How to Become a Commercial Pilot (With Development Skills)
Updated 12 July 2023
If you have a passion for aviation, you may make a good commercial pilot. Commercial pilots fly passengers to destinations within the country and overseas, and they can find employment with international, national and regional airlines. Learning more about this career path can help you determine whether it's right for you. In this article, we explain how to become a commercial pilot, including the steps, development skills and tips that help people secure these roles.
How to become a commercial pilot
Learning how to become a commercial pilot can help you plan your career steps to ensure you meet all the requirements for this role. These professionals complete training before assuming their positions. This training takes the place of traditional educational qualifications. Here are the steps you can take to become a commercial pilot:
1. Get a high school education
Educational qualifications are optional for commercial pilots, although written communication and comprehension skills can help you pass Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) examinations. Some commercial airlines also prefer pilots with passing marks in mathematics and physics. To broaden your career prospects, you may complete year 12 with enough units to secure your secondary school certificate. Studying English, mathematics and physics in senior school can help you meet the job criteria for most airlines.
2. Complete a student pilot training programme
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Completing a student pilot training programme helps you qualify for your recreational pilot licence. Flight training organisations authorised under Part 141 or 142 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations, some technical institutes and TAFEs run student pilot programmes. The amount of training time required varies depending on how regularly you fly, the weather you fly in and the aircraft available. Most students qualify for their recreational pilot licence in 55 to 60 hours. You may also complete this programme as part of a longer aviation diploma or degree.
3. Apply for an aviation reference number (ARN)
All people and businesses who interact with CASA require an ARN. You can apply for your ARN online through the My CASA Portal. Follow the prompts to create a new My CASA account if you are new to the portal. CASA requires proof of valid identification, such as an Australian passport or birth certificate, to create a new account. Allow around a week for CASA to process your application and issue your ARN.
4. Obtain your recreational pilot licence
After passing student pilot training and turning 16, you can apply for your recreational pilot licence. This licence lets you command a light, single-engine aircraft unsupervised and with passengers. You can travel up to 25 nautical miles from your departure point with a recreational pilot licence. Your training helps prepare you for the aeronautical examination and flight test. Obtaining a Class 1 or Class 2 medical certificate from a CASA-approved doctor shows you're healthy enough to fly unsupervised.
5. Train for your commercial pilot licence
A commercial pilot licence is an essential qualification for commercial pilots. Most pilots get this licence after completing an authorised flight training organisation's programme. You may complete a non-integrated course with practical training and learn the theory independently or choose an integrated course with theory and flight lessons.
6. Get your commercial pilot licence
After turning 18 and completing the required number of flying hours, you can apply for your commercial pilot licence. This licence lets you command most commercial flights and co-pilot all commercial flights, including multi-crew charters and flights on very large planes. As with the recreational licence, your training can help you pass the theory and practical flight exams. People who complete integrated courses require fewer flying hours. People applying for commercial aeroplane pilot licences need more flying hours than people applying for commercial helicopter pilot licences. The required flying hours are:
150 hours in a helicopter for non-integrated courses
200 hours in an aeroplane for non-integrated courses
100 hours in a helicopter for integrated courses
150 hours in an aeroplane for integrated courses.
7. Increase your flying hours
The largest commercial airlines require pilots to complete at least 1,500 hours of flight time. This standard helps them keep their passengers safe. Some people get these flying hours by applying for jobs with small charter companies. Taking tourists on scenic flights or piloting planes for skydivers, for example, are great ways to increase your hours. You could also apply for one of the large commercial carrier's cadet pilot programmes. If you gain admission, you can work towards your hours by piloting planes for the airline's regional brand. You may then transition to a pilot position with a major airline.
8. Complete regular flight reviews
Regular flight reviews ensure you continue meeting international civil aviation standards. Visit your flight training organisation for a mandatory flight review every one to two years. Take note of any feedback and note skills for revision.
Related: How to Become a Pilot in Australia
Top development skills for commercial pilots
Advanced technical skills help commercial pilots safely and efficiently pilot aeroplanes and helicopters. They can complement these skills with soft skills that help them put passengers at ease and work harmoniously with crew members. Focus on developing the following skills to secure a commercial pilot job:
Advanced flying skills
Advanced flying skills help commercial pilots command or co-pilot aircraft safely and efficiently. They can confidently take off, navigate planes and land smoothly. When mechanical or weather conditions arise, they adjust their approach to keep the flight as smooth and safe as possible. Practising in your preferred aircraft whenever you can is the best way to improve your flying skills.
Theoretical knowledge and application
Commercial pilots have advanced theoretical knowledge about flying, including aerodynamics, flight operation, flight performance and flight planning. They also understand how to apply this knowledge to improve their success in the air. They know how various factors, such as the weather and human factors, can impact the way they fly. They also understand relevant flight rules and air laws for the countries they fly in.
Good situational awareness helps commercial pilots identify and understand what happens inside and outside the aircraft. They may create a mental picture of the aircraft's location, its configuration, the flight conditions and factors that could impact safety. Having this picture in their mind's eye at all times helps them identify and manage risks and stay in control of the aircraft.
Strong verbal communication skills help commercial pilots communicate effectively with air traffic controllers, co-pilots and passengers. Being able to explain their flight situation to air traffic controllers and understand their instructions helps pilots fly and land safely. Good communication in the cockpit between pilots improves the chances of successful flights. Pilots also use their communication skills to keep passengers calm during weather events and flight delays.
Commercial pilots know they are responsible for getting their crew and passengers safely to their destinations. Their self-management skills help them act responsibly. For example, they manage their lifestyles to get adequate sleep and stay sober for flights. They can also recognise the signs of stress and reduce them so they stay calm during their shifts.
Decisiveness and quick thinking
Good commercial pilots often make quick decisions to adjust to conditions such as turbulence and mechanical faults. The most successful commercial pilots can assess conditions and think of the best solutions quickly and calmly. For example, they may perform forced landings if mechanical issues impact their ability to reach their destinations safely. They may also divert the flight to another airport if there is a major storm in their intended location. Their decisiveness helps them react to changes they face and keep their crew and passengers safe.
Tips for becoming a commercial pilot
Competition for commercial pilot positions is strong, so it's vital to separate yourself from other job candidates. The following tips can help you become a commercial pilot and advance in your career:
Get formal educational qualifications
While educational qualifications are optional for commercial pilots, they can improve your knowledge and show airlines your commitment to aviation. Many large commercial airlines have a strong preference for candidates with diplomas and degrees. Degrees are also essential for pilots in some international locations. You could get a Diploma of Aviation (Commercial Pilot Licence) rather than studying for the pilot licence separately. Some people then pursue a Bachelor of Aviation. Many universities let diploma holders claim 12 months' credit, which makes the bachelor's degree an 18-month programme.
Choose a large flight training organisation
A large flight organisation lets you complete your recreational and commercial flight training in one location. This can be a better option for many aspiring pilots than choosing a small training centre. You can get to know the instructors and build connections that may help you in your career. Instructors who see your passion may become good mentors or introduce you to people who can help you advance in your career.
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