How does one become an airline captain? What is the fastest and best way to get there?What does it look like? Learn all about becoming an airline captain.
When most people think of working as a pilot, the image of an airline captain usually comes to mind. It is one of many ways to make a living as a pilot. Especially in an era of virtual job fairs and the ability to search open positions worldwide, however, there are many aspects of this job to consider.
Becoming an Airline Captain In Today’s World
A generation ago, airline captains were middle aged or older. Many years in non-airline jobs, and then more as a first officer, were required before gathering enough seniority and flight hours to even think about becoming a captain. This was especially true after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the economic recession which followed. A housing economic crisis in 2008 depressed the economy further, and airline jobs were few and far between. Some pilots were even enrolling in “pay to play” offers, in which they exchanged fees for time in the aircrafts in which they wanted to gain time and experience. Major airlines began to merge, and small regional airlines were swept into the structure of large legacy lines. With enormous student loans and expensive flight lessons standing in the way of hanging on for an airline career, many younger pilots flew only part-time as flight instructors or charter pilots. Others left aviation altogether. It is known as “the lost decade.”
However, as the Baby Boomer generation ages and retires and the economy revived in the mid 2010’s, a pilot shortage arose. So many pilots left the industry that captains began to promote younger and younger. First officers were hired with low hours, and could look forward to becoming captains themselves in just a few years. With the advancement of COVID-19 vaccination distribution and re-opening of travel destinations, the airline industry may begin to hire at a rapid rate once again. The conditions which caused the pilot shortage before the pandemic will still be in place once we return to normal. Even the military is experiencing a shortage of pilots. It is a good idea, then, to begin or continue career planning for becoming an airline captain.
Requirements To Become An Airline Captain
As far as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is concerned, these are the bare minimum qualifications for becoming an airline pilot:
- A private and commercial pilot certificate
- A multi-engine rating
- Attained 23 years of age
- An instrument rating
- A first class medical
- At least 1500 hours to gain the ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) certificate.
- At least 2500 hours total time in the aircraft type, of which 1000 hours must be as an airline first officer
However, airlines and insurance companies often seek qualifications beyond this. While airlines do not require a college degree, it is heavily recommended. Those who have flown in the military may present their hours as experience equivalent to a college degree. Other requirements include at least 3,000 total flight time, 1500 hours multi-engine time, and at least a thousand hours as PIC.. Many pilots gain this time by working as certified flight instructors (CFIs), volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol, or patching together hours as a banner tower, tour guide, skydiving pilot, or bush pilot.
Are You a Good Match for the Job of an Airline Captain?
Some pilots do not aspire to airline jobs because they enjoy working with small airplanes and maintaining a personal connection to their passengers. As an airline captain, a pilot might fly the same routes repeatedly. Also, airline captains may spend long periods away from home. Those who are intent on a traditional family life with predicable schedules might not align well with a job as an airline captain. Rather, they may be better suited for another aviation career such as aircraft maintenance, aviation business administration, or logistics and airport/transportation safety.
Airline captains work with a foreseeable progression in their careers and must adhere to FAA regulations as well as those established by the airline. They must work with ticket agents, flight attendants, first officers, and a structured chain of command under a chief pilot. Most airline captains must work with pilot unions and balance the needs of their workspace with those in the workforce. A typical workday is often schedule bound and dependent on weather, passenger loads, and the needs of the airline. Air crews often change frequently. In many cases, the crew does not stay longer than one night in a location. While many airline captains enjoy the travel benefits that come with working for a major carrier, they are often eager to rest at home when not flying for work.
How Attending an Aviation School Can Help
An aviation school such as California Aeronautical University (CAU) can help students attain their dream of becoming an airline captain in a number of ways. Enrolling with CAU is an excellent way to proceed. From never having set foot in a cockpit to good positioning for the ATP in as little time as possible. Throughout their Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree, students can earn ratings and certificates; progressing them from private pilots to commercial flyers with an instrument rating, and often progressing quickly to a multi-engine rating. Many pilots choose to become certified flight instructors as well.
CAU can offer students assistance in flying with the airlines beyond a typical flight school. Students earn college credits and an aviation concurrently with their flight training. During training, there are networking opportunities with airline professionals and others who assist them during their journey. In addition, CAU is an FAA approved school. This means that it meets certain qualifications that allow its graduates to obtain their ATP faster than other candidates. Finally, CAU partners with many aviation employers, some of which can offer a direct path to hiring.
Tamu Smith-Kohls serves as the Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing for California Aeronautical University. She has worked in the aviation industry in various roles for 24 years. As a United States Air Force retired veteran, she has a unique appreciation for the aviation industry. Tamu has served in Information Systems as a Network Administrator, Aerospace Flight Medicine as a Health Services Manager, and Air Force Recruitment and Marketing. She holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology; a Master’s in Business Administration and is a Certified Neuro Linguistic Practitioner. Her passion is motivating, training, coaching and serving others to reach their best potential.