How to Become an International Commercial Airline Pilot

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International commercial airline pilots often work long hours and are gone for many days at a time.
International commercial airline pilots often work long hours and are gone for many days at a time. (Image: Jupiterimages, Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

International commercial airline pilots undergo a long and rigorous training process due to the high level of responsibility that is placed on this occupation. To earn all the proper licensing requirements, pilots need to get many hours of flight experience and training. Due to the stiff competition, many aspiring pilots earn a college degree in aviation or aerospace engineering to further their credentials. Aspiring pilots should begin logging in flight hours through the Federal Aviation Association as soon as possible.

Start logging hours with the FAA. This can be accomplished through individual lessons from independent instructors, which may be found through local airports. Aspiring pilots may also start logging hours through a flight school program, which will provide students with both classroom instruction and hands-on flying experience.

Earn a bachelor’s degree in aviation or aerospace engineering. Although most companies simply require pilots to have any bachelor’s degree, the degree should provide relevant knowledge for a career as an international commercial airline pilot. Courses should include aeronautical engineering and physics.

Earn your private pilot license. In order to fly an aircraft alone, pilots are required to obtain a private pilot license. Candidates may obtain this after completing the FAA minimum of 40 hours of flight training. Applicants must be 17 years of age and must undergo an extensive medical examination. Applicants are also required to pass a written test, examining their knowledge of pilot rules and regulations, as well as an oral and practical test of their ability to fly an aircraft.

Obtain a license as an Air Transport Pilot. International commercial pilots undergo an extra level of training to ensure they can responsibly and safely transport a large number of passengers. ATP certification credentials show prospective employers that pilots have the knowledge and experience required for the international commercial pilot job. The FAA requires applicants be at least 23 years old and have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours logged, as well as experience flying long overnight flights. Candidates also need to pass a rigorous testing process, both in written form and on their actually flying abilities.

Apply for jobs with all commercial airline companies. In 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that airline pilots held about 76,800 jobs, and that number was expected to increase by 12 percent by 2018, so job opportunities are out there. Prospective airline employers are looking for candidates with a large number of flight experience, sharp decision-making skills and good physical and vision health. They also look for candidates with a clean criminal record as well as clean physical and psychological background.

Tips & Warnings

  • International commercial pilots often experience jet lag, which is fatigue caused by flying through different time zones.
  • Pilots spend a considerable amount of time away from home, as international flights are typically longer and the majority of flights involve overnight layovers. The BLS reported that pilots spend about 360 hours a month away from home.
  • Being an international pilot can be very mentally stressful, due to the responsibility of ensuring a safe flight.

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