• Middle River Aviation

How to Become a Pilot for a Major Airline

If your dream has always been to become a pilot, you are in for a treat. The professional pilots here at Middle River Aviation are here to help outline specific steps to live out your childhood dream of flying commercial planes for major airlines! Does United Airlines, American Airlines, Spirit Airlines or Southwest Airlines sound like an employer of your dreams? Let us help you get there!

Below is a step-by-step list of items you need to complete, in order, to get a career as a commercial pilot:

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

You can get your degree in professional flight or a related field, but airlines do not require you to study anything aviation specific. Some people believe a degree in aviation will further their knowledge and appear better to employers while others believe a degree in something else to make you more well-rounded is more favorable to employers. The best part about this? To be a pilot you should study whatever you want.

1. Create a list of colleges you want to attend and apply to your top 3.

a. Compare degrees, student life, and cost of attendance

2. Receive acceptance/ commit to a university

3. Meet with advisors to find your degree and create your schedule and a plan of action.

4. Keep on schedule and keep your grades up

Step 2: Acquire Flight Experience

The easiest way to gain flight experience is to find a flight school, or CFI, certificated flight instructor, at your local airport and ask for a demo flight.

Demo flights also known as discovery flights or introductory flights are usually an hour in the plane with an instructor to see what it is like to fly in a small plane.

Step 3: Obtain Licensure

To become a certificated pilot you will need to complete the private pilot training with a CFI or at a flight school.

1. To choose a flight school figure out what is important to you in a flight school to shop around.

a. Aircraft availability, instructor availability, financial options, and costs.

2. Enroll in a flight school and begin taking lessons

3. Study a lot at home, come in for lessons prepared, and have fun!

4. Complete your private certificate

5. Complete your instrument rating

6. Complete your commercial certificate

7. Obtain your certificated flight instructor rating

a. This is important it will enable you to keep building your hours to ATP minimums while no longer needing to pay for your own hours which is very expensive

Step 4: Gain Professional Experience

Once you become a commercial pilot, you are eligible for your first professional job. While you may not have many hours, only about 200-250, the first jobs available to you will be low pilot time jobs such as banner towing, flight instruction, and tours. Once you get to about 1000 hours you can go to other jobs such as cooperate flying. The regional airlines will hire you once you hit the ATP minimums.

Step 5: Advance as an Airline Pilot

The first step to becoming an airline pilot is to hit the Airline transport pilot minimums 14 CFR 61.159 or 61.160. That will make you eligible for a regional airline to hire you. Many regional airlines are partnered with major airlines and have contracts to transfer to a major once you’ve worked at the regional for a few years. Some majors do not have contracts with any regionals, and you would have to reapply when you hit that specific company’s hiring minimums.

Extra Credit: Join a professional association for extra aircraft safety training webcasts and webinars offered by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) or safety seminars offered by the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA).

(According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for all pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers was $117,920 in May 2015.)

Career Requirements

Degree Level

Bachelor's degree

Degree Field(s)

Aircraft operations, aviation, aeronautical engineering, or a related field


Commercial pilot's license required; instrument rating certification or airline transport pilot certification may be required


Flight time is part of training

Key Skills

Strong communication, problem-solving, and observation skills; good depth perception, vision, and reaction time; ability to operate aircraft computer and navigation systems

Median Annual Salary (2015)

$117,920 (for all pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Life of a Pilot

"A job as a pilot is not your regular 9-5. Most airline pilots are only working about 15 days out of the month and the life of a pilot can be very rewarding. You will get to see the world while being compensated quite generously for it. The rest of your days can be spent at home or traveling on your own time using your airlines travel benefits that most companies allow you to share with your friends and family."

Our staff here at Middle River Aviation knows how important your future and childhood dreams are; let us assist in getting you where you want to be in life! Contact our flight school today to enroll and step on the path of becoming an infamous airline pilot that all little kids look up to! Our Baltimore aviation school is the perfect fit, call now!