Commercial Airline Pilot Degree

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What is a Commercial Airline Pilot?

The commercial airline pilot field of study in business focused on flight, navigation, and accommodations of airplanes, helicopters and other FAA approved aircraft.  Commercial airline pilots fly for commercial airlines or for private carriers that transport cargo and people on defined schedules.  A commercial airline pilot can also fly for a variety of other purposes including crop dusting, aerial photography, rescue operations, firefighting, and charter flights.

Commercial airline pilot majors must understand of a number of engineering specialties such as avionics, aerodynamics, materials science, propulsion, manufacturing, and structural analysis.

They will gain academic knowledge and hands-on experience to understand many of the following academic concepts: fluid mechanics, engineering mechanics, mathematics, propulsion, control engineering, solid mechanics, aircraft structures, aerospace computer software, noise mitigation, flight test, aeroacoustics, computational fluid dynamics, wind tunnels, and hydrodynamics.

How to Become a Commercial Airline Pilot

The steps to become a commercial airline pilot are important to understand as you look to a career in the field.  We have outlined the requisite steps below to help you make sense of the process and find the right college program for you.  Make sure to track each step carefully through the process to ensure you understand the current and future requirements to become a commercial airline pilot.

Step 1: Establish a Personal Priority List.  By establishing a priority list, you will be ready to make life-changing decisions based on what is important to you.  Without a personal priority list, you will be relegated to one-size-fits-all college rankings pushed by massive media companies that do not know you.  To create your priority list, start by asking yourself a series of questions found on page 3 and 4 of our College Admissions Guide.

Step 2: Request Feedback.  Take the time to share your priority list with your school counselors, teachers, family members, friends and school alumni.  They will each have a unique perspective and provide you with valuable input.

Step 3: Perform a Self-Assessment.  Taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses coupled with likes and dislikes, you will be ready to move to the next step of gathering information from colleges offering aviation programs.  A self-assessment should include academic preferences, social influences, learning style, career objectives, and work-life balance considerations.

Step 4: Gather Information & Get Matched to a College.  Collecting quality information from accredited aviation schools found on this page will help you align programs with your priorities.  Free services like MatchCollege will help you quickly get matched to a number of programs of interest to quickly research schools of interest.  After receiving information from the list of colleges and universities on your list, you will have the information in-hand to make a final college decision.

Upon deciding on a short list of schools, you will need to apply to each school.  Be diligent about outlining your work experience, carefully follow directions, and apply early.  Once your application is in queue, reach out to the financial aid office to talk about financial aid options.  As specific questions about grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans before committing to college.

Step 5Acceptance & Classes.  Once you accept a school’s offer of admissions you will need to understand the timing, processes, and resources needed to begin matriculation in aviation school.  The school will schedule a time for orientation and you will meet with your advisor to begin mapping out a course plan towards a specific degree.

Step 6: Certificates, Experience, Work.  The final set of steps will need to be considered if not included in your degree program.  First, you may want to earn a private pilot license along with instrument ratings and multi-engine ratings.

A private pilot license will allow students to fly single-engine planes with a focus on the fundamentals of flying.  A certificate in instrument rating will allow students to fly under IFR in all weather conditions while a multi-engine ratings provides the ability to fly larger and faster aircraft.  Students will be required to earn a commercial pilot certificate to ensure experience and aptitude requirements are met prior to being legally paid to fly.

Many students elect to earn a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) certificate of completion.  A CFI will allow students to make money while helping others as they aggregate the necessary experience to become a pilot.  The typical flight hours required for an ATP certificate is 1,500 hours.  Upon meeting the ATP requirements, you will be eligible to apply for a commercial airline pilot position for most regional airlines.

What Classes Do Commercial Airline Pilots Take in College?

The exact classes you will take depends on the college or university in which you enroll.  Schools will vary courses from school to school so make sure to check the course catalog carefully to understand their requirements.

A typical set of classes you will take include a blend of liberal arts classes with core classes.  General education classes will include classes like communications, English composition, history, philosophy, psychology, and math.   Core classes in aviation with an emphasis in being a commercial pilot may include the following courses:

Aviation Science Flight Environment
Intro to the Aviation Administration Flight Physiology
Air Transportation Management Airport Management
Aviation Law Customer Service
Finance for Aviation Professionals Airline Management
Air Traffic Management Aviation Marketing
Crew Resource Management Private Pilot Certification
Aviation Security Ground Instrumentation
Ethical Issues Commercial Flight Commercial Pilot
Modern Avionics

Employment in Aviation

For students that earn a college degree as commercial airline pilots will be technically sound and mentally equipped to fly.  Piloting a variety of vessels will take practice and know-how that can only come with formal training.  Students seeking an alternate to commercial flying may be interested in gaining credentials in other fields.  Examples of these careers associated with aviation can include air traffic controller, aerospace engineer, operations technician, engineering manager, electrical engineering, electrician, industrial engineer, materials engineer, mechanical engineer, and project manager.

Commercial Pilot Salary & Jobs

The mean annual income for a commercial airline pilot is currently $89,350 which is more than twice the national median for all jobs.  The top 10% will make in excess of $152,000 a year with the bottom twenty-five percent will average around sixty-thousand dollars a year.

States employing the most commercial pilots are Texas and California followed by Florida, Ohio, and Arizona.  Interestingly enough, the states paying commercial pilots the highest salary do not intersect with the most popular.  Top paying states for commercial airline pilots are New Hampshire, Connecticut, Georgia, District of Columbia, and New Mexico which all average over $110,000 annually.

Commercial Airline Pilot Resources

For additional information about the aviation industry, associations such as the Airline Pilots Association (APA) and Coalition of Airline Pilots Association (CAPA) may be a good starting point.  Associations help bring professionals together and provide tools & resources for aviators from all around the country.

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