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How to Get a Commercial Pilot License

This article will explain how to get a commercial pilot license, including license requirements, cost and jobs you can get once you have it. A commercial pilot license is not enough to fly for major airlines, for that you'll need an ATP or Airline Transport Pilot certificate.

Steps to Getting a Commercial Pilot License

Here's the steps to getting your commercial pilot license (in a nutshell). There's more information below.

  1. Research and choose a flight school
  2. Attain your private pilot license
  3. Attain your instrument rating (see instrument rating requirements)
  4. Take classes on the ground to cover aeronautical knowledge
  5. Take and pass the written exam on aeronautical knowledge
  6. Log 250 hours of flight time for airplanes or 150 hours for helicopters
  7. Pass a practical test

What Can You Do With a Commercial License?

A commercial pilot license will allow you to build your flight time with certain lesser jobs, like flying banners, flying corporate passengers, or piloting tourist flights. However, in order to fly for major commercial airlines like United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, American Airlines, and other major airlines, you will need more than a commercial pilot's license, you will need an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. If you want to become a flight instructor, a commercial license is a prerequisite to getting your flight instructor license.

Commercial Pilot License Requirements

In order to get your commercial pilot license, you must first have a private pilot license. You will also need your instrument rating. If you do not have this, your commercial license will be issued with a limitation on it. If you wish to fly multi-engine aircraft, you will also need your multi-engine rating. The complete requirements for commercial pilots can be found through the FAA website. Here is an abbreviated list. Make sure to verify all requirements with your flight instructor.

  • Be 18 years old
  • Speak English
  • Hold a private pilot certificate
  • Pass the practical test on aeronautical knowledge
  • Log 250 hours of flight time for single or multi-engine airplane rating
  • Log 150 hours of flight time for a helicopter or gyroplane rating
  • Pass a practical test

Character traits needed for commercial pilots include:

  • Discipline
  • Taking criticism
  • Being personable
  • Relaxed and calm under stress
  • Flexible with your lifestyle
  • Wear hearing protection to protect you from loud noises

Commercial Pilot License Cost

Getting your commercial pilot license can cost a lot of time and money. However, it's very difficult to quote a specific cost associated with getting your license, because you're the one who really controls that. Here's what we mean...

Most flight schools will quote you a cost associated with a certain flight package. And that's great, if you stick to the package. However, many people find themselves slacking off, or not flying as much as they are suppose to each week. In addition, you may need to repeat certain classes in order to feel completely comfortable. In order to get your private pilot license, the FAA only requires 40 hours of flight time, but many people take 60 hours, or even as much as 80 hours. You can see how this easily can double the cost associated with getting just your private pilot license. In fact. the longer you take to get your license, the prices associated with the lessons and flight time needed increase too.

In general, you may say it takes between $6,000 to $12,000 to get your private pilot license. A commercial license requires 250 hours of flight time. So if it took you 50 hours of flight time to get your private pilot licenst, then you will need an additional 200 hours of flight time. Just for the required flight hours, you'd be looking at a minimum of $24,000 and upwards to $50,000, depending on how quickly you learn. You will also need to take your ground schooling classes.

So all in all, you might expect to pay around $30,000 to $50,000 total for your flight training, if you are very motivated and on track with your ground classes and flight time.

One of the ways you can moderate the cost of getting your commercial pilot license is to take an accelerated flight training program. This is essentially going to flight school full time to get in the required number of hours of class and flight time needed to attain your license.

Sample Cost Breakdown

Here is the cost breakdown for a school like the California Flight Academy. These costs do not include room and board. Flight hours are based on the average number of hours for a CFA student. However, as we mentioned before, the national average for the number of hours needed to complete flight school are higher. If it takes you additinal hours, your cost will increase. In addition, individual hours vary and some students complete the training in as little as 6 months.

Phase I: Private Pilot License (PPL)
50 Flight Hours*
Tuition: $7,930**

Phase II: Instrument Rating
50 Flight Hours*
Tuition: $8,150**

Phase III: Time Building
95 Flight Hours*
Tuition: $11,250**

Phase IV: Commercial Multi-Engine Rating
27 Flight Hours
Tuition: $7,050

Commercial Pilot License Training

Here are the things you will train for when you go through a commercial pilot license training program.

For an airplane category rating with a single-engine class rating

  1. Preflight preparation;
  2. Preflight procedures;
  3. Airport and seaplane base operations;
  4. Takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds;
  5. Performance maneuvers;
  6. Ground reference maneuvers;
  7. Navigation;
  8. Slow flight and stalls;
  9. Emergency operations;
  10. High-altitude operations;
  11. Postflight procedures

For an airplane category rating with a multiengine class rating

  1. Preflight preparation;
  2. Preflight procedures;
  3. Airport and seaplane base operations;
  4. Takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds;
  5. Performance maneuvers;
  6. Navigation;
  7. Slow flight and stalls;
  8. Emergency operations;
  9. Multiengine operations;
  10. High-altitude operations;
  11. Postflight procedures

For a rotorcraft category rating with a helicopter class rating

  1. Preflight preparation;
  2. Preflight procedures;
  3. Airport and heliport operations;
  4. Hovering maneuvers;
  5. Takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds;
  6. Performance maneuvers;
  7. Navigation;
  8. Emergency operations;
  9. Special operations; and
  10. Postflight procedures

For a rotorcraft category rating with a gyroplane class rating

  1. Preflight preparation;
  2. Preflight procedures;
  3. Airport operations;
  4. Takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds;
  5. Performance maneuvers;
  6. Ground reference maneuvers;
  7. Navigation;
  8. Flight at slow airspeeds;
  9. Emergency operations;
  10. Postflight procedures

For a powered-lift category rating:

  1. Preflight preparation;
  2. Preflight procedures;
  3. Airport and heliport operations;
  4. Hovering maneuvers;
  5. Takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds;
  6. Performance maneuvers;
  7. Navigation;
  8. Slow flight and stalls;
  9. Emergency operations;
  10. High-altitude operations;
  11. Special operations;
  12. Postflight procedures

For a glider category rating

  1. Preflight preparation;
  2. Preflight procedures;
  3. Airport and gliderport operations;
  4. Launches and landings;
  5. Performance speeds;
  6. Soaring techniques;
  7. Performance maneuvers;
  8. Navigation;
  9. Slow flight and stalls;
  10. Emergency operations;
  11. Postflight procedures

For a lighter-than-air category rating with an airship class rating

  1. Fundamentals of instructing;
  2. Technical subjects;
  3. Preflight preparation;
  4. Preflight lesson on a maneuver to be performed in flight;
  5. Preflight procedures;
  6. Airport operations;
  7. Takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds;
  8. Performance maneuvers;
  9. Navigation;
  10. Emergency operations;
  11. Postflight procedures.

For a lighter-than-air category rating with a balloon class rating

  1. Fundamentals of instructing;
  2. Technical subjects;
  3. reflight preparation;
  4. Preflight lesson on a maneuver to be performed in flight;
  5. Preflight procedures;
  6. Airport operations;
  7. Launches and landings;
  8. Performance maneuvers;
  9. Navigation;
  10. Emergency operations;
  11. Postflight procedures

Jobs You Can Get with a Commercial Pilot License

With any time of piloting licensure, you may want to consider finding the job you want, then working toward the license for that job, instead of the other way around. These are some of the jobs you can get with a commercial pilot license:

  • Helicopter reporter who reports on traffic
  • Helicopter inspector (inspecting pipelines for oil companies or powerlines for power companies)
  • Aerial Firefighter additional training needed)
  • Aerial Paramedic (additional training needed)
  • Aerial Police(additional training needed)
  • Aerial Border Patrol (additional training needed)
  • Search and Rescue Pilot
  • Charter pilot (corporate business jet pilot)
  • Tourism pilot
  • Banner towing
  • Photo platforms
  • Airplane ferrying
  • Commercial sightseeing
  • Skydiving
  • Check pilot
  • Test pilot
  • Courier
  • Pilot balloon rides