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Follow These 14 Steps To Become An Airline Pilot

There's no "perfect path" to becoming a pilot flying something like a Boeing 777, but here's one great way to make it happen. Thousands of pilots follow these steps, and you can too. Enjoy the journey along the way, it's a long one!

1) Start By Talking To The Pilots You Know

You probably know a pilot or two through friends and family. The best way to get your training started is by talking to them about their experiences and what your goals are. Having someone to mentor you along the way is invaluable.

Swayne Martin

2) Go On A Discovery Flight

Look up flight schools in your local area and contact them to set up a discovery flight with one of their instructors. You'll get to take controls on this very first flight...pretty cool, right?! Being nervous at first is totally normal; I have a few friends who got air sick every flight for their first few lessons. Today, they're airline pilots.

Swayne Martin

3) Decide What Training Path You Want To Take

There's no "right way" to become a professional pilot. You can train through a local flight school, university program, airline cadet program, or even the military. There are a lot of options out there, so do your research to see what works best for your goals. Here's why I chose the training path I'm on.


4) Make A Financing Plan

It's no secret that flight training is expensive. But it's not impossible to figure out a way to fund it. Loans (private and federal) are available at many flight schools and universities for training. Don't forget to apply for as many scholarships as you can. Research scholarships for your local area, school, or apply through national organizations like Women in Aviation, EAA, AOPA, etc.

Swayne Martin

5) Start Studying EARLY

Now that you've made your plan, it's time to start studying. Knocking out your basic aviation ground knowledge will make a huge difference in how quickly you progress through training. You can take your FAA Written Exam without any flight time... All you need is an instructor's sign-off!

Struggling with Airspace, Weather, or Charts? So is everyone else! We have training courses to make it easy.

6) A School Like The University of North Dakota Could Be A Great Fit

The Boldmethod team is made up of University of North Dakota aviators, past and present. With one of the largest training fleets in the country (we're talking nearly 100 aircraft in Grand Forks alone!), you'll get to know literally hundreds of aviation students from all over the country. Click here to learn more.

Better yet, you can qualify for in-state tuition after just one year in North Dakota. That will bring your yearly college tuition to just over $8,000 (excluding flight costs, room & board).


7) Get Your Private Pilot Certificate

It's time to truly become a pilot. At roughly 40 hours of flight time, plus some other requirements, you'll get your first pilot's certificate. If you maintain currency and a medical certificate, it's valid for life! Follow these 8 steps to keep your flight training as cheap as possible.

Swayne Martin

8) Instrument, Commercial, and Multi-Engine Training

After you become a private pilot, you'll continue building experience and skills through flying by looking instruments alone, adding precision with commercial flight maneuvers, and flying multi-engine aircraft. Once you get that commercial pilot's certificate you can begin getting paid to fly! Follow these 13 training tips to make the most of your training.

Haley Howard

9) NEVER Stop Networking

Along the way, don't stop networking and be careful to never burn bridges. It's often said that getting a job in aviation is about who you know, not what you know. So as you continue training, get to know the instructors, students, and professors at your schools. Take advantage of opportunities to attend career fairs and develop working relationships with people that share your common interests, the people who want to see you succeed.

Swayne Martin

10) Become A Flight Instructor And Build Your Hours

There are a lot of ways to build flight time towards your first airline job, but one of the best is through flight instruction. It's said that you'll learn more in the first 100 hours of flight instruction than you learned throughout all of your training. We couldn't agree more. Get that CFI, CFII, and maybe even an MEI certificate.

It's not easy. But the rewards of teaching someone how to fly, seeing them succeed, and learning a lot about yourself in the process, is invaluable.

KamrenB Photography

11) Become A First Officer For A Regional Airline

Depending on where you trained, you can become a First Officer for a regional airline at 1,000 hours if you're a civilian. Check out the Restricted ATP Requirements For First Officers.

Every regional airline is currently hiring, and pay at many is approaching $60,000 for your first year. There are so many options out there, each with their own pros, cons, different aircraft, and unique bases of operations. So study up on what works best for you and your goals.

12) Upgrade To Captain And Build Time

At most regional airlines today, you'll upgrade to Captain in anywhere from 18 months to 3 years. Ten years ago, that was unheard of. Once you're a Captain, you'll begin building turbine PIC time, an important qualification when you're ready to apply for a major airline.

Something even crazier is happening out there in the airline world. Some First Officers without Captain time are getting picked up by major airlines. It's a beautiful time to get into the airlines.


13) Apply To A Major Airline

After a few years at the regional airline level, you'll build the necessary qualifications to get picked up by a larger airline. The legacy passengers carriers in the USA are Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and United Airlines. But don't forget about other large airlines like Southwest, Alaska Airlines, Frontier, Spirit, FedEx, UPS, etc. There are dozens of good options out there, so don't rule any out!

14) You Made It

After all that work, you finally nailed your dream job. You'll be flying heavy equipment now, possibly all over the world. The pay isn't too bad earners at the largest airlines can make over $300,000 per year.

American Airlines

Remember, this is just one path. It's not all about the airlines. Cargo, mission flying, corporate, charter, and private aviation have just as many opportunities. There are endless training options and career paths in aviation, making becoming a pilot one of the most flexible and rewarding professions out there.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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