A professional pilot who flies for a major airline or a regional jet air carrier is required to obtain the highest level of aircraft pilot certification, an Airline Transport Pilots License (ATP). Advanced flight schools offer a variety of paths to the ATP and the Captain's left seat. Most are formatted to provide what the commercial airline industry is expecting, and many are affiliated with major airlines such as Delta Connection Academy or Gulfstream Training Academy.
What is the ATP
Those certified as Airline Transport Pilots are authorized to act as pilot-in-command of a multi-crew aircraft for a scheduled airline. ATPs are allowed to fly an aircraft with a maximum gross weight more than 12,500 pounds and more than 9 passenger seats. These pilots basically fly for a commercial or regional air carrier, a corporate flight service or a charter operator.
The Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR 61.153) states to be eligible for an airline transport pilot certificate, a pilot must:
(a) be at least 23 years of age;
(b) be able to read, speak, write and understand the English language;
(c) be of good moral character;
(d) hold at least a commercial pilot certificate and an instrument rating;
(e) meet the aeronautical experience requirements that apply to the aircraft category and class rating sought before applying for the practical test;
(f) pass a knowledge test on the aeronautical knowledge; and
(g) pass the practical test on the areas of operation.
In addition, to exercise the privileges of an airline transport pilot certificate, a pilot must hold a current first-class medical certificate.
FAR 61.159 states that if a pilot is applying for an airline transport pilot certificate with an airplane category and class rating, they must have at least 1,500 hours of total time as a pilot that includes at least:
(a) 500 hours of cross-country flight time;
(b) 100 hours of night flight time;
(c) 75 hours of instrument flight time in actual or simulated instrument conditions;
(d) 250 hours of flight time in an airplane as a pilot in command, which includes at least 100 hours cross-country flight time and 25 hours of night flight time; and
(e) not more than 100 hours of the total aeronautical experience requirements for this rating may be obtained in accordance with FAA Part 142 in an approved flight simulator or approved flight training device that represents an airplane.
The Route to the ATP
There are a number of routes to achieve the required ground school and flight experience needed as a prerequisite for the ATP license. A pilot can get aircraft training in one branch of the military, independent training usually achieved by becoming a part-time or full-time Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), a college-level aviation degree program or by doing odd jobs in aviation such as traffic reporting, sky diver pilot, fire patrol, aerial photography or glider towing.
Advanced flight schools such as Delta Flight Academy, Gulfstream Training Academy and ATP Flight School offer flight programs that range from zero flight time to Airline Transport Pilot License and/or any combination of individual licenses and ratings. These flight schools offer multi-engine experience, extensive crew resource management, simulator training, long-range and cross-country flying, a variety of flight environments and jet experience. All are a must for an occupation in modern international and regional airliners.
As with everything in aviation, the cost of obtaining an ATP will vary with each pilot. At the high end, a complete zero to ATP (usually including housing) will cost approximately $55,000, or a pilot with a private pilot's license and a relatively low number hours and experience will require about $45,000 to complete the ATP. On the opposite end, the cost could be as low as $3,000 to $4,000 for those pilots who already have an instrument rating, multi-engine privileges, commercial license and have already passed their ATP written exam.
Choosing a Flight School
As the FAA recommends, "Do not make the mistake of making your determination based on financial concerns alone. The quality of training you receive is very important. Prior to making a final decision, visit the school you are considering and talk with management, instructors and students."
- Photo Credit Marcelo Brito Filho under a SXC license (http://www.miraprodutora.com.br)