How Long Does it Take to Become a Commercial Airline Pilot in the US?

How to Become a Pilot


Aviation can often have an elusive path. Plan ahead in order to achieve your goal of becoming a commercial airline pilot. You must consider cost, location, and especially time. Time should be a huge consideration when it comes to deciding where to fly. Becoming a commercial airline pilot in the US is a great option because the high standards of training will help you get your commercial pilot status quickly and efficiently. This will get you on your way to getting your dream job as a commercial airline pilot!

Private Pilot

There are many requirements that pilots must meet in order to qualify for testing. The minimum hour requirement for private pilots is 40 hours for Part 61. These 40 hours have sub-requirements that include a minimum of 20 hours with an instructor and 10 solo hours. These hours are in reference to flight time and do not include the ground time you will also need in order to be up to par with your private pilot knowledge requirements. The 40 hours are a mere minimum requirement (35 for Part 141) but the average amount of time that student take to get their PPL is about 50-70 hours according to AOPA. This time can be reduced or lengthened depending on if you decide on full-time or part-time study. Part-time students can expect to accomplish the PPL within 4-6 months. Full-time student can expect to accomplish it in about 2-4 months. The more you study and train, the more proficient you will become as a pilot!

Instrument Pilot

Why should I get an instrument rating?

Once you have completed your PPL you will move on to add on your instrument rating. An instrument rating is required to operate under instrument flight rules as well as in Class A airspace (above 18,000 ft.) where virtually all major airlines operate. The instrument rating is on average completed within 50 hours and full-time students can accomplish the full program within one month! The general hour requirements for an instrument rating are:

  • Pass the Instrument Rating Examination (IRA) with a 70% or higher
  • 20 hrs of in-aircraft training
  • 20 hrs of FTD, Frasca or Redbird
  • 2   hrs for Checkride

Commercial Pilot

Commercial Pilot License
This is what you’ve been waiting for! You’ve completed your instrument rating and now need to achieve your commercial pilot license. This license requires a minimum of 250 hours with sub-requirements for both single and multi-engine therefore you will need to build your time after you complete your instrument rating. The actual training for your commercial license (single engine) is a mere 15 hours once you have reached the requirement. You can opt to do the single engine and then do the multi-engine add-on which will take a minimum of 15 hours of flight time including the checkride. The commercial training can be accomplished within 4 weeks if full-time and 4-8 if part-time.
Download a Step-by-Step Checklist to Become a Pilot

1500 Hour Rule

Pilot Qualification Standards

The FAA has established a “1500 Hour Rule” that was designed to promote safety among airline pilots. A first officer must have at least 1500 hours and an airline transport pilot certification in order to work in the US as a commercial airline pilot. In order to qualify for the ATP certificate one must meet the following requirements:

  • At least 23 years old
  • Hold commercial pilot certificate with instrument rating
  • Pass ATP knowledge and practical tests
  • 1,500 hours total time as pilot

There are many ways to achieve this 1500 hour requirement. Once you have your commercial pilot license you will be able to work for hire. This means you can start instructing, crop dusting, banner towing, flying tours, and so much more. Working for companies in order to build time is a great idea because you no longer have to pay to fly but are instead getting paid to fly and accrue your hours!

Achieve your dream of become a commercial airline pilot may seem like a monumental task but it is easily in your reach. You know you want to fly for a living so don’t hesitate. The sooner you begin the sooner you will be in the air flying for a commercial airline; getting paid to do what you love. You will go from private pilot to ATP in a relatively short amount of time with hard work and dedication!