The number of flight hours it takes to become a commercial pilot varies depending on whether you just want to be eligible to take on paid flying roles or want to become an airline pilot.
Obtaining a commercial pilot license will take a much shorter length of time than obtaining an airline transport pilot license, which is necessary to become an airline pilot.
In short, if you want to start to become financially compensated for flying, a commercial pilot license requires a minimum of 190-250 flight hours, depending on whether you enroll in a Part 141 or Part 61 school.
If you want to progress your career and become an airline pilot, a minimum of 1,500 flight hours are required, in addition to a couple of other requirements like obtaining a multi-engine rating.
Commercial Pilot License
After you have obtained your private pilot license, which requires a minimum of 35-40 flight hours, a third-class medical certificate, and passing a written knowledge and practical test, you are eligible to start working towards a commercial pilot license.
If you enroll in a Part 141 flight school, which is the recommended path due to its more structured training, it will take you a minimum of 190 flight hours to earn your commercial pilot license. A Part 61 flight school requires 250 hours of flight time.
You will also have to spend many hours studying for the written test, as well as undergo an FAA medical exam to obtain a second-class medical certificate, which a commercial pilot license falls under.
- 190-250 flight hours (depending on Part 141 or Part 61 flight school)
- 40 hours + (studying for the written test)
Airline Transport Pilot License
Progressing from a commercial pilot license to an airline transport pilot license is a significant step up in every way.
To become an airline pilot, a minimum of 1,500 flight hours are required. This is known as the 1,500-hour rule, which came into effect in 2013.
One of the most common ways pilots who want to fly for airlines can reach the minimum number of flight hours to qualify for an ATPL is through earning a flight instructor certificate.
This allows a pilot to teach students, build up experience, and also be financially compensated in the process. It’s a win-win and is something the majority of pilots decide to do.
It takes 25 hours to become a certified flight instructor.
As commercial airlines use multi-engine aircraft, a multi-engine rating also needs to be earned. This takes a further 25 hours to obtain.
There’s also the small matter of obtaining a first-class medical certificate, and passing a written knowledge and practical test, which will test a pilot’s ability more so than anything else they have experienced so far on their journey in becoming an airline pilot.
It’s worth noting that to become a co-pilot, you only need 1,000 flight hours to be eligible for a restricted airline transport pilot license. An ATP Certification Training Program must also be completed.
- 1,500 flight hours (minimum)
- 1,000 flight hours (minimum to become a co-pilot)
- 25 hours (minimum) for flight instructor certification
- 25 hours (minimum) for multi-engine rating
How many years does it take to become a commercial pilot?
You are now aware of the minimum number of hours it takes to become a commercial pilot, whether that’s working in the capacity of an airline pilot or not. But how many years will this actually take you?
Typically, if someone is starting from zero and able to treat earning their licenses as a full-time job, it will take 9 months to obtain a commercial pilot license and be eligible for paid flying roles, and 4-5 years to become an airline pilot.
How much does it cost to become a commercial pilot?
If you’re starting from zero, you can expect to pay upwards of $40,00 to obtain all the necessary certification and become a commercial pilot.
- Student Pilot License: $75-200 (for the medical certificate)
- Private Pilot License: $10,000
- Commercial Pilot License: $25,000
- Airline Transport Pilot License: $5,000
While this can be a lot of money, the good thing is that you can start to make money at the same time as you build up the required flight hours for an ATPL.
How hard is it to become a commercial pilot?
Becoming a commercial pilot is within reach of almost anyone, provided they are willing to put the necessary time and work in to improve their knowledge and skills.
Flying a plane isn’t necessarily the hard part. Combining the knowledge, skills, and experience that you will learn and develop along the way, so much so that they become second nature and accessible at any time, is.
Of course, becoming an airline pilot is harder to achieve than just earning a commercial pilot license and taking on paid flying roles, like banner towing and aerial work.
However, the path to an airline transport pilot license is clearly laid out, and hundreds of thousands of airline pilots in the United States alone have followed this well-trodden path and achieved their goal.