Today I’m going to share with you how long it takes to become an airline captain. People ask us this question every single day. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward. I’ll go deeper into every step along the way but…
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How Long Does It Take to Become an Airline Captain?

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The path to becoming an airline captain -- how pilots climb the ...

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How to Become a Commercial Pilot - Epic Flight Academy

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Airline Captain and First Officer Explained - ATP Flight School

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How Long Does it Take to Become a Pilot? - AeroGuard

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Frequently Asked Questions About how to become a pilot captain

If you have questions that need to be answered about the topic how to become a pilot captain, then this section may help you solve it.

How much time does it take to become a captain of a pilot?

Some first officers have waited decades to become a captain while others can upgrade in just a few years, but we’ll set an average range of 5-12 years from first officer to captain at a major airline. That means from 0 experience all the way to major airline captain, one can expect a timeline of 15+ years.

Are all pilots promoted to captaincy?

Your first flight as a commercial airline pilot will likely be as a First Officer after you complete your training and flight instruction; you will then advance to Captain after gaining experience as a First Officer; the roles of a First Officer and a Captain are distinct but have some overlap.

Can a captain be a pilot?

Before taking a Command Course, a newly qualified airline or private jet pilot is given the rank of First Officer; if this is successfully completed, this means they can become a Captain. In the military, First Officers are known as Co-pilots.

How much does a pilot make as a captain?

The average annual salary for an airline pilot captain in the United States as of is $9,752.

Captains or pilots make more money?

Although the captain is in charge and receives a larger salary, both people fly the aircraft.

Who makes more money, the captain or the pilot?

There are a few different factors, including the need for more flight experience and having a higher rank, that contribute to the fact that captains typically make more money than co-pilots.

How much time do pilots put in?

Pilots have variable work schedules that may include several days of work followed by some days off. Pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and work an additional 150 hours per month performing other duties, such as checking weather conditions and preparing flight plans.

Who is the world’s best pilot?

With a long list of accomplishments to back up his claim to be the best pilot in the world, Charles Yeager was a former fighter pilot and officer in the United States Air Force. Yeager was the first pilot to surpass the speed of sound, reaching Mach 1.07 in 1947.

Is flying a happy profession?

The average salary for a pilot, according to glassdoor.com, is $66,627 per year. A career as a pilot is fantastic because it is interesting, diverse, and exciting. It is a place where you’ll never stop learning, and there are lots of opportunities to diversify within the industry.

How old can a pilot fly?

“The Standard limits the privileges for pilots in single-pilot commercial air transport operations to 60 years of age, while extending that limit to 65 years of age for multi-pilot operations.

Do pilots return home each evening?

When it comes to domestic short-haul flights, flight instructors and pilots can generally be at home every night; however, airline pilots who fly longer routes are unable to do so and can be gone for up to two weeks at a time.

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