Airline pilots have a glamorous job, piloting large aircraft loaded with passengers all around the world. It takes a lot of training just to get licensed to fly these aircraft, let alone get hired by a major airline. Airlines have good and bad times and pilots are frequently laid off. Once a pilot builds some seniority and stability, the financial rewards can be great. Pilots have a tremendous amount of responsibility and must make critical decisions in seconds, as the US Airways crash on the Hudson River illustrates.
An airline pilot's job description is to safely fly an airliner, but a pilot does much more than just fly. A typical day may start with the pilot using computer skills to check weather and flight plans. The plane must be pre-flighted and all aircraft logs reviewed. When ready, the pilot will oversee the push-back and then taxi to the runaway. While flying, in addition to monitoring aircraft systems, the pilot must communicate with the FAA and the company. Pilots may work long hours and strange shifts, often being away from home for several days.
Having a college degree is important when applying for positions. Although not strictly required, airlines like American Airlines prefer a college degree or equivalent.(See Reference 1) Since many pilots are former military officers, they will all have college degrees. Without a degree, your application may stay buried below more qualified applicants. The degree does not have to be an aviation related field of study. Many pilots have degrees in fields ranging from law to engineering.(See Reference 2)
Civilian pilots must go through rigorous flight training before they are finally rated for airliners. To fly large aircraft, a pilot must have an Airline Transport Pilot rating, or ATP ticket. In addition to having achieved all the lower ratings, there is also a requirement for total flying time and for time as Pilot-in-Command. Airlines favor former military pilots because of the quality training they receive. (See Resource 2) Once hired, pilots will receive extensive training for the aircraft they will fly and frequent recurrent training for the life of their career.
The pay a pilot receives is based on many variables. Seniority, type of aircraft flown and whether the pilot is a Captain or First Officer all affect the pay level. The hours that a pilot may fly is regulated by the FAA. Most pilots will fly between 75 to 80 hours a month. Starting out, a 1-year seniority pilot flying regional small narrow-body aircraft can expect a range from $21 to $41 per hour. The same pilot flying narrow-body aircraft can expect anywhere from $30 to $75 per hour. The highest paying position will be piloting wide-body aircraft. The 1-year seniority pilot will earn from $30 to $75 per hour. But after 10-years seniority, this pilot can expect $99 to $235 per hour.(See Reference 3)
Career Advancement Opportunities
Flying wide-body aircraft on over-seas routes is the pinnacle for airline pilots. Because of the flying time restraints mandated by the FAA, an over-seas pilot can reach his maximum flying time relatively quick, leaving him with more time off in that month.(See Reference 2) There are other jobs besides being a line pilot. There are pilots that conduct flight-testing after major maintenance. Some pilots conduct recurrent training and checkouts. Other pilots may choose to go into management, supervising pilot operations.
Airline Pilot Central
ATP Flight School