How Many Flight Hours Do You Need To Become a Commercial Pilot?

Updated March 3, 2023

Being a commercial pilot can offer plenty of opportunities to travel and a variety of aircraft to fly. Hundreds of flight hours are needed to become a qualified commercial pilot. Learning more about what it takes to become a commercial pilot can help you determine if this career path is the right choice for you.

In this article, we answer some frequently asked questions about this career, including how many flight hours it takes to become a commercial pilot.

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What is a commercial pilot?

A commercial pilot flies an aircraft for unscheduled commercial airline flights, charter flights, emergency planes and crop dusters. Depending on their qualifications, experience and training, they may also fly aircraft used in rescue operations and firefighting. Other job duties for this career include:

  • Checking the aircraft's overall condition before and after every flight

  • Ensuring the fuel supply is sufficient, and the weather is good

  • Balancing the aircraft and ensuring it's below its weight capacity

  • Operating and controlling aircraft along planned routes and during landings and takeoffs

  • Preparing and submitting flight plans to air traffic control

  • Monitoring fuel consumption, engines and other aircraft systems during flight

  • Responding to changing conditions, such as emergencies and weather events

  • Navigating the aircraft by using visual references and cockpit instruments

Related: How To Become a Commercial Pilot: Step-By-Step Career Guide

How many flight hours do I need to become a commercial pilot?

Prospective commercial pilots typically log at least 250 hours of flying time to earn their license, including 50 hours of cross-country flying and 100 hours of pilot-in-command time. They also complete at least 10 hours in a complex aircraft and 10 hours of instrument training. During their commercial pilot training, they learn maneuvers and fly a longer cross-country flight, including a cross-country flight that is about 300 nautical miles total and includes a single leg of about 250 miles.

Related: How Long Does It Take To Become a Pilot?

What license does a commercial pilot need?

The FAA Commercial Pilot Certificate, known internationally as a Commercial Pilot License (CPL), qualifies a commercial pilot to be paid for piloting an aircraft. Here are the steps to earn your CPL:

1. Meet basic requirements

The first step to getting a CPL is meeting the following basic requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old

  • Hold at least a valid private pilot certificate or license

  • Write, read, speak and understand English

  • Pass a physical test, including a vision test

  • Have logbook endorsements from an authorized instructor from a commercial pilot school

If you meet the minimum requirements, you can then decide whether you want to pursue a commercial multi-engine license (CMEL) or a commercial single-engine license (CSEL). Once you decide, look for a reputable flight school for your training. This helps prepare you for the commercial pilot knowledge and practical tests needed to become a commercial pilot.

2. Train as a private pilot

After you get your private pilot license, you can train to understand the basics of flight and learn more about airplane maintenance and operations, maneuvering and airport communications. Training typically comes in two forms: modular and integrated. Modular training allows you to pay as you go and is suitable if you want to train part-time, potentially taking breaks between modules. Integrated programs are more expensive, but allow you to complete your training in a shorter time, which is usually between 14 and 18 months.

Some flight schools offer private or recreational training courses as prerequisites for commercial pilot training. This allows you to progress through the required levels without attending several sessions. Completing your training in this manner can help expedite your journey to becoming a qualified commercial pilot.

Related: What Is On-the-Job Training?

3. Log flight hours

The FAA requires you to complete at least 250 hours flying in a range of situations, including solo and as the pilot-in-command. It also requires you to complete instrument training and fly an aircraft with designated gear. Other general requirements include flying cross-country in both day and nighttime conditions and completing a specified number of landings and takeoffs.

4. Pass the required exam

The last step to becoming a licensed commercial pilot is passing the required tests, which include a written and practical exam. The FAA practical exam, which is administered by a registered official, requires you to perform a range of operational tasks, exhibit proficiency in flying and show your ability to meet industry standards. The FAA's written exam comprises multiple-choice questions, and you can take it before the practical exam. Passing the written exam is necessary to show your knowledge of safety regulations and navigation.

Should I get a degree before training?

While a college degree isn't necessary to get started in this field, many employers prefer prospective commercial pilots who have at least a bachelor's degree, which can be in any major. Mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, aviation technology, aviation, computer science or physics may provide you with a good educational foundation as a pilot. Employers may accept candidates who have completed liberal arts courses, along with classes such as aeronautical engineering. After college, it's helpful to attend a flight school to learn specific piloting and flying information. Some examples of topics that flight schools may cover include:

  • Principles of flight

  • Aircraft mechanics

  • Aeromedical knowledge

  • Weather forecasting

  • Flight and navigation planning

  • Pilot duties and flight maneuvers

Many major airlines offer cadet programs, which provide training as a pilot and benefits such as tuition reimbursement upon completion, which can be helpful because a CPL may cost around $30,000 including pilot school. This can also increase the likelihood of securing a commercial pilot job upon completion of your training. Cadet programs also offer unique mentorship and networking benefits, which can help you advance your commercial pilot career.

Related: When a Professional Degree Will Help You Advance in Your Career

What skills do I need to be a commercial pilot?

There are several skills necessary for success in the role of a commercial pilot, including:


A commercial pilot's ability to communicate efficiently is crucial to the safety of the aircraft and its passengers. It's important to communicate with air traffic control regarding traffic and weather information or to ask for advice during emergencies. It's also important to communicate with passengers and other airline personnel effectively to ensure the experience is pleasant for everyone on the aircraft.

Related: Communication Skills for Career Success

Attention to detail

Having a strong situational awareness and attention to detail is critical to maintaining total control of the aircraft. It's important to be meticulous in going through the pre-flight checklist to decrease the likelihood of problems once the aircraft is in the air. This can also help you identify any potential safety or mechanical risks, which can further enhance the safety of the flight.

Ability to think quickly

When a problem occurs during flight, the ability to remain calm can be necessary to make the right decision quickly. Most times, there's not a single right solution, but a commercial pilot should use quick-thinking skills to identify the best viable solution and take immediate action. Thinking about different potential problems that can occur during a flight can help you practice and develop this skill set.

Related: How To Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Technical skills

Technical skills such as aeronautical skills or math skills can be important for commercial pilots to succeed in their role so they can calculate numbers accurately, quickly and on-demand. They also have an in-depth knowledge of the mechanics of flying an aircraft and operating complex instruments. Other useful technical skills include physics knowledge, aviation law and meteorology.

How much do commercial pilots make?

The national average salary for pilots, which can include commercial pilots, is $84,439 per year. Most pilots earn an hourly salary for the time they are in the air. Commercial pilots typically have a steady schedule built months in advance, making it easier for them to calculate their monthly salary.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

Related: How Much Do Pilots Make? Pilot Salary Info and FAQs

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What are the advancement opportunities?

Commercial pilots may advance to one of the following careers:

Corporate jet airline pilot

If you are looking to continue to build your experience with flight but have more regular hours and passengers, you may consider a career as a pilot for a corporate jet. Corporate jet pilots work for large corporations or for contract agencies. They fly company executives to business conferences and meetings. They record and update flight plans for the plane, and are also responsible for the safety of the plane and its passengers. To undertake work as a corporate jet pilot, it's important to gain extensive flight experience and get all appropriate flight certifications.

Read more: FAQ: What Qualifications and Skills Do You Need To Be a Corporate Pilot?

Flight instructor

Airline pilots with extensive experience in controlling and flying aircraft may decide to teach these skills to others. A flight instructor usually begins by teaching students on the ground to help them learn safety rules and regulations. They then begin in-air flying instruction, working with trainees through a series of activities designed to help them become comfortable with the operation of the plane.

Depending on the trainee's level of experience, a flight instructor may help guide them through the education necessary to operate various types of aircraft. A flight instructor usually works at flight schools and maintains regular daytime hours. Flight instructors hold either an airline transport pilot (ATP) license or a CPL.

Related: How To Become a Flight Instructor

Aeronautical engineer

Some commercial pilots become highly interested in the technology behind the plane they operate, so they may want to seek further education to become an aeronautical engineer. An aeronautical engineer works to design and build aircraft, reviewing potential designs based on their knowledge of engineering principles to ensure they meet safety standards. They also assess damaged pieces to identify problems and find suitable solutions. To become an aeronautical engineer, it's necessary to earn a bachelor's degree in a program approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, and a master's degree is necessary to advance in the field.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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